We really need a name for the genre/mechanic where you control disparate entities with each controller stick. Semispheres does exactly that while involving a unique blend of stealth and puzzles. Granted, stealth games are puzzle games in a sense, but this game aims to really stretch and twist and, potentially, break your brain as you try to suss out your survival strategy.
Made by the solo developer Radu Muresan under the studio name Vivid Helix, Semispheres takes a top-down view of a single room and then immediately splits it into Michael Baysian orange- and blue-tinted copies. Expressly inspired by Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, each side houses a little glowing sphere that you control with either the left or right stick on the controller. After that, all you have to do is get from point A to point B.
The complication arises from other spheres that guard and patrol the route through. While each level’s layout is identical for both spheres, guard movement and placement are different. To help you combat that, though, you can either distract guards or avoid them completely with the use of different item pickups.
There are little pockets that allow your spheres to break through to the other side but only in limited capacity. If you find a spot where they bleed through, for example, you can trigger a signal with the orange sphere in the blue side that will temporarily distract guards and allow the blue sphere to sneak by. It’s a simple interaction that immediately throws back to traditional co-op tactics but with yourself. That realization is immense.
Then the game introduces items that will help you skirt its own rules in brain-bending ways. One of them is easy enough to understand; it just moves one of your spheres over to the other side. But another one then swaps both of your spheres and it immediately breaks your mind. Controlling independent entities with individual sticks is already at the threshold of most brains, but once they stop aligning with their respective sides, everything stops making sense in the best way possible.
The entire game also exists within some sort of ethereal overworld. Born from a game jam themed by connected worlds, this is where the two spheres reside in a webbed terrain together. They float around and traverse to new portals that lead to new puzzles, and with each flotilla of portals solved, you are rewarded a few panels of a comic. The one unlocked from the first block of tutorial puzzles involved a boy opening a giant present and finding a robot with a penchant for high fives.
Muresan says he wants to keep it a taut experience at two to three hours but with rapid and expansive exploration of what the gameplay can achieve. Early levels, for example, really only present a single way forward, but in future stages, the possibilities will open up and give the player more options and interplay with the mechanics.
I’m greatly excited by that prospect. If this truncated demo can already fully and completely reorient my brain in drastic, aggressive ways, then hopefully the final version will achieve even more.
Semispheres is coming to the PlayStation 4 and PC on February 14 and the Xbox One sometime later in the year.