When it comes to independent studios, Metroid-styled games are like opinions – everybody has one. While it’s easy to jest, the template is solid and the amount of nostalgic cachet they have is very strong. Exploratory games are a dime a dozen these days, so to get your lock-and-key, ability discovering side-scrolling adventure noticed in an ever increasing crowd takes something special.
forma.8, by Italian studio MixedBag, has that special something.
On a mission to find an undisclosed energy source, the titular probe forma.8 is sent to an unexplored planet where it crashes into an obelisk and is separated from its troupe. It’s an intentionally opaque opening, a design choice that permeates the entire game from plot to discovery to puzzles - mostly for good, but occasionally ill. This vagueness prods players to observe the world around them to find their way around it. Each step feels monumental, the satisfaction of working out new abilities and unearthing new paths wiping away the intermittent frustration of getting lost.
As you find fallen comrades, you gain new abilities. Without the formality of a tutorial to prompt you the game is quick to help ease you into your new environment by subtlety giving you simple situations which show you the ropes. Rather quickly forma.8 gives you a pulse move that you use to trigger doors and rebuff enemies, followed by a bomb that goes off after a few seconds after you drop it. Combining these two maneuvers forms the crux of combat; using the pulse to launch the bomb into foes.
Nothing in the game requires any deft jockeying on the part of the player during either regular combat or the few boss fights that crop up, but you will occasionally find yourself outnumbered or caught in a small hallway in certain situations, and will be unable to get out of it without meeting your demise. Those moments are few and far between, and the penalty for death is merely having to start at the entrance of the current zone you are in. Combat isn’t really the focus in forma.8 anyhow; more of a means to an end than anything else.
What is important is making your way through; the world MixedBag has created is a fantastic mix of mechanical and organic areas that thread together nicely with a beautiful minimalist aesthetic and rich colors. Each new area feels distinct from the last, with the occasional challenge map which has you lighting torches in order to open a portcullis. The game cleverly interlaces tight corridors and caverns with grandiose set pieces that give the game an indelible scope, even if it lacks functionality beyond the superficial. Adding to this curious world is a wonderfully stark synth soundtrack that is buttoned with fantastic ambient noise.
forma.8 does a wonderful job of goading the player into searching each nook and cranny, be it for intriguing abilities that open up new areas or just to see new facets of the world as you search for that power supply you were sent to find in the first place. From its deliberate and even pacing to the stunning world design, forma.8 is an exploratory adventure worth taking.
forma.8 takes the foreboding and desolate landscape and gear-gating of obvious inspiration Metroid and adds its own unique spin to it. From the floaty and endearing orb you play as to the design and structure that makes players feel like they are finding new things organically, it takes a genre formula and makes it its own. If you’re looking for an adventure that is filled with inventive discovery, a sense of lonesomeness and a gorgeous world to behold, forma.8 is not to be missed.