In the middle of October I attended Play Expo in Manchester to get my hands on with Mixed Bag Games upcoming title forma.8, which will be heading to the PlayStation Vita early next year.
Being the only Vita game on show at the Expo meant that I could focus my time on the game, whilst getting to know a bit more about the title’s development from Mixed Bag’s Co-founder Mauro Fanelli – who was at the studio’s stand proudly showcasing his company’s creation.
Mixed Bag started work on forma.8 in 2011, but then put work on the title on the backburner as they focused on getting Futruidium EP Deluxe launched for both the PlayStation Vita and PS4. I was also told that the game has been on the receiving end of a visual and technical overhaul, which has meant that Mixed Bag have needed more time to perfect the game they have spent the best part of half a decade building.
Having spent some quality time with the game, I can safely say that this additional work has certainly paid off. The premise of forma.8 is that you pilot a small robot probe that has been sent down to an alien planet in a bid to recover a powerful energy source from the huge underground caverns and bring it back safely to an orbiting mothership that has run low on energy so that it can continue on its journey.
Upon entering the caves the first thing that I noticed was how well designed the area was. The game conveys the caves as the vast, dark spaces that they are, with the forefront of the opening stages silhouetting the rocking outcrops of the caverns, whilst the muli-coloured, pastel scenery of the alien world adding some much needed colour to the game.
Another thing that Mixed Bag get right in forma.8 is the feeling of isolation and perspective that will overcome you as you play. As a small probe searching an unknown, alien planet you will first feel quite vulnerable – with only a shield to protect you. As you explore further you will find power-ups that will not only strengthen your probe but will also help you to solve the many puzzles that the game throws at you to challenge your grey matter – in a similar vein to the early Metroid titles.
The one thing that I noticed about forma.8 is that the game does not attempt to handhold you through the tougher sections. This is deliberate, allowing players to figure the game out for themselves – which will heighten the sense of achievement when you figure out how to progress for yourself.
I must admit that I did get stuck on one of the earlier puzzles. After picking up a power-up that gave my probe the ability to drop bombs, I came across a giant spider-like creature blocking my path. Anytime that I tried to get close enough to the spider to drop a bomb it would attack me, knocking me out of the way so that my bomb’s blast-radius was ineffective. It was only by luck that I figured out that I could use my shield to propel the bomb in any direction I needed – enabling me to get past my long-legged adversary.
Luckily, navigating the world isn’t as troublesome as some of the game’s puzzles. You can use the left analogue stick to navigate the world with your probe, and the face buttons to use your shield and other power-ups. I was told that the touchscreen will also feature, allowing you to manoeuvre by using the screen borders to move in any direction you need to.
The one thing that was missing from my hands on with forma.8 was the game’s audio. Being on a noisy show floor, and lacking any headphones, meant that I missed out on being able to experience forma.8’s soundtrack. Mauro told me that the game will rely heavily on the soundtrack, with the audio adding to the atmospheric feel of forma.8 and also helping you to locate hidden areas and find your way through the game.
Although the game is predominantly an adventure game, I do feel that some players may be put off by the lack of handholding and direction that the game gives you, instead allowing for you to create your own path through the alien landscape. For those that will relish the opportunity to get lost and create their own adventure, then I suggest that you keep an eye out for forma.8 when it releases on the Vita early next year!