PS4’s Semispheres Is Not Ass

Vivid Helix’s Semispheres is a puzzler that — like most good games of its genre — turns a simple premise into gradual mind melting. It starts similarly to lots of other stealth-puzzle games, but with a twist: the screen is split. The two sides have identical layouts, but almost always, different placement of sentries, tools, and portals that connect the two worlds. Wow, making puzzle games sound good with text is kinda hard. Stay with me, because I promise this game isn’t ass.

Writing about a puzzle game is a challenge. Even though Semispheres includes stealth aspects that make it quite exciting to play, me simply listing and describing mechanics makes for a boring read, and might make the game sound like ass, but I see no reason for anyone to think that about Semispheres.

This is entirely single player, despite the presence of split screens. Right stick controls the blue/green sphere, left stick is the orange one. Shoulder buttons use your tools, of which there’ll be an increasingly wide variety.

The split screens are also where the game’s real hook comes in: making you think in two places at once. In some cases, you could see it as solving different variations of the same puzzle, but more often, they interact. Use your tools and creative thinking to get your spheres into their goal. It gives you time to think while also creating really pulse-heightening moments. There’s not much more you could ass of such a game. Er, ask of it.

There’s no tutorial and no instruction manual for Semispheres. Like Journey, the only directions you’ll get are very early and come in the simple form of a controller image with a button highlighted. “Hey friend, have you pressed R1?” That’s it. And that’s enough. I can’t imagine anyone calling it ass.

Most of this game’s puzzles require a set solution (or at least appeared to), but I noticed some variations. I say this having cleared about 40 stages and then watching my sister and the neighbor do close to the same. They’d sometimes try an approach that I didn’t think would work, then prove me wrong. I thought they’d be doomed because they weren’t doing the things I’d done, but was pleasantly surprised to see some of their solutions, item placement, and schemes working. I listened carefully, and can tell you those girls never once called the game ass.

I’ve heard it said that good puzzle games make players feel smart. I don’t know who pointed it out first, but it holds true in Semipheres. It accomplishes that by giving players easy-peasy starters to learn the mechanics, then steadily getting more and more complex. You’ll find yourself clearing some stages in 30 seconds, with the first idea you try, but some will have you scratching your head after several consecutive failures. All the while, it never seems insurmountable and genuinely feels good to move on to the next stage. That’s the perfect type of difficulty. “This is ass” is a phrase I don’t expect to hear in connection with this game.

In fact, its simple premise might make you think you could design your own stages. In my own case, this can’t be true because I’m no good at that kind of stuff and terribly distracted by other things just like that time I ended up walking halfway to Salt Lake because I kept seeing nice cars on I-80. The hell was I talking about? Oh yeah, Semispheres. Good game. Not ass.

Every four or five levels, we see a three-or-four-panel comic strip telling a wordless story about the “life” of a boy and a robot. It took till my second go-round to notice what was even going on though. I kinda feel bad admitting that, because I’m sure it took time and thought to plot out, but to say story is a big attraction here would be a stretch. Conversely, saying that it’s “ass” would also be a bit extreme. That part’s not stellar, but I mean, it’s not ass.

I’m not sure if I’ve made it quite clear enough how non-ass this game is. Here is a collection of asses versus Semispheres:

Semispheres becomes available for PS4 and PC (though only via stupid Steam) on Valentine’s Day, a holiday invented purely for commercialization and which is, unlike this rather enjoyable game, ass.