As Ash, a creatively inclined teenage boy who likes to hang out in old Denska, you find yourself armed with a magic paintbrush. With it, you daub fluorescent landscapes on the town’s vertical surfaces, with trees, butterflies, camp-fires, and those titular genies all twinkling into two-dimensional life.
The more you paint the town red – and green, and yellow – the more the oily gunk that’s infected Denska retreats, until perhaps you can make the whole place shine again.
To paint each area, you’ll need the genies’ help. Summon one with a few swishes of your brush, and they’ll run along the walls around you, removing obstructions with elemental powers or giving you ‘super paint’ to clear the grime that stops their progress.
To motivate them, you’ll need to cheer them up by painting their requests. But since you can only paint what’s in your sketchbook, and that’s been torn up and scattered by a gang of bullies, you first have to track down the relevant pages.
It’s a simple cycle. Jump and climb to gather sketches, then unblock the way for your genies so they can unblock the way for you. It works because it drives your creative whims, and pays off because it looks so impressive.
The way your fantasy drawings pop with colour, superimposed on reality, never fails to delight. And the more pages you find, the more imaginative your works become. Any blank wall is hard to resist. As for the genies, your ability to draw different body shapes and appendages before they sprout limbs and come alive gives each one individual identity, while the many ways they interact with your painted scenes – munching apples, lounging on logs – further bolsters their personalities. Watching and interacting with them is often a pleasure in itself.
But outside the painting, Concrete Genie feels somewhat sparse. Many systems are present – platforming, puzzles, stealth – but stall in their development.
A few neat ideas, such as using an electric genie to complete a circuit, or combining multiple genie powers to remove an obstacle, set precedents for greater intricacy that are never met. Then a late game twist switches the playstyle in a way that’s thematically coherent but dismissive of structures built to that point.
Concrete Genie thus succeeds as an intimate tale, and a visually arresting experience about the potential for creative expression to bring people together. But it leaves behind the aura of a bigger idea, and might just inspire you to imagine what more could have been.
Taking notes from Ōkami, Concrete Genie’s finest moments come at the end of each area, when the full fruits of your labour become clear. As the camera pans through the district, suddenly all those individual details combine to reveal its full rejuvenation, as your designs illuminate the walls along with the lights and shrubbery around them.
Concrete Genie is charming and visually dazzling, but ends with unexplored potential.
Genre: Action adventure
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release: Out now