PC/Mac, iOS (coming soon), PS4, Vita, Xbox One, Wii U •
A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies. The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure!
Scrub ‘colonies’, keep ‘off-world’ and underscore ‘adventure’. Forma.8 is here.
Mixed Bag Games put themselves on my screen many moons ago with the Uridium-inspired Futuridum EP Deluxe, a super-snappy starfighter shmup of audio-visual delight. It was brutal stuff, and though my Futuridium lifespan rarely extended beyond the first few sorties, the game was always a joy to play. Could have been the tinge of lightly basting of chromatic aberration across the starship polygons. Could have been the junction of peppy electro-meets-conservative C64 sound effects. Whatever it was, Mixed Bag showed they were anything but their namesake in the design stakes.
When they announced forma.8, a name that really only works in Italian, the project touched down on the plateau of anticipated games and sat there quietly for a few years. And finally, it launched in February of 2016.
The visuals of Another World, the scale of Metroid II, but the ambience of playing a really good space drone album. The pun of evoking space drone music is not lost, given you’re tasked with shunting a probe around a desperately beautiful alien landscape. Networks of catacombs make up the majority of ‘stages’ to plumb, each nook dotted with a menagerie of strange lifeforms and puzzles.
Forma.8 plays excellently on PlayStation Vita (also available pretty much on every platform, with iOS in a month or two). The spherical explorer drifts around the environment unfettered by gravitational pull, offering just the right level of heft and slip when adjusting direction. You’ve a few simple defensive systems on hand; a simple short-range shockwave is soon joined by a fuse-delayed mine. Combine the two, and you’ll soon be lobbing a small explosive charge thither and yon. As the plucky forma.8 goes deeper into the environment, puzzles and increasing threats begin to beg for greater dexterity to solve and surmount obstacles.
The bestiary is often benign, able to be scooted past or dodged as they spawn from squat nests or birthed from drooping orchids. They’re absolutely *alien*. Strange subterranean creatures, disgorging bioelectric shockwaves or firing heavy orbs from their mollusc-like hold on impossible inclines. These are the curiosities we may very well find beneath the frozen crust of Titan. They also offer a suitable reservoir of energy, and once offed by your little drone’s conservative defense systems, help to replenish lost health.
Bosses, for lack of a better word, require some canny problem-solving. The enigmatic nature of forma.8 prohibits me from saying too much, but as an example, it took a few deaths to discover a particular lifeform was far more interested in being fed than fighting. Sure, you’ll have to blast the hell out of much of the apex wildlife, but there are more than a few moments of highly inspired mechanics to discover.
*Discover* certainly feels like the operative word here. I mentioned forma.8 is wordless, and beyond the main menu and when pausing to save and exit, there’s not a speck of text anywhere. The map and a quota of items to locate are your only guides, to a fault.
As such, forma.8 will not work for a lot of people. It will appear far too languid, even with speed boosting. It doesn’t have platforming to break down distances into chunks of crunchy, attention-grabbing traversal. You float through caverns and antechambers, ruins and across vast skylines, and that won’t work for folks seeking a Metroid friction.
But if you’re like me, and pushing a minute bot around a beautiful maze is totally appealing, forma.8 is a success. It’s not something to race through, not something to binge. Perhaps to this review’s publishing detriment, I took my time with it. Ghosting up the vertiginous crags of an unnamed mountain, its obsidian saw-teeth hiding peak-top ruins. Dodging fountains of broiling magma in hidden vents or relishing the discharge rapport of underground jellies. Working out ever so slowly the trick to a boss or finding the right route to a necessary grotto.
Oh, and the sound design, from the subtle shifting ambient score (swoon) to the delicate, distinct creature motifs? Masterful.
Studios put a lot of trust in their audience to *get* creations of this ilk. The Journeys, the Abzus, the Eidolons and Proteus experiences. Mixed Bag have thrown their hat in the ring, and for my money, have come away largely successful. But those are my shekels, and if you’re not willing to cash in on its super-slow, hint-less nature, then forma.8n’t* the droid you’re looking for.
* joke really does not work in Italian.