Android Central Verdict
Bottom line: Concrete Genie is let down by repetitive gameplay and finicky controls, but its core message is heartwarming for those dealing with bullying.
Second half mixes up the gameplay
Story fit for a Disney Channel original movie
Repetitive gameplay in first half
Wonky camera angles during platforming sections
Motion controls on the DualShock controller
Visuals when painting can feel cluttered and hectic
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You could easily mistake Concrete Genie for an indie game upon first glance. That's not a knock on it; that's just the vibe it gives off. It's not some grand AAA-looking experience. But it's actually developed by an in-house studio, Pixelopus, owned by Sony Interactive Entertainment. Think of it as something like Child of Light or Valiant Hearts, both created under a video game juggernaut, Ubisoft, but are smaller experiences that don't fit the mold of what you'd expect from a company like that.
Concrete Genie follows a young boy named Ash who has an active imagination and seeks to express himself through his drawings. These drawings, called Genies, eventually come to life, and he uses them as a way to cleanse his hometown from darkness and rejuvenate the abandoned village. And he also happens to make some new friends along the way.
Concrete Genie What I like
If Pixelopus polished up and stitched together the cutscenes, it could probably pass for a Disney Channel original movie. Its anti-bullying messaging is clear, and definitely important for young children to learn. No matter how many times the matter is addressed in popular media, it's always relevant to someone out there.
The entirety of Concrete Genie can be played in VR, but only one mode is specifically dedicated to it. Its optional PlayStation VR experience, dubbed 'Splotch and the Crystal Caverns,' is entirely independent from the main game. It allows players to really bring their paintings to life in a 3D environment. Despite the main game's claim of your paintings turning into "living portraits," they're still essentially just moving images on a 2D wall. The VR experience lets players paint flowers that spring up from the ground all around them, or paint a campfire that almost looks as if you could reach out and touch it. The same can't be said for the story campaign.
The gameplay itself is fairly repetitive, but the second half did start to mix it up which I appreciated. Instead of just drawing on walls, I could finally fight monsters and even skate around town with newfound abilities. This improved the pacing drastically or else it would have been excruciating to trudge along to the end. It also made it feel like a tale of two games.
Concrete Genie What I don't like
While each individual design gives the illusion of variety, the crux of Concrete Genie leads to some incredibly repetitive gameplay in the first half. Walk around an area, paint on a wall to light up lightbulbs, rinse and repeat. That's all you're doing, with the occasional platforming puzzle thrown in, but these are generally fairly easy to solve. Sometimes a Genie will want a particular design painted, in which case you just select it on your menu and you're good to go as the design you choose automatically appears on the wall after you move the cursor.
Nearly every wall in the game can be painted on in some way. A limit exists so that you aren't splattering hundreds of objects on a small wall, but I found the walls to get cluttered anyway. In order to fill up your super paint meter, your Genies need to be happy. To make them happy, they'll show you different objects they want you to draw. I've had to contend with a handful of Genies on a small wall all trying to get me to draw three different objects. It felt overwhelming and hectic, to the point where I couldn't even tell what I had painted on the wall. You can thankfully delete objects you paint, but that doesn't solve the problem of several Genies vying for your attention on a small area.
Concrete Genie uses the motion control sensors on a DualShock 4 controller by default when you are painting. This can easily be turned off in the menus and switched to the right analog stick, but that additional layer of interactivity feels like an integral part of that game that just becomes missing when you do this.
Still, I ended up needing to turn them off maybe halfway through the game because they became too frustrating to use accurately, especially in scenarios where perfect accuracy was necessary. Pixelopus does a commendable job at trying to make the motion controls feel natural — and for the most part they're decent and track directions correctly — but something about them feels slightly off and not as precise as I would like (I tried two different PS4 controllers).
Should you buy Concrete Genie? Yes, but only if you're really interested
There is limited appeal here and I don't think Concrete Genie is suited for a majority of people. Children or teenagers will likely enjoy it the most. The gameplay mechanics are barebones and there isn't much to it, but it's fun enough for what it is.
3 out of 5
If you were really looking forward to this game and it looks right up your alley, it's definitely worth the price. But for everyone else, it's probably best to give this a pass, unless you want an easy platinum trophy.
The power of friendship
Concrete Genie is let down by repetitive gameplay and finicky controls, but its core message is heartwarming for those dealing with bullying.
Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life. You can find her posting pictures of her dog and obsessing over PlayStation and Xbox, Star Wars, and other geeky things.