With so many video games relying on photorealistic visuals, loud sound effects, and massive explosions, it’s nice to play a game once in awhile that brings the volume down to a reasonable level. Vivid Helix’s Semispheres doesn’t need to “wow” the player with photorealism or high impact gameplay. It does this well enough through its simple but deep mechanics. Although it may not look like much, the game carries with it a lot of charm and proved itself to be delightfully and fiendishly challenging.
Comprised of about twelve levels with four to five stages each, Semispheres challenges you to use your left and right hands independently. You’ll control two jellyfish-like energy creatures, one blue and the other gold, through rooms that are divided into two play spaces. The goal is to get each jellyfish into a portal stationed at a specific point in their respective rooms in order to advance to the next stage. Making things interesting are sentries that inconveniently block routes and pathways. If the player’s jellyfish falls within their line of sight (represented as a light cone), they are warped back to their starting position.
I really grew to like Semispheres. It offers a nice progression of difficulty as you work through its twelve stages, offering levels that range from wonderfully simple to mind-bogglingly tricky. More advanced puzzle rooms require creative use of pickups that can transfer one jelly into the other’s play space, warp sentries in and out of rooms, and create audible distractions. There is also an interesting portal mechanic that allows you to affect the other jelly’s room, either by making a traversable tether into their zone or alerting a sentry in one play area from the relative safety of your own. Where things get really interesting are later puzzles that require you to move both jellyfish through obstacles at the same time. This caused me some major brain strain! Not only did I need to figure out the “trick” of the puzzle room, but I also had to move each jelly independent of the other. And for a full grown adult who sometimes has trouble telling his left from the right, this was a tall order.
I was struck by a realization halfway through the game. There came a point where things just “clicked” and I discovered that the game’s bark is worse than its bite. A lot of puzzles look far more complex and intimidating than they really are. Even the most daunting stage brimming with sentries, portals, and multiple ability pickups often had solutions that made me think, “Hey, that really wasn’t that bad!” It’s a good mindset to come in with because there are some fierce looking levels that await you. Your reward for getting through these stages is the satisfaction of a job well done and comic strips that tell the charming story of a boy and his robot.
Semispheres is a really cool puzzle game that can be played solo, though I imagine it would be even more fun to play with a partner. The blue and gold jellyfish are controlled using both halves of the Switch’s Joycons, making it extraordinarily easy for two people to work together--a noticeable difference, I assume, from the PC and PlayStation versions of the game. Easy to pick up but challenging enough to make you feel a sense of achievement, Semispheres is a great and relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.