Sometimes game developers create a world that leaves you wondering how they have come up with what is found within. The lazy question usually accompanying these wonderfully unusual worlds, lands that are abstract and magical is “What have they been smoking?”. With Journey of the Broken Circle, the same question might well be asked, but this time it’s due to the creation of a strange cartoon world full of talking balloons, unhappy pine cones, and mystical weirdness that wouldn’t feel out of place in a dream. But does the Journey of the Broken Circle turn into a nightmare?
Some games present to the world one thing, but when you begin to play you fast discover that there are whole other depths to it. With Journey of the Broken Circle, that is true – it looks like a normal 2D platformer where you play as a Broken Circle, a descendent of Pac-Man, who is wandering the wilderness shouting greetings to the world, without anyone listening. As he travels the land the circle starts to meet other beings and then additional companions that join him on this journey.
There’s a story here about companionship and trying to work out one’s purpose in the busy world. The broken circle is a metaphor – at least I think – for you or me trying to find out what the missing piece is in our journey through life, as we try to feel whole again. On the way through this tale though, the circle needs to work with others, like a pine cone who doesn’t share the circular viewpoint on exploration, preferring to just stay in one place and admire the beauty. The circle meets a small balloon too – one that needs to keep inflated to carry on, requiring emotional support and encouragement from its companion.
It may all sound a bit strange, but the writing in Journey of the Broken Circle is good and quite clever, dealing with subjects like breakups, friendships, depression, and even suicide. It’s delivered subtly and cleverly, and at times is challenging. It reminded me very much of Thomas Was Alone and the seminal Braid. It’s a lovely piece of work that feels very important in these strange times. But how does it play?
Well in essence it controls like a normal platformer; one that sees you guiding your circle from left to right, utilising a jump button. As with most games from the genre, you have to work out the timing and here it’s all about the momentum in how the circle rolls. Then you gain some extra skills when you buddy up. At one point, when the circle joins with a pine cone, the ability to stick to walls and surfaces comes to the fore, so, in reality, you get to climb up things and attach to hard-to-reach places. Later on, you buddy up with a furry caterpillar that can crawl along any surface vertically or horizontally. There is the balloon character too, who gives the ability to fly in the air with a touch of a button, using clouds to give you a boost to get higher.
Some other great little devices happen throughout. At one point in an underground lava section, the circle gets hot and confused, so all the controls are reversed; pressing the right button makes you go left. It’s a clever addition but my word it becomes very hard to switch between the two states, and it begins to melt your brain. There are many ingenious and clever pieces of gameplay throughout, but at times it becomes quite frustrating and sometimes a bit random as you look for progression solutions.
Visually and I have to say that Journey of the Broken Circle is beautiful. Using a very simple toolset it manages to create a magical, off-beat world full of colour and creative characters. The only criticism I have is that when the levels end and it moves into a new one the transitions aren’t great, jump cutting in a very awkward way. The soundtrack is amazing though, with its electric pop beats that are present throughout.
If you have previously enjoyed games like Thomas was Alone, then Journey of the Broken Circle on Xbox is going to be for you. The developers have created a beautiful and magical world with strange, unreal characters, but have managed to place real-world issues into it; the mix works brilliantly. It provides a great piece of storytelling both in the writing and the visuals, and it’s helped along by some bonus unlockable levels should you feel the need. Journey of the Broken Circle is a creative success that provides an interesting platformer, a great story, and a wonderful yet unique perspective.