The “Wow Moment” is the elusive something every fan of VR has been chasing like a drug. Whether it is looking at a mountain vista in Tuscany, watching a dinosaur approach and then walk above you, or sitting down on a carpet for a hedgehog’s birthday party.
The VR sequence that is coming with PlayStation 4 game Concrete Genie had such a wondrous moment for me, but the experience started simply. You stand in a room with three concrete walls before you, to your left and right, and forward. You hold a magical paintbrush in one hand and a book, that lays open like a painter’s palette, in the other.
A cartoony genie that looks like a cross between a splash of paint and a ball of flame appears, named Splotch. You can begin painting strokes on the wall, though it appears more like colorful chalk than paint. Soon you are just not drawing lines, but also flowers and trees. Splotch’s eyes and mouth shows a range of expressions as you fill the walls with art.
In the non-VR version of Concrete Genie, the magical paint that the genies empower you with can bring power to electric bulbs, and you begin to do that on these flat walls. Soon, the concrete walls fall away, and now there are walls of a cave with crystal. Your book of brushes besides containing trees and grass, also has flowers and stars to paint on to these walls. You do so, the magic fueling the crystals. They hit full capacity a glowing purple light gives you maximum magic, like in the campaign mode of Genie, and you beginning painting lush, glowing versions from your palette of natural elements on the walls.
And with a flash, it happens. I am no longer in a dark cave with nature I painted on the walls. I am surrounded by nature. Those flowers and trees I painted with the Move are now in 3D in the landscape. Splotch is no longer a cartoon, but here in three-dimensions. That transition to 3D, that reimagining of the art you have been making, made me chuckle with joy.
Such “Wow Moments” are few and far between these days in a gaming industry decades old, riddled with sequels and remakes, though VR has bought back some novelty and innovation that has the power to make you wide-eyed once more. It was nice to feel that again, if for just a moment.
So five minutes into this experience is this radical shift in Genie’s VR experience and what follows for the next twenty or so minutes is gameplay that is a mix of art creation and character interaction. Splotch is a demanding little flame.
A thought balloon above his head shows he wants more trees. I place more trees in this sunny landscape. He makes sounds and expressions of approval, heart signs appearing above his head. He walks around enjoying as I add more and more. Then a dash of magic shoots to the book/palette and it unlocks two new brushes in the same row of the Tree brush on the palette. So now I can him the flowers he seeks or apples he wants to eat. The game also shows you can place the apples on the floor, or add them to trees with their own little branches.
Splotches walks around demanding these things and you give it to him, cherishing the expressions of joy he makes. A crystal appears from the ground, much like from the earlier cave sequence, your wand begins to glow purple with Super magic again. And so you add glowing trees and purple apples and glowing grass to the world. When all the super magic is used up, the crystal glows purple, charged with all the magic you infused in the land before you. But a new brush appears on the palette and you begin changing the landscape again, within the bounds of your artistic imagination and what Splotch wants.
Brush after brush, you sculpt the land, combine them in the way Splotch wants, create art to keep your genie happy. Splotch roasts an apple on a campfire before eating it. He dances with a gust of wind you form around him. He goes to sleep on the grass. And more crystals erupt from the ground and more Super magic lets you create beautiful, psychedelic scenes of impossible nature. Splotch’s smiles and his laughter is just the icing on top.
The back and forth with Splotch gives you reasons to go on, but it is the crafting of art that make it a joy to continue. By the end, you have so many brushes to choose from, the possibilities of the magical scenes of nature you can paint are impressive.
And finishing this experience also unlocks a Free Painting mode, where you can just create the art without having to worry about Splotch’s needs. It will save the scene you make in Free Painting and you can come back hours or days later to add to it. Or someone else can, letting you get collaborative. And when I unlocked that mode, when I had finished helping Splotch in the experience mode, I was ready for a break. But I also wondered if I should’ve used less trees and more flowers. Or maybe more bamboo? Perhaps next time when I have brush in hand.
Concrete Genie will be released this Fall.