Semispheres Review

The idea of a game that has two characters, one controlled by each control stick, has been around for a little over a decade and a half, but it never reached much mainstream popularity. The best and biggest recent example would definitely be Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which hit a more mainstream presence back in 2013. I was pretty certain that more games afterwards would start to use this mechanic, but they've been pretty absent for the most part. 

Then I went to PAX South and saw at least 3 different games that built on that mechanic in different ways. 

Semispheres feels a lot more like the introduction to a concept than an actual full exploration of it. It comes complete with a hyper abrupt ending of nothing more than a "congratulations!" screen that makes it seem like you only finished a demo instead of the full game.  It never really felt like the game's mechanics did much to expand beyond a couple of extra wrinkles. 

In comparison to The Witness, a game that expanded and remixed its mechanics all the way through, Semispheres didn't do much to grow its ideas past the initial introduction. Even if an idea was clever at the beginning, I almost never went "whoa that's a cool twist on that mechanic!" Instead I'd see the powers you could perform on each screen. And it was more a question of what order to use them in to get through the level. 

While the last levels are more complex in their use of the mechanics, only a handful gave me that "man I'm the best puzzle solver!" feeling like the best games in the genre can do. Instead I just found myself going through levels, checking them off on my way to... what one would hope is a satisfying conclusion to the story.

Except it wasn't because the story's extremely tacked on. 

Going back to Brothers as an example, a lot of the puzzles there didn’t get that complex either, but it did have a story and a world that you explored as you went. Even if in the end, that game was mostly about walking in the right direction and carrying things, there was a journey – an A to B to C, with giants and spider ladies and emotional heft. 

But the story in Semispheres is told through 13 still, monochromatic images with unnamed characters, and honestly they really don't add anything to the game. If a game's not going to have a story, it needs to make up for it with the mechanics. But since this game doesn't pick up the slack there, it winds up being a dull package overall. 

Even though the 2-character control method in Semispheres is still pretty unique, a game can't coast on one mechanic too hard without finding new ways to work with it. Some of the late-game mechanics can be a little more mind bending, but in the end it's all too simple a spin on the concept. It's really just a stealth game with complex controls.

If this was the first game I'd seen with this control scheme I might have more glowing words, but in the shadow of Brothers, it's more difficult to recommend this one. Unlike Brothers, Semispheres does very little to show what interesting things can be done with this control scheme. It's an inoffensive game – it's not bad in the moment, but does nothing to make itself memorable.