Semispheres: review

  • Format: Switch (version reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Vita, PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now (Switch, PC, PS4), October (Vita), “Q4” (Xbox One)
  • Publisher: Vivid Helix Inc
  • Developer: Vivid Helix Inc
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://semispher.es/
  • Game code provided by PR

Nintendo have enjoyed great success with the Switch, the console regularly selling out; and they have been supporting it with some stellar first party games. They’ve also made a big play for the indie market, with several titles heading to the hybrid console. Semispheres, from Vivid Helix, is an atmospheric single-player puzzle game, where you control two glowing spheres simultaneously as they are dropped into two parallel levels which are separated by a split screen. You need to navigate the spheres to their exits, which resemble swirling whirlpools. Puzzle games can be great fun if they get the difficulty spot on, but it’s a thin line between being enjoyable and challenging, or annoyingly frustrating.

Portals can be used to interact with the level on the other side of the split screen.

Thankfully, Semispheres’ difficulty is pitched just right, and it’s actually quite a relaxing experience, rather than an anger-inducing, console-destroying one. The music has a nice ambience to it, which suits the simple monochromatic graphics, and the game uses nice lighting effects; with an ethereal glow which is reminiscent of the strange bioluminescent creatures in ocean depths. At the beginning of each level the stage splits into two almost identical screens. On the left-hand side, you are presented with an orangey-yellow tinted level, where you control a yellow sphere with the left-hand Joy-Con. The right-hand side of the screen has a greenish blue colour scheme, with the right-hand Joy-Con being used to control a blue sphere on this side of the screen.

Later levels introduce extra powers to let you swap to the other side of the screen.

While the screens may initially look the same, each one has sentry guards placed in different parts of the level to block your sphere’s path. There are also different power-ups, as well as portals that let each sphere interact with the other sphere’s world. Each sentry has a field of vision, represented by a glowing cone shape. If you move within this shape, your orb will be teleported back to their start point on the level. If one of your spheres picks up the sound-emitting powerup, you can use it to distract guards in the opposite level by standing in the portal, which makes you then appear in the portal on the other side. The sentry will then leave his post to go investigate the noise, which lets the sphere on that side pass by the guard. Things get a bit more complicated when levels have more than one power-up. Some levels have two or three powers, and you can only pick up one at a time. Other powers include being able to create and move a portal, side-swapping, and teleporting. This means you have to think ahead and plan what power to use and when.

Later levels can be especially challenging as you are moving both orbs at the same time, changing powers and using the portals and teleporting as the guards are moving around. At times it can be almost brain melting, but never enough to make you want to give up. While the levels don’t have a specific story to tell, after each level you complete, you get a short comic strip about a boy and his robot. This does feel tacked on and unnecessary, and isn’t especially memorable, but is also easy enough to ignore.

A boy and his bot.

With the Switch version utilising the detachable Joy-Cons, you can actually play the game co-operatively with a friend, which makes it possibly the definitive version of the game. Being able to play the game with a co-op partner also adds to the replayability, and is almost an extra mode in itself. There is no online multiplayer, but to be honest it’s probably best without it, as you’d lose the chilled ambience that the game creates if you’re having to co-ordinate with another, probably unhelpful, player online.

Semispheres is an enjoyable puzzler that is challenging as well as relaxing. With around 50 levels to complete it won’t take you long, but it’s an experience that is better to take time with and savour. The difficulty is pitched just about right and is easy to pick up and play, but more challenging as you progress. If you’re looking for a clever little puzzler, that’s a bit more chilled out than some, then Semispheres is well worth buying; and on the Switch you’re getting the definitive experience.

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Written by Kevin M

I’ve been addicted to gaming since my parents bought an Atari console way back in the 70’s. I progressed to the iconic Speccy, Amiga, and all the Playstation platforms. Having seen games evolve from single pixel bat and ball, to HD constructed environments, gaming has changed much from my early years. Having defeated the rock hard R-Type on the Speccy, the biggest challenge I’ve faced so far is putting up with the hordes of American teens spouting abuse in the current generation of consoles, noob indeed!

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