A bullied Ash seeks solace in his drawings and his outings to Denska. The town has been consumed by some “Darkness”, and he is rightfully warned away from the place. He’s not alone in exploring the place either. Bullies have made the abandoned town their base, and well, they send Ash off on his merry way to the decrepit lighthouse on the old tram. Ash expects to be stuck there, as the tram is held in place by the Darkness, but then, something magical happens… welcome to Concrete Genie.
In Concrete Genie, you’re tasked to relight the town. You do this by painting under the bulbs you see strung across the place, in various “zones”. The opening sequence is naturally your introduction to the game: you’ll see the various Genie designs and colours you’ll be using, as well as getting used to the controls. The game uses the DualShock’s motion controls, which makes it somewhat more immersive. Pretend to be paint the walls yourself. I did find the controls slightly fiddly at points, but it’s easy to gradually ease yourself into. There are slight platforming elements, but most of the actions only involve button presses.
You’ll be using various templates to paint on the walls with your magic brush. Dandelions, grass, flowers, auroras, and more – even Genie designs – will be available to you as you collect the pages scattered by the Bullies. Bring Genies to life, and they’ll be able to assist you along the way. Remember the Darkness? Most of the purplish veins can be cleared by Super Paint, which you get by making Genies happy. Paint them a design they request, and they’ll croon and show their love for you. Wave, high-five and play with them too! You’ll want the Genies to be happy, as Super Paint will run out and you can’t necessarily clear all the veins at once.
The Darkness has to be cleared. If you don’t, you can’t paint, and Genies can’t travel there either. As if that wasn’t enough, don’t forget the Bullies. They’ll be prowling around Denska, waiting to throw you into the trash. That’s not exactly a fail state, but you do get set back a distance away to the nearest dumpster. You can either avoid them completely, or climb to higher areas, like the roofs. Climb with X, and there’ll more places for you to get to. You may also find ziplines. While there’s no true fail state, you can fall from too tall a height. It seems to reset Ash to just before the fall so that’s fine, but be careful. For someone who stayed at a seaside town, Ash cannot swim.
Elements of a puzzler can be found in opening ways to progress. You’ll find Genies in a variety of elements – red for fire, yellow for electricity, blue for wind, for example – and you can call them over to the obstacle and watch them do their magic. You can also be blocked by a physical manifestation of the Darkness, like how the tram in the beginning was locked in place. At the end of an area, you’ll be able to paint a Masterpiece, so paint to your heart’s content and watch the colours bloom.
You can refer to Ash’s Journal for various things: the map, designs you’ve unlocked, his diary entries and so forth. The diary entries can provide you a recap of things so far, as you wander the place and listen to Ash talk about his memories of Denska. You’ll be encountering the Bullies on occasion, and it would seem they too, have their emotional baggage. What happened in their past for them to be so bitter? You’ll find out soon enough.
Spot white chalk drawings of Genies. Call over an active Genie for another request to fill. You’ll unlock Moments with the Genies, of them enjoying you having painted their request. Newspapers will be strewn around, giving you a glimpse of the other stories of Denska. Find billboards and repaint them with your magic brush, for even more collectibles. If you just want to admire your work, then enter Photo Mode and take beauty shots!
Remember to go back to Luna at the lighthouse, the first Genie Ash would have given life to. You can join her in a special area, where you can fulfill her requests. Concrete Genie is really a feel good kind of game. The drab, washed out walls and murals get refreshed with your living colours. It doesn’t seem only like the lights coming back on in Denska. Your soul too can feel warmed, with your multicoloured Genies just looking so happy to be frolicking in the world in the walls.
Concrete Genie is one game where you simply want to relax and uplift your soul. There’s much to discover, hidden within the Darkness of Denska. What was it like before? Why does Ash want to return to the town? Listen to the echoes of the past. You don’t need to erase what was there before. All it needs is a new coat of (magic) paint!
Maybe all you need is colour and art to relight the spark within you. Find that joy once more, as you follow Ash and his retinue of Genies. Remember to smile!