A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Concrete Genie is an adventure game for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR that tries to tackle real world subjects, including bullying and the environment. Players control Ash, a boy whose town has been all but abandoned due to a wave of bankruptcy and depression following an oil tanker spill that has destroyed the local economy. He's bullied by a band of kids who push him around, steal his stuff, and toss him in dumpsters. But Ash doesn't fight back the way most game heroes do, with fists and weapons. Instead, he uses a magic paintbrush and paint to create fantastic, animated murals -- including seemingly living two-dimensional "genies" -- to help him fight the darkness and negativity consuming the town and the bullies. He's a great role model: a resilient kid who remains positive and understands that the bullies he faces have their own dark pasts that might be influencing their behavior. There's no inappropriate content to be found in the game.
What's it about?
CONCRETE GENIE places players in an empty coastal town filled with shuttered businesses that went bankrupt in the wake of an oil tanker spill that destroyed the community's economy. The streets are mostly barren, save for a group of bullying kids intent on dogging the game's hero, a boy named Ash who loves art and refuses to give up hope. As the game begins, Ash comes into possession of a magical paintbrush that he uses to paint sprawling murals on the sides of buildings. The art comes alive as it's created; fire flickers, clouds pour rain, and two-dimensional creatures dubbed "genies" follow Ash around on the walls. These murals bring light and energy back to the town while also removing the "darkness" -- a physical manifestation of the town's negative emotions -- from the streets. As the game progresses, players learn more about the disaster that has befallen the town, as well as the history of both Ash and his bullies, who, it turns out, have had a pretty hard time of it (which explains -- though doesn't excuse -- their naughty behavior). This game was designed for PlayStation VR, but can also be played with a standard gamepad controller.
Is it any good?
Anyone who thinks fighting is essential to making games fun ought to give this one a go. Concrete Genie replaces traditional video game combat with a series of puzzles, paintings, and collectibles that prove to be very entertaining. Running around the town feels great, especially as Ash climbs buildings and slides along power lines like a parkour professional. Painting's a blast, too. Players are provided broad freedom to paint whatever they like -- so long as they've collected a picture of it -- in order to bring life back to the village. And making art is easy as pie. Just pick a doodle, tap the trigger, and start moving the controller around to begin a fresh masterpiece. Don't worry; the game doesn't grade your compositions, it just needs you to make an effort to create. You'll also need to put your thinking cap on from time to time in order to solve puzzles, like figuring out how to get a genie you've drawn to restore power to dead machines. Plus, there are lots of fun side activities to do, such as luring a genie to pet a cat or looking for the lost pages of Ash's sketchbook (the bullies tear them out at the start) to enhance your selection of painting options.
Even more impressive, though, are the timely themes and messages organically weaved into story. As players learn about the town's woes -- including the oil tanker disaster -- through old newspapers, they'll understand the ripple effect that can be caused by environment-related issues, starting with the destruction of the economy, followed by emotional and social tragedies. We see the impact most clearly on the game's kids, who've handled it in different ways. Ash remains hopeful and determined while his peers have become disillusioned and angry, willing to strike out at anything. These messages don't feel forced, but rather the natural consequence of all-too-familiar events. Concrete Genie is that rare game that's both fun and poetic; it's evidence that video games work as an art form capable of communicating important social ideas to a range of ages.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about bullying. Does the bullying portrayed in Concrete Genie feel realistic to you? What do you think of how Ash chooses to respond to his bullies?
Does being creative -- making art, building something, or coming up with an idea -- change the way you feel emotionally? If so, how?
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR
- Price: $29.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Release date: October 8, 2019
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Great Boy Role Models
- ESRB rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence
- Last updated: March 18, 2021
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.