Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Xbox One, Steam
Publisher: Mixed Bag Games
Developer: Mixed Bag Games
Release date: Out now
Price: Â£12 (PS4/Vita 10% discount for PS Plus members), Â£14Â (Wii U), Â£12 (Xbox One),Â Â£11 (Steam – 10% discount until March 2)
TL;DR: Itâ€™s like youâ€™re flying and solving puzzles in an enormous, surreal painting
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Forma.8, the latest title from indie studio Mixed Bag Games, came as a pleasant surprise for me. From start to finish I found myself actually wanting to protect the tiny robot I was takingÂ through a beautifully surreal world. What is perhaps more surprising though, is just how much of a fun experience this simple game premise offers.
The game sees you take control of a Wall-E-esque space probe; separated from the rest of the robotic fleet, you arrive on a deserted planet and haveÂ to find a way back to your party. This journey will see you take on the role of explorer, puzzle-solver, and fighter as you glide (somewhat) gracefully through the sprawling labyrinthine caverns of the planet. This is almost a hybrid of a walking (or flying) simulator and dungeon crawler, and it’s great fun.
Much of the game is dedicated to exploration, as you search for keys or tools to allow you to reach an otherwise inaccessible section. And like the Metroid games of yonder, Forma.8â€™s strength lies in the layout of the game. Whilst there is a somewhat linear aspect, I never felt as if I was just going from point A to point B, or simply completing a generic objective. Rather, the layout of the game disguises the linearity and achieves a feeling of continuous progression. With a perfect balance ofÂ freedom and guidance,Â the player trusts their instincts for direction, and Forma.8 rarely feels like a slog.
Of course, the gameplay isnâ€™t merely a continuous fetch quest, with puzzles and combat an ever-present threat throughout the game. The latter is easily dealt with through a rather adorable electroshock attack that the probe can emit, and a far less adorable but very effective bomb that can be released. However, the environment of the game is implemented well, with claustrophobic tunnels making a gang of basic enemies something of a threat.
The real threat, however, are the puzzles. This is perhaps a biased remark because I hate puzzles; Iâ€™ve always hated them and Iâ€™ve always been bad at them. However, much like many aspects of Forma.8, they are measured. Yes, I was guilty of – not quite rage quitting, more like mildly peeved quitting – the game more than once, though after about twenty minutes I was confident of being able to solve the puzzle and picking up the controller once again.
The game lays down traditional signposts of progression with boss fights â€“ again, this isnâ€™t something Iâ€™m fond of. Yet the boss segments rarely reach the point of tedious filler events, instead, they have been developed and handle like a culmination of all the tools you have familiarised yourself with. There is always one trick or another needed to beat the boss; enter your puzzle-solving skills, and this trick usually puts to use the latest tool you have acquired for the robot. And in comparison to other gamesâ€™ treatment of bosses, the boss segments in Forma.8 seem pretty chilled out in pace, allowing you the time to try and figure out what you need to do.
It seems that with every review I have done, I tend to bang on about how beautiful or atmospheric the artistic design of said game is â€“ and Iâ€™m about to do it again. Because among all its other qualities, Forma.8 is a strikingly beautiful game.This is strange because the design is incredibly simple, with a backdrop of rudimentary shapes mixed well with detailed and sometimes complex patterns.These are furtherÂ bought to life through splashes of vibrant colours that are off-set by the blacks of the walls.
Forma.8â€™s design reminds me of the surreal paintings that I really like to stare at and say ‘Ooh,’Â without knowing what â€“ if anything â€“ the painting represents. The camera pans in and out to show off stunning vistas of the scenery, and it never gets tiresome. I did the reveal shot of the opening environment several times and it didnâ€™t stop being bloody marvellous to look at.
The visuals are further enhanced by the gameâ€™s soundtrack â€“ a synth-heavy series of melodies that seem to bleed into one another effortlessly. The sombre melodies reflect the eerie loneliness inherent within the game. There is a significant shift in tone during boss fights, yet the music still retains the alien cyber-dystopian sound which reflects the change of tone in the game well without being too dramatic.
However, the most harrowing sound is the one that comes with the death of the robot. The machine blows up, followed by a sudden exhalation of air that took me three deaths to realise that it was the sound of a computer being switched off via the power button. The sound of such sudden death actually made me feel bad about letting the poor robot die.
Forma.8 is a pretty simple game; if you described the premise to me I would wave you away as an indie fanboy. Yet there is something tantalisingly moreish about it and itâ€™s difficult to point out exactly what â€œit,â€ is. Even now, looking back on what Iâ€™ve written, I donâ€™t feel that Iâ€™ve done the game justice. Forma.8 is a simple game with a simple story of retrieving an artifact, but it executes its mechanics so well that it creates a beautiful and fun experience, whether this is you first â€œMetroidvania,â€ or you twentieth â€“ Forma.8 is worth your money.
The landscape and soundtrack are incredibly well realised
Pacing is balanced well, you wonâ€™t feel like youâ€™ve got an impossible task
The layout of the game is managed well, echoing the Metroid games of old
If you donâ€™t like puzzles you may find parts of the game tedious
You will die a lot and have to repeat some small segments repeatedly
Itâ€™s rated PEGI 7 in the UK, and â€œE,â€ for everyone in the US. The puzzles may be a little tricky so if you have kids; assume youâ€™ll need to help them at points. Unless you child is 30 â€“ then you let them figure it out for themselves.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by Mixed Bag Games