Published on May 11th, 2021 | by Jamie Kirk
The Journey of the Broken Circle PS4 Review
Summary: An affecting story and dazzling presentation is marred by a series of frustrating gameplay mechanics.
The indie scene has added surprising emotional depth to what was once solely the realm of cartoon mascots. Thomas Was Alone, Braid and Celeste all used the platform game to explore relationships, depression and anxiety in an effective and thoughtful manner. The Journey of the Broken Circle is the latest entry in this genre, using a minimalist style to deliver a thoughtful meditation on loneliness.
The star of the show is the Pac-Man-esque Circle, who longs to fill his missing piece. The Circle is an engaging protagonist and the developers Lovable Hat Cult are unafraid to show that The Circle is flawed. The Circle’s desire to find its missing piece can sometimes reveal layers of selfishness that help him feel like a fleshed-out character, rather than an amazing person who just can’t find a partner.
Along the way the Circle runs in to a variety of animals and inanimate objects. They are all stand ins for different archetypes of people, whether it be an extremely needy and eager to please snail or a stick that’s dedicated to routine. The metaphors are simple yet effective and the game explores some pretty heavy topics without being draining or feeling like a slog.
The story is accompanied by a gorgeous minimalist art style and a brilliant soundtrack that is equal parts soothing and haunting. Unfortunately, the gameplay does not quite live up to the presentation. At first all seems well as the floaty, dreamy jumping mechanics mesh well with the themes and the games core concept. However as it progresses it adds precision platformer elements that do not fit at all and will mean repeated death for the poor circle.
Throughout the game the circle is aided by different companions, each one presents a new gameplay gimmick and each one is more infuriating and frustrating than the last. There is the stick, which enables you to climb walls but oddly restricts movement. During the sticks section they also add a mechanic that causes the circle to move in the opposite direction to what you input. Since the dawn of time I think this has only served to frustrate and anger, and here it is no exception.
Later your companions include a ball of moss that has overly frustrating jumping controls. Then there is a balloon that features a rage inducing series of obstacles. Lastly there is a circle piece that makes you go extremely fast that features some of the most annoying water instant deaths I’ve ever seen.
The gameplay of Journey of the Broken Circle almost caused me to throw my controller across the room and quit several times over its brief journey. But I kept coming back to it because I was charmed by the story and the atmosphere. Those expecting a decent platforming experience might want to look elsewhere, but there is a lot to like.