Back in the Dreamcast era, I fell in love with a game called Jet Set Radio. It was about a group of rollerbladers who leapt around a colorful, futuristic version of Tokyo spray-painting everything in sight. I consider it a classic and one of the best games Sega has ever published. Coincidentally, so does Dominic Robilliard, creative director of Sony studio PixelOpus. In fact, his first job in the games industry was at Sega, testing Jet Set Radio prior to its release. It's no surprise, then, to hear that his next game, Concrete Genie, is heavily inspired by the cel-shaded platformer.
The PS4 title, unveiled at Paris Games Week, is about a young boy called Ash. He loves illustration and regularly doodles in his notebook. The story begins with a group of bullies stealing the book, tearing out the pages and scattering them across the city. Ash, undeterred, embarks on a quest to find them all and restore the notebook. Along the way, he discovers a paintbrush and the power to bring his creations to life. Suddenly, every building and back-alley is a canvas brimming with magical possibility.
With these newfound abilities, Ash can draw moving landscapes and helpful creatures. But the bullies from before are still on the prowl, ready to pounce on Ash if they catch him trying to make the town a brighter, friendlier place. Just like Jet Set Radio, Ash must traverse the environment and leave his mark while avoiding these enemies. Should he be spotted, you can climb up onto the rooftops with an expansive set of parkour moves. He doesn't have rollerskates, but they're impressive all the same.
Concrete Genie, then, is part puzzler, part action-platformer. Ash lives in a small town called Denska which has been abandoned by most of its citizens and ravaged by pollution. It's a dark, gloomy place waiting to be lit up by Ash's glittering artwork. At the beginning, however, you'll only have access to a single neighborhood. Complete some puzzles, find a few pages and you'll unlock the next chapter and a new section of the town.
Red brushes are associated with fire and can be used to burn down doors that have been boarded up.
The general concept was partly inspired by one of the game's designers, who grew up in a fishing village in China. People were starting to leave the town and local children would paint in the streets to make them look more beautiful and lively. Robilliard had a similar experience in Bristol, England. There, the community would come together and clean large stretches of the town while graffiti artists taught residents how to paint those areas.
"I found that to be really inspirational," Robilliard said.
Throughout the game you'll acquire different "brushes." There will be roughly 50 in total, spread across five different colors. Each shade has an elemental property which can be utilized to affect the broader environment. Red brushes, for instance, are associated with fire and can be used to burn down doors that have been boarded up. As the game progresses, you'll need to combine the different brushes to proceed.