After watching too many reality TV shows or brainless blockbusters, you’ll occasionally get an itch that only a puzzle can satisfy.
Whether it’s scribbling on a Sudoko or wrapping your fingers around a Rubik’s Cube, puzzles are a great way of preventing your noggin from turning into mush.
Semispheres is the latest example of a brain bamboozler that gets those cogs turning. But while the puzzles are mostly solid, questions remain over Semispheres as an all-round package.
In a time where video game puzzlers have matured far beyond their simplistic roots, does Semispheres do enough to deserve a shot at scratching your itch?
Dot to dot
Semispheres sees you take control of two brightly coloured dots. Yes, dots. The left analogue stick controls the yellow, and the right controls the blue. Your only objective is for both of your dots to simultaneously reach the whirling vortex on the other side of the screen. Easy, right?
Everything seems straightforward, until the dots are split apart into two parallel universes. These worlds appear to be identical, besides the colour scheme and the positions of the guards that stand in your way. Step into an enemy’s line of sight and you’ll be zapped back to the beginning like a naughty toddler. But, just like a toddling infant, you can lure a sentry out of their position by letting out a high pitched squeal, so you can sneak on by to reach your target.
At first, the puzzles are ridiculously easy, but then more obstacles appear to ramp up the game’s complexity. The first of the bunch are these universe-linking portals, quite like the ones from the titular Portal.
But, instead of being able to hurl Companion Cubes through them, they allow your dots to interact with their compatriots’ world. For example, by directing their noise-making power-up through the portal, they can distract enemies and give the other dot an opportunity to make a dash for the finish line without being caught.
Rise to the challenge
As you progress through the 58 levels you gain access to more power-ups. One enables your dots to create their own portals, while another let them teleport into the alternative dimension. However, this only makes the puzzles more difficult. The difficulty curve is well managed, with new obstacles confounding you just before you’re ready to anoint yourself the puzzle-solving king.
With the game costing £6.99, you’d think you were being spoilt with so many levels, but, in truth, they don’t last very long – a few minutes each at most. There’s not much replayability here, either, as once you’ve completed the game you’ll be able to blitz through with ease.
Developer Vivid Helix hasn’t made it easy for you to revisit, either. Once you’ve finished the game, rather than being able to return to your favourite levels, you’re forced to start all over again. It’s a real off-putter for those who’d like to return to the more challenging puzzles for some brain training, or to simply show off to their friends how smart they are.
On the plus side, the simple yet colourful animations are a delight to look at. They do a great job at glossing over the bare bones of this puzzler, while the ambient soundtrack soothes your brain aches when the parallel universes become particularly mind-boggling.
Semispheres’ greatest challenge was to prove that it had a great deal of substance despite its simplistic design. It doesn’t have the laugh out loud story of Portal, or the beautiful environments of The Witness that gave those puzzlers more depth than a crossword book.
Unfortunately, Semispheres is unable to shake a simplistic feel that makes it seem more suited to a mobile game than something you’d find on PlayStation. Vivid Helix seem to acknowledge this issue, as they included a narrative which unfolds as you progress.
After completing each of the 13 worlds, a segment of a story flashes onto the screen, which is presented in a comic book strip. The story entails a robot and a small child. Unfortunately, it’s pretty basic and offers nothing additional to the game’s experience.
In fact, it feels severely out of place, as if the developers had just cut out a comic book strip from a random magazine.
The lack of replayability, a throwaway story and a simplistic design prevent this game from sticking in the mind for too long. But that’s not to say that this isn't a good head scratcher.
Semispheres continuously pushes you out of your comfort zone without letting you feel like you’re out of your depth.
Sure, some of its puzzles will give you a brain freeze unlike any ice cream has achieved, but stick at it and you’ll eventually get that sense of achievement that every good puzzler provides.