A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
The story carries a strong anti-bullying theme, and promotes hope and imagination as ways to combat negative emotions. It also touches on environmental topics, showing the disastrous impact of an oil tanker spill on a small town nearby.
Positive Role Models
Ash is a fine role model for kids, relying on his art and creativity to stay positive and express himself without resorting to violence. The bullies behave badly, but at least some of their behavior is due to negative experiences at home and with peers.
Ease of Play
Interface options ranging from virtual reality to motion controls outside VR to a traditional gamepad should allow most players to find a comfortable control scheme. Painting is simple, as is navigating the world. Working out solutions to puzzles can be a bit trickier, but optional hints pop up whenever the game detects the player is stuck.
Violence & Scariness
Bullies push Ash around a bit, forcing him to the ground and tossing him in a dumpster.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.