A video game which genuinely looks and feels like an interactive cartoon is a long-held dream for many gamers and we’ve seen some impressive attempts over the years. As far back as the 16-bit era, pixel art classics like Yoshi’s Island showcased beautiful art that nodded at the medium of traditional animation, but modern tech enables a far greater level of fidelity. One of the most notable examples in recent years is Cuphead, a game that wowed with its incredible imitation of Max Fleischer’s animation from the ‘20s and ‘30s; in fact, the aesthetic arguably outshone the workaday gameplay in that case. With Forgotton Anne (yes, that is the intended spelling), Danish developer ThroughLine Games does a spectacular job recreating look and feel of anime in a light puzzle-platformer and, similarly, it works well enough that its gameplay imperfections are easy to forgive.
The eponymous Anne is the ‘Enforcer’ of the Forgotten Lands, a surreal and murky realm inhabited by misplaced or forgotten items from the real world. Until these odd socks, tools and trinkets can be reunited with their owners in the ‘Ether’, they live their lives under the regime of Master Bonku, Anne’s adoptive father. The Forgotten Lands are powered by anima, a glowing energy that’s also the life force of the Forgotlings. Following an attack, it’s your job as Bonku’s protégé to track down an elusive rebel leader with the help of your Arca, a watch-like device which enables you to transfer energy between machines, operate valves and even distil lowly Forgotlings, leaving them to crystalise and perish.
Right off the bat, it’s the animation hooks you. Jumps between brief cutscenes and gameplay are absolutely seamless, and character animation emulates exactly the trademark anime style (typically running at 8-12 frames-per-second). You’ll spend your opening minutes simply moving about the environment – grabbing ledges, climbing ladders and staircases – just to watch Anne’s animation frames and admire little touches, like how the ambient light plays on her or how she dusts herself down. ThroughLine has done a remarkable job in capturing that look and feel of great anime.
The afore-mentioned framerate applies only to character animation, mind – camera motion and background scrolling is perfectly smooth. The beautifully layered 2.5D environments are a strange fusion of Edwardian England and ‘future dystopia’. Everywhere, from the glowing opulence of the train station to the steamy brick-lined backstreets and rooftops, lighting is employed brilliantly. It shifts throughout scenes, silhouetting Anne and bathing the background in colourful haze or smoke as she crawls through vents, collects mementoes and meets unusual folk.
The characters you encounter during your investigations are a motley bunch with a mixture of English and American accents (in addition to some obligatory gor-blimey-guv’nor Cockney, we made out Yorkshire and Scouse, too) and they’re decent company over the game’s 8-ish hours, from the lava lamp reading a newspaper on the train to the old petrol pump employed as an implacable security guard. Voice work is generally strong and subtitles (in bold, yellow Calibri, type fans) are large and readable on whatever screen you’re using. You can’t skip or speed up dialogue – not a problem on your first playthrough, although upon completion you gain the ability to travel back to pick up any mementoes you missed or make different decisions.
The linear narrative offers binary dialogue choices; they’re pretty black-and-white, as are the moral quandaries you’ll come across. We played as a goody-two-shoes, and when we tried to sneakily distil a Forgotling (just as a test, you understand), Anne prevented us from doing so. Much of the story is delivered through snippets of overheard conversation. Anne keeps a diary chronicling your progress and actions (viewable on ‘X’) which also contains clues to some of the more involved puzzles.
Pressing ‘Y’ activates the Arca – your means to manipulate and transfer anima. It freezes the action and blankets the screen with a ‘detective vision’, highlighting all energy sources and receptacles. Anima also powers a pair of mechanical wings enabling you to jump higher and farther, activated by holding ‘R’. You can sprint with ‘ZL’ or ‘ZR’ but the game is at its weakest when it demands precise jumping – Anne’s anime framerate might be authentic, but it doesn’t translate well to precision platforming. She’s so wonderfully realised that, overall, authenticity is arguably worth the compromise, but certainly towards the end, these sections – plus some overly-talky encounters – drag the pace down a tad.
An excellent orchestrated score compliments the art, flowing between melancholy and mischief, grandeur and gloom. It’s the details that stick with you, though – they way Anne adjusts her hair, or how Bonku’s bright image spills across communication mirrors as she activates them. This attention to detail sets the game apart from your garden-variety puzzle platformer and helps gloss over deficiencies elsewhere.
Forgotton Anne is an evocative, artistic triumph that nails that feeling of a ‘living anime’. Sure, the puzzles are hardly mind-blowing, and some later sections may test your patience, but the beauty of the art and the gentle humour of the writing should carry you through these irritations. Animation buffs should dive in without reservation, and we’d recommend anyone with even the slightest interest check this out.