Published on September 14th, 2017 | by Lee Davies
Review: Semispheres (Switch eShop)
Format reviewed: Switch eShop
Other formats available: PS4, PS Vita, XBoxOne, PC
Developer: Vivid Helix
Publisher: Vivid Helix
Website: Official Website
“Semispheres is a meditative parallel puzzle game that places dual realities at the heart of its challenge. Its unique single-player split-screen mechanic challenges your brain by putting you in control of two characters at the same time. Your left and right side must work together to unfold the mystery by solving clever puzzles in an entrancing ambience. Using portals and other abilities to avoid sentries, devise and execute your plan, reuniting the parallel worlds of Semispheres.”
A single screen splits into two dimensions at the beginning of every level. A single green entity is split in the process into a yellow half and a blue half. A bichromatic art style comprised of warm blues and oranges. The player must control both halves (Semisphere) separately with each assigned to a single analogue stick. You are tasked with reuniting these anomalous splits by the correct positioning of the two jellyfish like Semispheres into their end goals, simultaneously, whilst avoiding all manner of sentry related blockage. The sentry’s field of vision must be evaded in order to find a safe passage and the eventual re-synchronisation of the worlds. Doing so, completes a puzzle and pushes you further into the cartoonified story of a boy and his robot that unfolds upon progression of this game’s 50 or so levels, split into 13 worlds that each have 4 or 5 levels. Completion of a world will unlock a comic strip that relates a story with the most simplistic plot ever. To call it a story is wrong, because of that simplicity, but it does have a beginning and an end.
Being a single player game, Semispheres leads you to some rather taxing multitasking situations in the vein of rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time, whilst having to flick your focus between the two Semispheres. However, this crazily difficult premise is only ever met at a few instances, and most of the game is aimed at the puzzle mechanic, not at manual, simultaneous, dexterity. It’s a shame, even though the game lives up to its promise of a soothing meditative experience, because Semispheres can be completed in under two hours, in a single sitting. What makes up the bulk of the levels are puzzles related to working your way around a map, warping between dimensions, and dodging sentries that send you back to your starting position. To evade the enemies, the player is handily given an arsenal of stealth tactical weapons that Sam Fisher would be proud of. Noise makers to distract and attract sentries; trans-dimensional portals to use the 2nd Semisphere as a distraction; and many forms of transportation of both or a single Semisphere. The rub is that your Semisphere can only carry one stealth item at a time, so careful thought must be given, or trial and error, to overcome some of the more lengthy missions.
The vast majority of the game allows you to explore one area at a time and then switch your focus to the other area to continue on. It’s right at the end of the game, only about the last 4 levels, that simultaneous coordination is required. You could feasibly split JoyCons and, between two people, each control a Semisphere with the separate analogue stick, but after a few goes even these harder levels will succumb to most players. This is in part due to the precise pixel perfect controls on offer in Semispheres. A botched attempt is always the player’s fault and the game never feels unfair. The only downside is that upon completion of a level there is absolutely no way to replay that level without either resetting the campaign and losing all your progress, or by finishing the entire game, which then resets the campaign. It’s an odd omission that forces the player to continue onward to the detriment of replaying and honing a particular skill.
Music is haunting, to the point of it, at times, not being relaxing. A single note played on a synth is highly reminiscent of the sounds of Blade Runner. Eerie, soothing, and haunting, all at the same time. Yet, it becomes repetitive, even with the short play time of the single player campaign. Sound effects, however, and few and far between, but convey the message they need to. A healthy ‘ping’ for a noise maker, and ‘swoosh’ for a portal do the job, but with a lack of gusto.
For the puzzle oriented player, this may be right up your alley. However, the asking price is a little steep for the variety and sheer lack of content displayed in the end product. If you don’t mind putting down 9 pounds for two hours of game, albeit solid game, then the world’s your Semisphere.
Semispheres (Switch eShop)
Summary: Pixel perfect control, of 2 jellyfish-like Semispheres, provides an overly simplistic puzzle game that will be completed far too soon. What's on offer is very well done, just a shame there's so little of it.