Journey of the Broken Circle is a game by Danish developers Lovable Hat Cult. The IndiCade 2020 Narrative Award Winner is a side-scrolling adventure that tells the touching story of the lonely Circle and its quest for its missing piece. The narrative-focused platforming adventure calls to mind masterful indie favorites like Thomas was Alone and Gris. Will you be able to help Circle search far and wide for what it has always been looking for?
Story – An Endearing Hero’s Journey
The tale of Circle plays it straight with the Hero’s Journey theme. The game tries to put a fresh spin on this trope by telling the story through a relatable but engaging protagonist. Circle has its personality, but its childlike wonder knocks on player’s hearts, reminding them of innocence and hope.
Perhaps one of the most endearing things about the game is its eponymous protagonist. Circle reads like a young, bright-eyed protagonist, frustrated by the fact that it is incomplete. It seeks to fill the hole in its heart – or rather, in its side. It also enjoys learning and seeing new things about the world. Circle approaches the characters it comes across with much optimism and trust. I can’t help but root for it to complete their mission, and I was pushed to continue playing and exploring for the sake of the little shape.
Even more charming still is the interactions Circle has with an interesting cast of characters on its journey. Aside from the occasional residents of each realm that you meet, you come across certain individuals that fit a certain wedge shape. How the relationship of Circle and its partner progress affects not only the gameplay but the maturity of Circle through his journey, too. It’s a very thoughtful way to reflect the nature of relationships in a video game. The dialogue comes in with appropriate timing, making it feel very natural as it accompanies the challenges the players go through.
Each section of the game had its own message, but Journey of the Broken Circle is not subtle with the themes it wants to express. The philosophical terms coming out of certain characters do seem too on-the-nose. The heavy-handed discussion of angst could have been spun into the story more delicately. The narrative had been doing a good job doing that with the minimal dialogue, so some lines were not necessary.
The commentary lines that push the narrative forward could be minimized or reworked to “show, not tell” and drive the point home. An example is the opening lines that described Circle and Sticky’s deteriorating relationship. There was no need to outline this because this was already obvious through their fights at the latter end of their level.
Connected to the storytelling, transitions between these sections could be a lot smoother. I noticed that the end of a section would cut into a loading screen just as you hit the checkpoint – no warning whatsoever – and drops you right into the next section. It does make the gameplay feel awkward and stilted and there should have been a slowing down or a cinematic that would bridge these worlds.
Overall, the narrative is the game’s greatest strength, with each scene and dialogue building on the wonderful story of Circle’s growth.
Gameplay – Simple but Satisfying
The platforming adventure is a simple as it looks. In fact, there are no lives to be lost when falling into what is supposed to be a deadly pit. There are no stakes and no consequences – the important thing is to keep moving forward. I think this ties into Circle’s personality, and it strengthens the message of the game even further.
Throughout the game, there are a variety of sections you must traverse. With the different partners that you come across, you work together to clear platforming sections with a certain theme. The gameplay is straightforward and simple and is very easy to get the hang of. Rolling and jumping against your environment are your main actions, but they feel good and natural, especially since Circle was born to roll.
This relaxing gameplay still presents some challenges in certain sections, especially with each new partner you find. It added a new dimension to these sections and they are genuinely fun to play. When you’ve gotten used to Circle’s basic moves, learning new ones is that much more fun. I enjoyed experimenting with climbing, floating, and sliding along interesting surfaces and territories, never boring me during the whole run.
I also enjoyed digging around the levels for hidden mushrooms, which unlock bonus levels for the player. It encourages you to think outside of the levels and explore.
Your journey with Circle will last around 3 hours of gameplay.
Audio and Graphics – Maximizing Minimalism
The minimalist vector art would look great as desktop wallpapers. The serene nature of these scenes lends to the sense of wonder that Circle has for the world laid out in front of it. The art is “flat” but nowhere near lacking beauty or excitement.
Each world is separated with themes, and there is a pretty good variety of them in the game that you are never bored looking at the screen. The color palettes and bold shapes create recognizable silhouettes, so you’re always sure about what you’re running into as you platform through the world. There are times where you can lose Circle in the noise, but those moments are very rare and it only takes a few maneuvers to find it again.
The soundtrack melts into the charming background, almost ambient noise twinkling behind the bright and beautiful landscape of the game. They are the kind of beats you’d enjoy at a really chill cafe, and the music complemented the whole experience.
Journey of the Broken Circle was reviewed on PS4, with a key provided by Nakana.io.