Metroidvania with Balls
Forma.8 plays out like a 2D Metroid game, if Samus were forced to travel as a floating morph ball the entire time. The developers at MixedBag Games have created a visually stunning world that begs to be explored. Truth be told, if moving around didn’t feel like a chore at times, I would have investigated every nook and cranny.
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You play as a probe, assigned to explore an alien planet alongside other probes. After an unexpected crash landing, you are left alone, struggling to survive and escape. This dreadful sense of isolation screams Metroid. And the gameplay is likewise similar; traverse mazelike corridors, solve environmental puzzles, and seek out collectibles.
The biggest difference is that instead of running and jumping around, your probe can float for an unlimited time. Don’t assume you can easily glide over obstacles, though – narrow pathways, locked gates, and airborne enemies constantly impede your progress. Shortly after the game begins, you find your first two weapons: an energy shield that unleashes a radial attack to hurt anything nearby and bombs that detonate shortly after being placed. The game cleverly lets you combine the attacks, using the shield to fling bombs as a projectile weapon – provided you can aim effectively with the loose controls.
Therein lie my biggest issues with the game. Your floating probe is slow and clunky. The slower pace may work when you enter areas for the first time, fostering deliberate investigation of your surroundings. But in larger areas or while backtracking, the sluggishness sometimes discouraged me from venturing too far off the beaten path, especially since the map doesn’t show your exact location in a given room. It’s more of an inconvenience, but it becomes a problem when compounded with the slippery movement.
The probe’s momentum carries it forward even after you let go of the controls, and you must pull it back to stop it. At that point, it takes a while just to get moving again, making it difficult to maneuver sharp turns. The problem is magnified when trying to attack the much quicker foes that home in on you. These areas are more annoying than challenging. To the game’s credit, a later upgrade facilitates faster and smoother travel, though you are more prone to bouncing off course.
Forma.8 has its fair share of puzzles scattered around the world, and I found most of them clever. Many utilize the environment in unique ways, sometimes even shifting gameplay and asking you to escort a creature or blast out of cannons Donkey Kong-style. However, I didn’t enjoy the challenges in which I had to transport items. As you can imagine, a limbless probe has a tough time carrying objects, so you must resort to hitting or ramming into them. Pushing explosive rocks around enemy-infested passageways was a frustrating exercise of patience.
Rounding out the adventure are some well-designed bosses that were fun to outwit. Again, your clunky movement makes them more difficult than necessary, but I appreciated the challenges these huge creepy creatures delivered; and I could thankfully restart at the same spot if I lost. The game is forgiving, and every new area constitutes a new checkpoint where you instantly respawn following death.
The adventure isn’t too long, clocking in at roughly five hours, but seeking out the numerous collectibles that increase your health or unlock hidden truths can bump up that time. The only progress indicator is a percentage on the file select screen, which may be an issue for completionists. Regardless, I loved coming across any hidden item, even if I didn’t know its purpose at the time.
Despite my gripes about the probe’s movement speed, the world is genuinely entertaining to sightsee, and a lot of that is owed to the magnificent art direction. Embracing a minimalist presentation of stunning silhouettes among gorgeous backdrops, forma.8 makes a big case toward embracing your inner voyager. The planet’s inhabitants, though robotic in design, move fluidly. No matter how many enemies were present, I didn’t experience slowdown, whether playing on the big screen or in handheld mode. In addition, amazing sound design immersed me in the world. Hearing a loud crash instantly piqued my curiosity about what lay ahead. Dark, ambient music coupled with atmospheric buzzing added to the ever-present eeriness. The HD rumble added to the immersion, giving unique haptic feedback based on what was making noise in the vicinity.
Forma.8 will please fans of the Metroidvania genre, particularly those who liked the sense of dread and isolation in Samus’ adventures. Other familiar elements – like its environmental puzzles, hidden collectibles, and boss battles – will also make enthusiasts feel at home. Controlling a floating ball is certainly a unique take, but its sluggish pace may discourage less hardcore fans to explore the alien planet. On the other hand, the beautiful minimalist world is the biggest counterbalance, encouraging you to seek out new territory. Overall, the game won’t appeal to everyone, but those itching for more Metroid-like experiences might want to give it a try.
A review copy of the Nintendo Switch version of forma.8 was provided by the publisher for this article.