Somehow, Journey of the Broken Circle achieved the impossible: it made me care for a shape.
From Danish developer Lovable Hat Cult, the indie game is ostensibly about a little circle on a side-scrolling journey. In actuality, it’s an exploration of relationships and self-discovery.
You see, the circle has intense feelings of longing. They’re not even a circle at all, but a Pac-Man-esque little character who’s looking for their missing piece. Aren’t we all?
“If I were just perfectly round I could roll smoother,” they claim. And so, the circle journeys to find the perfect piece to make them complete.
What follows is a series of platforming levels across idyllic pastures, snowy fields and dark caverns. Along the journey, the circle meets potential partners, each of whom put a new spin on gameplay: a seed allows the circle to cling to vertical surfaces; a balloon allows them to float; and later they meet a character who’s obsessed with speed.
Mechanically it’s all simple stuff that’s mostly controlled with a single button to jump. That’s matched by the minimalist presentation of abstract visuals and moody electronic music that are neutral enough for anyone to sympathise with, regardless of gender or sexuality.
Yet it’s what the shapes represent that really hits you in the feels. The lonely circle is seeking another to (literally) overcome obstacles, but soon learns that being a pair isn’t always easy. The seed wants to stay put to grow where the circle wants to experience life, while the balloon sings ABBA and desires independence.
There’s even a needy snail who longs for a relationship but whose eagerness pushes people away.
Over the course of the journey, the circle experiences cycles of loneliness and pleasure that leads them to battle their inner demons in a crisis of existential angst. It goes to some dark places, touching on suicide and depression in a way that’s surprisingly thought-provoking. It contemplates not only self-identity, but the struggles of supporting another and the impact this can have on a relationship.
It’s all very philosophical but the circle never buckles under the weight of such heavy topics. As a platformer, there are some frustrating momentum puzzles that impact the pacing and the controls can feel awkward – especially with a partner. If anything, though, those frustrations are all part of the experience, when we think we’ve found the perfect match but they’re actually pulling in the opposite direction.
It’s also a game about slowing down and enjoying the simple moments in life, which is ironic for a short game you can easily race through in a couple of hours. Yet Journey of the Broken Circle is as touching as it is fleeting, with emotional depth that anyone of any sexuality can relate to.
All that emotion from a simple shape.