Metrovania is a term that gets thrown around with varying degrees of interpretation in the gaming community. As a portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania, the general idea is a relatively large world map that you need to retrace in order to access different areas, as some places will only unlock after items, abilities or other stipulations have been found/met. It’s a great way to get a full “adventurer” feeling out of a game, and, in some cases, generate a bit of extra playtime by not having things simply straightforward. In the case of forma.8, it’s definitely the latter and not the former, although that’s not necessarily the worst thing for this game.
forma.8 is the tale of a little robotic droid who has become separated from his ship by happenstance and, of course, space disaster. You need to find the great power supply that creates life on your ship and recover things as best you can before it’s too late. What’s a little odd, however, is that part of you getting separated from your ship is that you also (temporarily) have forgotten/deactivated some of your abilities, which means that you need to get yourself re-calibrated so you can be the best robo explorer you can be. Oh, and the aliens on the planet where you’ve crashed are none too happy that you’re there without a visa. They will try and smash you, and they will do their damnedest.
Right out the gate, forma.8 is visually stunning and really captures the elements of what Mixed Bag sought to tell in this tale. Everything about the game, from the interior of the spaceship to the wide, sparse alien world is breathtaking. I absolutely loved how the game appeared, and there’s a lot of appreciation for different kind of environments in the aesthetic. The way things look when you dive underground and encounter lava pools is great and reminded me a bit of Badlands meets Waking Mars. Most of the enemies are simple creatures, basically red lights on black shapes to indicate they’re hostile, but that works out really well. It had this “pre-civilization” feel that really made you feel like a pioneer on this desolation, although (as you slowly find things out) it comes across more like a post-civilization setup. The soundtrack, which pairs well with the graphics, is ethereal and haunting and really captures the full moments of stepping out from the broken ship and into the otherworldly atmosphere. If nothing else, forma.8 is a visual and aural feast for fans of great design and artistic vision.
There’s some auto-camera work going on in forma.8 that is both a blessing and a curse. Your robot is not a particularly big or detailed protagonist: he’s a sphere with two smaller spheres for eyes. When the camera is nice and tight in small areas, you’ll have no problem moving about and keeping track of where you’re going. However, when the game wants to show you the vast purple sky, or the monolithic remains of some crumbled ruins, everything pans way out and, if you were trying to get somewhere, you might find yourself a bit flummoxed as to where you are. And, unfortunately, that can happen very easily, because you aren’t limited to where or how you move for a majority of the game.
Control-wise, forma.8 makes things incredibly simple with the ability to float and move in just about any direction. Without legs, little robot guy just hovers however he’d like, which does make for some good exercise in deciding how much optional combat you take part in. Your primary weapon, a burst of electricity, is a very close proximity choice, and your explosive option that you unlock early on is a bit difficult to aim (set bomb, throw bomb with burst, pray for the best). The teleportation mechanic that you eventually get (some time later) is not only important for several puzzles, but finally adds something of a speed boost to the game. Your natural floating speed can, at times, feel unbearably slow, especially in some of those giant areas that I mentioned earlier. In particular, there’s one area where you float through a series of tunnels to get to a single item, and there’s no combat or hazards for a couple of minutes. Though this might seem like a short amount of time, floating for two minutes with almost nothing happening except tilting up or down on the directional stick feels unbearable.
There are moments that feel a bit unfair in forma.8, though not completely unreasonable. Since the robot can’t talk and there aren’t exactly tutorial signs posted up everywhere, it’s up to you to find out, through trial and error, what needs to be done for puzzles and even defeating bosses. The bosses, to their credit, are large and impressive without being overpowered, but they aren’t going to just wait patiently while you figure out how to destroy them. One of the earliest cases of a mini boss is a giant bug who needs to be hit with a remote bomb which you have no idea how to do or if you can even do it when you encounter the boss. Failing to figure it out immediately, I ended up backtracking through every single room to make sure I hadn’t missed something and, giving up, spent a good five or ten minutes trying to figure out how to get at him, going as far as to try and push a rock across the entirety of the stage to hopefully push at him. The discovery of the bomb trick was a sheepish moment, but a good one, as I would use that trick many, many more times moving forward.
At the end of the day, forma.8 is a grand but short journey. The penultimate boss is certainly a good deal harder to fight than the final “boss,” I can’t say for certain there’s replay value, but I really enjoyed my time uncovering the secrets of the world and coming to my own conclusions about what has happened and what the ending meant to me. This could be a long afternoon of an adventure, but, if you’re not enamored by what the graphics and concept deliver, you could quickly get bored with the pacing and the lack of combat. Switch owners may consider turning off the rumble feature when they begin playing, as it’s kind of a forceful feedback, but it’s still nice that Mixed Bag considered it at all. This is a huge step forward from their previous title, Futuridium, and one that I can definitely recommend to fans of the genre who want to see something new and interesting done with the concept.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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