After looking to the past for their debut effort, the psychedelic Futuridium EP Deluxe, Italian developer Mixed Bag pulled from both old and modern sources for their latest project. Melding the mysterious vibe of classics such as Out of this World and Flashback with modern gameplay elements, Forma.8 is an intriguing entry into the burgeoning Metriodvania genre. While their last title was solid, this is another step forward for the small seven-person team.
In Forma.8, players take the reigns of a small, spherical android. Sent alongside a crew to explore a mysterious planet, our probe is separated from the rest of the pack after it crash-lands on a massive structure. From the beginning, you’re just looking to find a way out of the building, but the more time you spend exploring it, the more mysteries you begin to unravel. These are mysteries for both the probe and the player to uncover, because the game isn’t exactly forthcoming with plot specifics.
When it comes to making you feel like a stranger in a strange land, Mixed Bag does an excellent job of dropping only small nuggets of story at a time. There’s no dialogue and no text to explain things, so everything you infer is from the area and the creatures inhabiting it. It can be a little obtuse at times, and it takes a little bit to get going, but the mystery of what this planet holds is strong enough to make the game worth sticking with. The one downside to slow-paced storytelling, though, is that if you get lost or confused with what to do, it can be boring just mindlessly floating about from room to room.
The sense of ambiguity and lack of hand-holding extend to the gameplay of Forma.8. As this is a Metroidvania, you can expect to see many hallmarks of the genre. A 2D perspective, unlockable upgrades and sprawling rooms containing secrets are just a few of the familiar aspects found in the title. The difference between this and other games, though, is that Mixed Bag doesn’t explain what you should be doing at any point. You’re given a loose idea of where to go, but the onus is on you to figure out the correct way to proceed. It’s never particularly hard to decipher what to do next (I did, perhaps stupidly, get stuck at one point), but I appreciated the fact that the game isn’t overbearing in telling you what to do.
Since you’re just a simple probe, you don’t have a ton of offensive firepower. You do have a few tricks on hand in order to survive, though. You start off with a simple shield burst, but as you progress in the game you eventually unlock other defensive weapons, including the ability to drop tiny bombs. Considering the amount of creatures on this planet that are out to kill you, these upgrades are crucial. Enemy variety is a bit of a weak point for the game with the same few baddies re-appearing frequently, albeit with slightly tweaked powers. The few boss battles you come across are much better, though, and it’s fun to figure out the solution for defeating them.
Forma.8 is not particularly difficult, but there are some frustrating issues to be found with the control scheme. I understand that the player-controlled probe is a floating device, and thus, a little unwieldy. However, trying to maneuver the craft is a real pain in the ass at times. Even with the unlockable boost upgrades, the ship is still slower than I would’ve liked it to be. This stuck-in-molasses feeling is best seen when you’re trying to direct a bomb towards something with your shield burst. I eventually gave up on trying to do this, unless it was necessary, in favor of just dropping the bomb and flying away as quickly as my little ship could. More dangerous, yes, but also significantly less annoying.
While the game does excellent work with the staples of the genre, it would have been nice to have some additional features added in. The map, while fine for showing where you are, is useless for trying to figure out where to go next. I don’t need icons all over the place, but the ability to mark something down in order to remind yourself later would have been welcome. It would have also been great if there was a better form of fast transportation available in the game. There are a few portals you can find, but between the slow speed of the craft and the fact that you can’t actually pick where the portal will take you, it’s not exactly the most useful of features.
Despite the fact that Forma.8 was created by an incredibly small team, the title stands among the tops of the genre in terms of visual beauty. Mixed Bag makes excellent use of colors and shadows in order to create a world dripping with style. The minimal, silhouette-heavy designs of the ship and creatures really look great against the more colorful backdrops of the game. The minimalist soundtrack, which is downplayed in favor of ambient sounds, worked for me, although I’m not sure everyone will appreciate the silence.
Forma.8 may not last long (it took me about six hours to complete), but it leaves quite the impression. By eschewing tutorials and hand-holding, Mixed Bag des an excellent job of transporting you to a world that truly feels alien. The gameplay, while not without its flaws, is solid enough that traveling the mysterious planet never gets too frustrating, tapping into a feeling of exploration and discovery that I hope future entries into the Metroidvania genre pay attention to going forward.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Forma.8 may not be perfect gameplay-wise, but gorgeous visuals and a true sense of exploration and discovery elevate it above other Metroidvania titles.