Stepping – or rather, floating – into the world of Forma. 8 is very much reminiscent of a classic Metroid title. Developed by MixedBag Games, you play as a cute spherical probe stranded on a mysterious, atmospheric planet after becoming separated from its expedition crew upon entry. Aside from a short introduction cut-scene, the game does very little to direct you in your quest. Controls and game mechanics are largely picked up organically as you progress through the maze-like environments and pick up new abilities. This minimalist design successfully creates and aura of isolation and discovery, whether you’re exploring complex cave formations or vast landscapes against a backdrop of mountains.
The gameplay itself is similarly minimal, but with hidden depth. The daring little probe can slowly glide around the environment at will, bouncing off the walls with reckless abandon whilst encountering numerous enemies, blocked off paths, and destructible boulders. The first ability you acquire is a pulse attack executed with a simple tap of ‘X’. This is useful when enemies get close, as you can easily knock them back – although it usually takes two pulse attacks to actually kill a standard enemy.
The second ability is a lot more interesting. Much like Metroid, pressing ‘Square’ will drop a small bomb which will detonate after a few seconds. This is significantly more powerful than the pulse attack, and can even destroy enemies in one hit. It gets exciting though when you realise that you can combine the bomb ability with the pulse attack to create a projectile weapon. Some larger enemies don’t let you get close to them – they too will create a shockwave that, whilst not harmful, will push you backwards and into the pathway of other creatures and hazards. Dropping a bomb and sending it flying into the creature with a well placed pulse attack is a surprisingly effective and satisfying combat mechanic, and you’ll soon find yourself attempting it wherever possible.
Once you get used to how the game plays, it’s not a particularly challenging experience, although boss battles can provide a hefty difficulty spike upon discovery. Again, there’s no indication of how to defeat a boss – a lot of the time you’ll start off attacking them much in the same way as you’d attack a normal enemy, but this will mostly prove fruitless. It’s only through your own experimentation that you’ll uncover very particular ways to defeat a boss – I must admit to slapping my forehead once or twice after realising how simple it could be.
Graphically, Forma. 8 is incredibly pretty. It layers flat colours on top of one another, creating a remarkable contrast between a pitch black foreground, and a multitude of bright colours in the background. Think Limbo, but with a splash of paint. The camera does a good job showing off the environment at the right moments. It will stay close up as you navigate tight spots in the dark, but if you float up and above the surface of the planet the camera will pan out – giving you a wonderfully vast at the rich, colourful landscape. It’s a revelatory moment as you take in the views, especially once you realise your little probe friend is scarcely bigger than this full stop.
This is complimented by a superb soundtrack – the ambient music helping bring the world to life, creating a sense of discovery and relaxation. Health orbs scattered around the levels sound like piano keys as you pick them up, which in itself creates a short, somewhat whimsical musical number. It’s all put together in a very thoughtful way that few other games can contend with.
Of course, as with any ‘metroidvania’ title, there’s a significant amount of backtracking required in Forma. 8. The game’s stubborn insistence on holding back information is unfortunately a major issue, as you’ll spend a large amount of time wondering where on earth you need to go next. For a game that’s clearly designed to be a relaxing experience, retracing your steps at such a slow pace can often prove to be frustrating. You do gain the ability to speed up your movement later on, but the need still dampens the experience somewhat.
Looking back, it seems if you go into this knowing that you’ll spend a lot of time backtracking you’ll find the complaints to that effect rather moot. MixedBag Games have created a relaxing, atmospheric title with secrets that you’ll actually want to discover, and just the right amount of difficulty spikes. It certainly has its issues, but Forma.8 is simply a great way to wind down with after a hard day’s work.
Do yourself a favour, and get to probing.