Semispheres Review

When I was a young man, a phrase that I heard often was “hurry up and wait.” The idea that you needed to be constantly ready, that you needed to hustle and be at attention, for a moment that you didn’t know when it was coming or, really, if it would ever come. It was maddening, and it still sits with me today, though I understand the importance of it now. There are opportunities that will come, moments that should be grasped, but sometimes all you can do is be patient and know they are coming, and pacing or burning with nervous energy is a waste of what you can do. Be prepared and act when the time is right. As Aaron Burr has been espousing, “I’m willing to wait for it.” This, I feel, is a key to surviving and getting the furthest in Semispheres, the newest puzzle game to land on the Nintendo Switch.

The idea is tailor made to exist and fit on the Switch. The left JoyCon controls the left side of the screen, and the right, well, the right. You must guide two balls of light, one yellow and one blue, to their goal point at one end of the level. The stage doesn’t end until both balls have safely arrived, and there are plenty of obstacles in the way that would prevent you from easily accomplishing your task. There are, of course, a number of mechanics that allow you and your companion sphere to manipulate the world around you – change locations, create distractions – that make for a bit of strategy and thinking along the way. There’s also a sweet little story about a boy, his robot and growing up, but it’s actually pretty inconsequential and acts just as a backdrop to everything else going on. Where I would argue that The Bridge needs its story to essentially shape each level and puzzle element, you could have replaced the boy/robot story with almost anything else and it still would have worked. The short panels that occur every five puzzles really just exist to break up and separate the puzzles into different “worlds” that encapsulate one or more mechanics predominantly.

Semispheres is a little bit of a pendulum, as you go from “this is easy” to “woah, I gotta think about this” and back again. The first five puzzles fly by, and the incline for the others is usually an initial spike as you figure out how to do certain ideas, followed by the next two or three puzzles being pretty easy as you prove that you know how the mechanic is supposed to work. Somewhere around the seventh “world” the puzzles stop introducing new mechanics and then everything becomes really feast or famine. Either you need a few minutes to step back and think about how the puzzle will work, or you simply identify the solution at a glance and execute. The biggest obstacle in each level are sentry lights that will tag you and send you back to spawn if they see you. A sonar mechanic, similar to the mobile game Hitman GO, can be used to alert and move the sentries to different areas, and this is primarily what you’ll be doing for a majority of the game.

I was kind of hoping that Semispheres was going to be a bit more involved as far as working the two sides of the screen simultaneously, and I’d say, once you get further along, you have more opportunities to have to work, if not think, in duality. There are a handful of puzzles that operate independently from each other and, in those instances, I feel like it’s almost a wasted opportunity to even have that puzzle exist. Others have moments of incredible isolation, as one sphere exists and operates solely to help the other along. It felt like the scene in Hot Shots Part Deux when Charlie Sheen has to carry Rowan Atkinson out of the POW camp, and Rowan is simply hurling and instructions while being “incapacitated” with tied together shoelaces. One sphere basically had to control every aspect of moving the guards and swapping around things, while the other sphere just had to walk towards the goal and, strangely, couldn’t even do that well. It’s weird to get mad at yourself for not being able to move smoothly, but I simply got confused sometimes and worked things out backwards in my head.

Again, as I said up top, a lot of puzzles were all about positioning, followed by action, followed by waiting till the timing was just right. Semispheres was a weird sense of a puzzle game, because I think most puzzles are relaxing and meant to be something to stimulate and unwind at the same time. A lot of the puzzles meant that I had to be ready to move but I couldn’t just be in motion. It wasn’t a bad thing: it added some calm to the game, allowing me to prepare my plan without worrying about being attacked or set upon. The control setup, which was just the joystick and a single button to activate my carried mechanic, didn’t afford a lot of room for error, so, once you knew what you wanted to do, you just went ahead and did it.

Graphically, this was somewhere between minimalist and almost empty. Everything came in hues of blue or orange, depending on the side of the screen, and the ambient nature reminded me a lot of the puzzle game Quell. I liked the cartoons of the robot’s life between the stages, but they weren’t exactly high art, just some very simple, almost rough outline drawings. And musically…I’m not sure what to say here. Semispheres boasts having Sid Barnhoorn on board for the soundtrack, and I loved Sid’s work in Antichamber. But I felt like there was a progressive difference in his other works, where the tone seemed to shift and change as you encountered worlds and moved deeper into the storyline. Since there’s nothing really to break up or separate the moments of Semispheres, it’s just one ambient set of notes that slowly layer and break apart over each other. In fact, I’m not positive if the music ever really changes throughout the duration of the game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, and I think it fits the mood wonderfully, but I felt it would have been better if there wasn’t a boast about it to set my expectations prior to playing the game.

Semispheres is delightful as a puzzle vessel, bringing something new and, in many ways, innovative, to the table. The concept plays forward fairly straight, but it’s satisfying and enjoyable to progress and move ahead as the complications introduce themselves, always different but never overwhelming. I don’t know if there’s replay value, but I also don’t enjoy puzzle games in my downtime, so I don’t feel like I’m an accurate judge of this idea. I will say that I adore a puzzle game that simply works best on a console and not a smartphone, and, in that regard, this is an excellent addition to the Nintendo Switch. Being necessary to use controls but still allow for a relaxing environment opens up the Switch even further to gamers who might otherwise have overlooked this title entirely. I’m glad the Nintendo Switch is broadening horizons for independent developers, and Semispheres is just the right shape of what’s to come for gaming futures.

Bonus Stage Rating - Very Good 8/10

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk

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