STAFF REVIEW of Journey of the Broken Circle (Xbox One)

Tuesday, June 1, 2021.
by Josh Morgan

Journey of the Broken Circle Box art When I first saw videos of Journey of the Broken Circle I was expecting more of a puzzle platformer like Thomas was Alone, Limbo or Inside. A simple 2D platformer that was light on story but heavy on traversal and platforming puzzles to get to your destination. What I quickly found out was there is a lot more to the story, which is 4-5 hours long and a lot less in the gameplay than I was expecting.

Journey of the Broken Circle is pretty simple; You are a broken circle named... Circle, and you are missing a piece of yourself. Early in the game there is a line “If I were whole, I would move faster” and from that moment on Circle is on the hunt for someone to make him whole. It is not clear if Circle was at one point whole and is experiencing some sort of breakup and is looking to fill the void that breakup has caused, or if Circle has never felt whole and wants to know what it feels like. It's clear that Circle is not happy with the void in his life, and it's our job to help him find a suitable partner to fill that void.

During the 4–5-hour story, Circle will meet a handful of partners to try out and see if they are the perfect fit for him. Some of these partners will want to go on this journey, but some of them will take convincing and it becomes clear as you progress that they are not a perfect fit, but Circle will try to convince them to stay longer. He so desperately wants to be whole that he will endure the pain of a partner that constantly fights him. Sometimes verbally by constantly complaining, and other times they will fight you in your controls. One level you will find yourself around hot lava, jumping from one rock formation to the next to stay out of the heat. Your partner does not want to be here, and they are making it crystal clear by complaining a lot and fighting your every move, so your controls are flipped. Left becomes Right and Right becomes Left. This completely broke my brain while playing and it was awesome. I wish there were more gameplay elements like this during the journey.

You start the game by simply rolling and jumping with 'A'. There will be simple gaps to jump across and ramps to roll up and down to get you used to the controls. With each new partner that you meet and convince to join you comes a new gameplay mechanic to help you move forward on the path. First up you will meet Sticky, a red triangle that helps you stick to walls to climb to higher spaces. You’ll roll a bit slower because Sticky sticks out of Circle a bit, making you bounce a bit while rolling, but you’ll be able to use Sticky to get to places you just can’t reach by yourself. Later, you’ll come across Balloon who will help you ascend higher up the mountain by floating a bit and giving you the ability to bounce up clouds. But, as you get higher and higher up the mountain, Balloon will start to deflate, and it will be up to you to pull the Right Trigger to keep him inflated during those times. It was in the cloud level that I came across the most frustrating sequence of the game. Circle and Balloon are together floating from cloud to cloud, and you come across these magnetic objects that pull you into them. You must use this momentum to slingshot yourself to the next magnet or cloud to progress. I felt this whole sequence did not work correctly. I don’t know if it was my timing or if the mechanic was just completely broken, but I felt that making it to the next cloud or magnetic field was more on luck than it was control and it led to some very frustrating deaths.

During your 4-5 hours journey with Circle you will come across many beautifully colored landscapes of your typical game locations. You have the grassy forest area, the dangerous rock paths, the dark deep caves, the hot lava, the snow-covered mountain peaks and the cloudy skies. All of these settings have been done in games before, but the art style used really fits Journey of the Broken Circle nicely. At its core the game is a simple premise of being a 2D circle, so having a simple 2D landscape makes sense. If you were the same 2D circle but in a lush, colorful landscape like in Ori and the Blind forest with lots of depth and moving layers then it would not make sense and fit the overall package. There is some beauty in its simplicity, and I very much enjoyed the look of the game overall.

One downfall that I came across had to do with the dialog. At times it was nearly impossible to read the chatter that happens between Circle and its temporary partner. Sometimes Circle would say something and its partner would fire back with a quick reply with the speech bubble covering what Circle said. It was extremely difficult to follow the conversation because of this, and the fact that you are also trying to roll, jump and sometimes float past deadly obstacles made it even worse. At first I would take a break from moving forward to read the banter between Circle and its partner, but after a while I ended up just ignoring the dialog and just focused on moving forward down the path. That is not something I should be doing during a game with such a focus on the interactions between the characters on screen. I’m sure the developers would love to have voiced dialog in the game and in this case, it needs it. However, the music during Circles journey is fantastic, as it’s a great mix of meditative and relaxing during the calmer platforming moments, but really switches to hard hitting and stressful at the right times during the story. Sometimes I would just stop rolling and listen to the relaxing sounds coming from my headphones.

Journey of the Broken Circle was a tough game for me to review. A lot of the story went over my head because I haven’t felt a lot of what Circle felt throughout his journey. Sure we’ve all had partners like Circle's companions in this game. Companions that fight your every attempt to move forward even though they might not be doing it on purpose, or partners that just want to move on to the next adventure without stopping and smelling the roses to enjoy the moment. Those parts I connected with, but when it comes to Angst the big black cloud, and a lot of the dialog that I saw went in one ear and out the other because I just simply cannot relate. That’s not to say this game won’t speak to you, there are a lot of people out there that are going through exactly what Circle experienced throughout his journey. I think a lot of people can relate to the story that this game tells.

I did enjoy my time rolling with Circle during his journey to complete himself. The story was great, the graphics matched the simple premise of the game, and rolling through the game's beautiful scenes while listening to its relaxing music was a great experience. But with its high peaks, there are also low valleys that I just cannot get past. Tough to follow dialog bubbles really disconnected me from the story at times, and frustrating sequences like the magnetic fields and cloud hopping really hurt the entire experience overall.

**Journey of the Broken Circle was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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