Journey of the Broken Circle is a story about an incomplete circle going through an existential crisis. That’s the pitch and if your curiosity isn’t peaked by that very sentence then this game probably isn’t for you. It’s about as clear as I can make what the game is about and you’re going to all in and explore the story this Pac-Man esque circle is about to endure or you’ll turn your back and play something else. Both is fine, considering the beauty Journey of the Broken Circle displays, it’s a surprisingly heavy experience, littered with some glorious dialogue working to tape over the cracks in the gameplay.
It says something about the nature of a games narrative when you begin to empathise with the protagonist, and in this case said protagonist is a circle looking for its missing piece to become whole again. Video games, man.
Yeah, it’s on the nose and it’s impressively unsubtle in its metaphors but developers Lovable Hat Cult seems to have been made fully aware they’re straining for nuance. Through the rather gorgeous landscapes and wondrous use of colour throughout, your goal to find the missing part of yourself is the ultimate goal, even if you find pieces that don’t quite fit along the way.
The various ‘skills’ Circle can pick up along the way allows you to navigate your locations with aplomb, and all conveniently at the exact right time you may have needed them, which is terribly handy. Sticky is a seed that was stuck looking at a sunset and refused to move in Circle came barreling in to take him on an adventure. With Sticky attached Circle is able to, well, stick to things, allowing for movement up and down walls and navigating the trickier areas where a drop is an instakill.
The dialogue between Circle and Sticky is fun and engaging, as the journey carries on they become more frustrated with each other, and eventually part ways so Circle can gain control of another skill. Balloon allows Circle to float, despite Balloons reservations about being used in such a way and just wants to float on his own (metaphors!). The message of, well, you’ve probably already got it but for those in the back, ‘you’ll come across various pieces that may make you feel whole but aren’t a perfect fit’ is slapped over your head with reckless abandon.
An important message to be sure, but one that doesn’t need such a direct approach when the subtlety works just as well. A moment where Sticky confides in Circle about how they had considered ending their life was a particular sting I wasn’t expecting, mind.
And it seldom relents as the game progresses. Boss fights are ‘your dark shadowy thoughts’ chasing you through the dark caves. Again, this isn’t Life is Strange or Night in the Woods, where this kind of mental health exploration is delivered in a far more delicate and patient way. Journey of the Broken Circle is supposed to be a peaceful, relaxing few hours and give you the opportunity to think about certain ideas it’s sharing with the player. To an extent, it achieves this very well. It’s not subtle, as I’ve mentioned, but the job is done in that sense.
The ‘journey’ is one of self discovery through very unsubtle metaphors, and perhaps sometimes you need to be smacked across the head with the point rather than trying to break it down into bullet points to fully grasp the meaning?
I digress. Journey of the Broken Circle is beauty personified with a story that’s engaging and interesting, though it’s a shame the gameplay feels a little stilted in comparison. More so than anything else, it’s just not particularly original. Broken Circle is the absolute definition of ‘Indie Game: The Game’ and whilst there’s nothing wrong with that from a technical standpoint, navigating a circle over terrain and through caves isn’t hugely exciting, and it felt more like a means to an end rather than whatever ‘fun’ could be stranded in a video game that sets its tone very early on. The various ‘skills’ you meet along the way offer a mix up of the formula, though Sticky can be a right pain in certain areas that’s either too long or high for the movement of Circle to be fun with Sticky attached, as navigation when stuck to a wall is slow and meandering.
Oh, and if I’m going to add my own literal metaphor; to hell with the lava sections. Where for some utterly bewildering reason that’s never fully explained, the controls invert (left is right, right is left), leaving you with a challenge that isn’t particularly difficult, but comes from nowhere and serves no real purpose other than to frustrate. Navigating Circle with sticky between walls with inverted controls when you have to move quickly to reach a moving platform that will leave without you if you’re not quick enough really breaks down the otherwise smooth pace the game had set itself, and is a reminder that yes, you’re playing a video game that has annoying puzzle platform sections when it simply doesn’t need it.
So that’s Journey of the Broken Circle. It’s certainly a mixed bag of gorgeous visuals, a narrative built around finding that inner peace within yourself and overcoming the struggles that may weigh you down along the way.
You may find something like Journey of the Broken Circle can help you if you feel you need it, and for that it must be commended. It’s not the most powerful of experiences but if someone can see themselves in this little circle that just wants to feel complete, the game has done its job.
Journey of the Broken Circle is beautiful and written well with some delightful dialogue, hampered by the actual video game bit, which doesn’t really measure up to its presentation and story. It’s a shame, because otherwise it’s a pleasant enough journey with something important to say.
Journey of the Broken Circle is out now on Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC via Steam.
Developer: Lovable Hat Cult
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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