When I got this game to review I knew very little about it other than what I saw in screenshots. It had a simple aesthetic, so I was just expecting an artistic looking platform game that would nicely pass the time. What I didn’t expect was a game about a broken circle to give me an existential crisis, have me questioning life and genuinely making me feel sorrow for what is essentially a rolling Pac-Man. 2020 has been a wild ride.
It does make me wonder whether Journey of the Broken Circle should have a content warning at the start because I doubt many people who pick it up will know that it does come with a story that has amongst other things, a character contemplating suicide. It’s not subtle with the interpretations either. Your character, simply called Circle, is looking for his missing piece that will make him whole. It’s an obvious metaphor for broken relationships, loss and the grief that can come with that.
As you progress through each stage Circle will come across other characters, first you meet Sticky, a pine-cone looking thing who once you meet will slot right into your broken circle giving you a new way to traverse the forthcoming levels. At the start Circle is only able to jump, but with the aid of Sticky, as the name suggests, he’s able to stick to surfaces allowing you to reach new areas. As you meet these characters, the colourful dialogue between Circle and them is what really drives Journey of the Broken Circle.
Circle is the kind of character who wants to go on adventures, travel the world, see new sights, and sometimes this is at odds with the people he meets. One by one it seems like Circle is driving people away, refusing to listen and sometimes being a little controlling, until eventually they get tired of him and leave. This is where some of the more darker aspects of the story come into play. During one level midway through the game, as you find yourself all alone, Circle stands above a cliff face and his inner monologue is telling him he should just jump to his possible death. This is before a literal darkness comes and begins to chase you through the level. A little heavy handed with its themes, but definitely effective in its story telling. It’s a game where, despite being only a few hours long, you should take breaks between the more intense story sections.
Unfortunately the gameplay doesn’t quite match the story. While there is some good platforming segments that are challenging, but not unforgiving, there are sections where you will be retrying them over and over again. One level is set in a lava filled volcanic area and by standing on the heated rocks, Circle simple says “this is making me confused”, which is code for “I’m going to reverse your controls now”. So left is right and right is left. I have never played a game where this mechanic is fun, Journey of the Broken Circle is no different. Thankfully the checkpoints are well placed, usually at the beginning of the more difficult sections, so that’s a plus.
As far as variety goes, each environment is nice and unique. One minute you’re in the forest, the next you could be flying in the clouds with your balloon friend. There are collectible mushrooms in each area if you so wish, so there’s that replay value, but for me at least this is one of those games where you play it through once and then that’s it. Just because the story content is so intense.
At a Switch price of £7.20 it’s not going to break the bank, and is a good few hours of entertainment if you can get through the odd difficulty spike, but really it all depends on whether you have the right mindset to deal with the story. Featuring feelings of loss, pain, suicidal thoughts and broken relationships, it depends on whether you feel you can handle that sort of content. A strange thing to say when you just look at the screenshots and just see a Circle rolling along a path, but I suppose that’s a testament to the quality of writing that I have to put that disclaimer here.