The 3D platformer Sephonie is something special. Created by two developers under the studio name Analgesic Productions, the game follows a team of three scientists who find themselves marooned on a deserted island with a vast underground cave system. At first glance, the game appears to have a lot in common with other 3D platformers: Much of it entails running around and exploring the island in order to collect research on the various animal species that inhabit it. But when you actually get your hands on it, the game feels different altogether — that is to say, it feels less like an average platformer, and more like an excellent skateboarding game.
Much of Sephonie takes place in the subterranean labyrinth, which is covered in flora and fauna reminiscent of those found in coral reefs. As one of the scientists, you can run from place to place to explore the landmarks and find species that you can “connect” with by playing a Tetris-like minigame. Even apart from their superior intellect, the scientists are pretty cool. They can dash, wall jump, and even run vertically up a wall.
Despite the fact that the scientists perform all these acrobatics on foot, the game does feel like a skateboarding game. When you hold the run button, the character just starts moving. In Sephonie, it’s more about guiding your character as they propel forward rather than directing every step. A lot of exploration is done by running alongside walls and then comboing off them to land at a higher point. Special walls, like ones covered with squishy brain coral, allow you to refresh your dash in order to chain together wall jumps. As in skateboarding games, there’s a certain kind of patience required to get a feel for the controls, and a similar satisfaction once you do. In Sephonie, movement feels less like a means to an end and more like a creative way to express yourself through fluid movement.
Marina Kittaka from Analgesic told Polygon that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Spyro the Dragon helped inspire Sephonie; both games have wall rides, grinds, and glides. “These are the types of moves that can drastically change how you see a given space, as you grow to understand them,” Kittaka said in an email.
Not only is this movement system compelling in its own right — it also aligns with Sephonie’s very premise. The entire point of the game is to collect research and better understand the natural environment of Sephonie island. As you progress through the cave system, each area poses new formations that require you to rethink the platforming mechanics. When you explore this way, you get to know the geological structures of the island more intimately. You “connect” with flora and fauna through the puzzle gameplay embedded inside the game, yes — but I also found myself connecting with the island by cruising along the curves of its cave walls. In the end, the landscape isn’t so much a challenge to be conquered as it is a vehicle to enjoy every moment of movement.