The near future. A research trip gone wrong. A mysterious island. No way to contact the outside world. This is how Sephonie begins – the perfect setup for a horror story. However, instead of taking the player on a path toward darkness, two-person developer Analgesic Productions chooses a far more personable and sentimental trajectory.
Dropping you into the shoes of three researchers who are stranded on “Sephonie Island”, it’s your job to explore the island and, using the ONYX Link – the latest in scientific research equipment – study the island’s flora and fauna. But something calls to our three scientists, pulling them deeper into the island’s depths and its mysteries.
Great platforming… if you can come to grips with the awkward character movement
Sephonie immediately gives you access to all of the island and its mysteries in a 3D platformer designed around a parkour-like move-set. Instead of giving you a traditional double jump, you can parkour your way around the island using limited wall jumps, aerial dashes, and a whole lot of wall running.
Your skills are limited at first but grow the further you get into the game, such as unlocking a grappling-hook-like ability that lets you slingshot between flying creatures. You can switch between the three protagonists on the fly after the opening, but who you choose to play will come down to personal preference as they all share the same moves.
Talking of moves, Sephonie’s first and only real obstacle to your enjoyment is the controls. Despite its parkour ambitions, Sephonie’s characters control very stiffly. When you run or dash with them, the developers chose to make the characters move as though you were controlling them on a “skateboard”.
This makes the fast and, at times, precise turns and angles you need to line up jumps difficult as their turning radius is large and feels slower and more cumbersome than it should be for a human. Getting used to Sephonie’s control system can take quite some time and the developers even urge you to use the game’s opening area as a test bed to get to grip on it.
Thankfully, for those who struggle to get used to the lack of fine-tuned and nuanced character movement that AAA games have gotten us accustomed to, the developers have added accessibility options in the settings menu: “Infinite Dash” and “Infinite Jump”. While the Infinite Dash does a lot to mitigate some of the initial frustration, I have to agree with the developers warning that the Infinite Jump can break the game by essentially letting you fly all over the place.
As such, unless you’re absolutely struggling, I only recommend using this for a second playthrough if you’re looking to get all the collectibles. Some are nestled away in some pretty hard-to-reach locations and it’s worth trying to reach them the way the developers intended.
That said, once you do get used to Sephonie’s lumbering movement, the platforming and exploration become incredibly enjoyable. There’s a wonderful sense of scale to the game’s environments, and reaching many of the areas requires some deft control and timing – especially of the wall run – to get where you want to go. And while the platforming is challenging, it’s never punishing, with plenty of well-placed checkpoints and instant respawning if you miss a beat.
Sephonie’s ONYX system allows you to link with the island’s flora and fauna, giving you a deeper insight into the biome, its biodiversity, and its unique ecosystem. You do this by playing a Tetris-like puzzle game that has you dropping block pieces into various containers to reach a certain amount of cohesion with the life form being scanned. These puzzles start off light but slowly grow in complexity across the campaign by adding various modifiers and obstacles for you to plan around. The results though, were always worth it as you’re given a brief insight into how each life form fits into the island’s ecosystem.
Wonderful storytelling brings it all together
The ONYX system also plays a vital role in Sephonie’s wonderfully written story. And it’s here, in conjunction with the narrative, that Sephonie really shines. While our three leads may not be mechanically different, their personalities, lives, and backstories are.
The further into the game you get, and the more creatures you link with, the more of both the island and our protagonist’s lives are revealed. Who they are, how they came to be who they are, and just how vital they may be to humanity’s future plays out the more you explore. The ONYX system is a two-way street, so you also get glimpses into the personalities of the creatures that call Sephonie home. I’d argue the wonderful writing alone is reason enough to push forward and while, at times, it could be heavy-handed, it was never anything less than engaging, nostalgic, and often wistful.
It may not push any technical boundaries with an art style that is reminiscent of late PS1 or early PS2 games, but Sephonie’s unique take on creating a narrative-driven 3D platformer offers up a wonderful world to explore, with three well-realised characters lost amidst a sea of fantastic writing.
Sephonie was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC, Xbox One/Series S|X, and PlayStation 4/5.
Sephonie (Nintendo Switch) ReviewSephonie (Nintendo Switch) Review
- Wonderful writing
- Great, challenging platforming sections
- Fun puzzles
- Great accessibility features to ease possible platforming frustration
- Character movement can feel slow and cumbersome...
- ...so it takes time to get to grips with the platforming