Video game players, to some degree, like stressful games. Titles such as Dark Souls or Darkest Dungeon have players stressing out over finding the right way to defeat an enemy so they don’t possibly lose everything they have done so far. Even more mainstream series like Call of Duty or Battlefield are action packed and hectic, throwing bullets and life-or-death situations in players’ faces. While those stressful games are very thrilling and fun, one can sometimes get burned out if they are playing too many of them at the same time. Games are an escape for many people, and sometimes you just want to play a game to relax. forma.8 is a great game to do that with.
forma.8 was originally slated for release in 2014, however the game has been delayed into this year thanks to a handful of game design changes and a busy dev team. Those delays weren’t in vain though, as the developers have crafted a very calming and intriguing Metroidvania title that players can sit back and play when they just want to wind down.
forma.8 is very vague in its storytelling in a good way. The game begins with a charming cutscene showing a ship carrying some exploration probes. After something goes wrong, the probes launch early on a distant alien planet, and the player, controlling a single probe, sets off on a journey on this unknown planet to uncover the mysteries of its past and recover an energy source for the spaceship.
The game’s visual style initially reminded me of Badland with the design of the probe in some of its darker environments. As the game went on and started to open up, I noticed the beautiful blend of colors that, while lacking a bit of depth, were still very eye-catching and pleasing to look at. Whether I was in a lava-spewing cave or an old, seemingly abandoned factory, the colors worked together to create an aesthetically pleasing experience, which fed into the game’s atmosphere.
The vagueness present in the story carries over into the UI and map too. forma.8 barely ever tells the player what to do or where to go. This makes the journey feel very isolated, but also creates a really relaxing atmosphere. It captures the wonder of exploring a far off land that one has never been to before like many Metroid games have done, and the lack of clutter on the screen other than the player’s health makes the journey feel that much more personal and real, trusting that players’ knowledge of playing Metroidvania games will help them navigate this foreign place, as there is sometimes a sense of familiarity in things that may seem foreign or otherworldly.
When it comes to the Metroidvania genre, forma.8’s gameplay is familiar, if a little basic. Players float and can move around on screen, and must gain a variety of powers and find different collectibles and keys in order to progress further. Powers are retrieved from other fallen exploration probes, which actually becomes chilling when you wonder how these probes got there, and if they were as sentient as your probe seems to be.
The first power players get towards the very beginning of the game is a simple burst attack that can be uses to activate switches, fight enemies, and deflect some projectiles. Players will get very familiar with this power as it is used the most throughout the game. Following that is the ability to drop bombs, which can destroy some walls and is also used to destroy enemies. The bombs can be used in tandem with the burst attack to launch bombs forward, giving players a ranged attack so they don’t have to risk taking damage by getting up close and personal when attacking enemies.
Players also get access to other abilities such as a dash later on in forma.8, all of which are used in true Metroidvania style to get to previously blocked off areas and complete a variety of different puzzles. Different environmental hazards are also introduced later on, such as spouts of lava and sharp damaging crystals, which player must learn to avoid in order to survive.
The game doesn’t really do much new for the Metroidvania genre, but that may be because of its lack of hand holding. Trusting players with only basic Metroidvania mechanics makes sure that player know how to make their way through the game. Having a new mechanic that turns the genre on its head may have left many players confused and frustrated because of the lack of direction, so sticking with the genre’s basics keeps the game simple and doesn’t interfere with the game’s ambiance.
That isn’t to say the gameplay doesn’t have a few minor problems. At the start, the player’s probe controls stiffly, with the probe taking wide turns, making more precise navigation difficult. While this changes later on as the player’s probe becomes faster and gains new abilities, the beginning minutes will be quite stiff for many players.
Even when the control improves, puzzles (where the player must move objects) can become tedious and frustrating, even with the help of some of your powers. Boss battles can also be annoying at first, as the lack of information can make these somewhat confusing battles frustrating. I had to restart multiple times until the method to defeat these bosses became completely clear.
Pressing the left bumper brings up a small menu that shows the player what powers they have, which collectibles they have obtained, and the map. The map does not have much information on it, only showing the rooms the player has been to, and how many exits each room has.
While the hands-off approach is admirable, the lack of a detailed map can sometimes get annoying because it makes backtracking confusing. For instance, many of the environments blend together, and the map doesn’t show what collectibles are in an area or which one’s the player may have missed — an issue which will surely drive some completionists crazy.
Luckily, while exploring, the game’s great soundtrack and sound design will keep players calm and focused. There is a certain therapeutic rhythm to everything in forma.8, whether it be in the music, the little sound effects that play when you pick up a health orb, or the surprisingly satisfying “clink” you hear when you hit a wall.
forma.8 is a very true to form Metroidvania game in many ways. It never really goes out of its way to introduce anything groundbreaking or head-turning, but executes the basics is such a serene and fun way that it has quickly become one of my favorite Metoridvanias in recent memory.
It isn’t without its problems; the lack of almost any UI or detail on the map can be annoying, and the gameplay can be stiff and frustrating at times. Fortunately, the other parts of the game create such a undeniably enjoyable atmosphere that I even found myself relaxed and smiling in some of the more frustrating parts of the game as I made my way through this foreign world that I can’t wait to hop back into and explore again.