Now, here’s a curious one. This meditative parallel puzzle starts with little explanation, the player soon coming to understand that the Left Stick controls a sky blue-coloured jellyfish with the Right Stick letting you move a warmingly amber-coloured one.
Somewhat apprehensively making the umbrella-shaped aquatic creatures swim towards a glowing point, Semispheres greets you with its first puzzle as the screen separates into two halves. With reaching a whirlpool being your completion point, it is not only these dual realities that will continue to challenge your brain power.
Luminous sentries must be evaded that each has their own cone of vision, which is an easy enough obstacle to overcome early on but will soon see you using noise-makers as a distraction to present a chance to safely swim past them. These power-up abilities, once they have been retrieved in the puzzle, are activated using the L or R Button, determined by whichever side of the screen they need to be used on.
Then, there are portals that will let the mysterious creatures influence the world that is parallel to them in Semispheres, that becomes the next ability that you can call on. Soon you will be dealing with them swapping sides, and having to take into account dotted lines that become a barrier that the sentries will need to weave around.
Any errors that you make are only a momentary defeat, with the watery creatures sent back to where they had started for you to learn from your mistakes and act upon them. This encourages experimentation as you try to work out exactly what Semispheres is asking of you, that either leads to those ‘Eureka!’ moments that make you feel like the smartest person alive or when you take your chances only to narrowly escape being caught by a sentinel.
The puzzles are gathered in clusters with a hub, of sorts, seeing you swim between them after each is completed. Triumph over a particular cluster and the player is nudged to access an etched comic strip that follows a young boy that receives a robot, DF-64, as a present. The story that soon follows seeing how he grew up and bonded with it, and, well, it’s best that I leave the rest for you to find out for yourselves.
While developer Vivid Helix has designed Semispheres as a single-player game with a split-screen twist to rack your brain over, it’s also an experience that, say, a parent could enjoy with their child. With the detached Joy-Con able to be shared between two players, you can work together to solve each puzzle as they are thrown at you. That goes against the developer’s approach to what they were looking to achieve, of course, but it’s certainly something that inadvertently lends itself well to the portable home console’s concept.
With minimalistic but eye-catching visuals that the developer positions as a mesmerising and soothing bichromatic art style, Semispheres certainly stands out from the crowd on the Nintendo eShop, even if more could have perhaps been done with its water-based inspiration and gelatinous inhabitants. The soundtrack, too, has a wonderfully relaxing ambience that helps you to become immersed in the challenges that it readily presents.
But, it is brevity that becomes the Achilles heel to Semispheres, an otherwise remarkable puzzle experience that is over in a few, short hours. However, I would still argue that it should be seen as time well spent that you won’t necessarily be demanding back anytime soon, but, with so much competition in the genre on Nintendo Switch now, there are other puzzlers on the Nintendo eShop that many will arguably feel that they can get more for their money from.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Vivid Helix