Independent developers have been turning to the Metroidvania genre for quite a while now, to the the point that it’s become a bit of a trope. Some developers can take the genre and explore new things, or pull off the basics really well, to create some of the best games around. Games like Axiom Verge or Dead Cells do this wonderfully. While Nintendo consoles are certainly the origins of the genre, there hasn’t been an official Metroid release yet on Switch, as the newest game opted to stay on the 3DS (review in bound for that later). Now is a prime time for Switch developers as it’s fairly easy to stand out with its much smaller library and player base that is starving for good games. Forma.8 is an artistically pleasing Metroidvania title trying to fill that void, one that feels like a mix of Asteroids and Limbo, but it’s filled with conflicting design choices that makes it feel incredibly slow.
The Metroidvania genre has been a favorite of mine for many years, with my favorites being on the GBA. With the genre so wide, with tons of absolutely stunning games across just about every console, it becomes easy to distinguish where a game succeeds and where it fails. Unfortunately, there are few instances outside of looking at Forma.8 that comes off as a success.
Starting with the positives, Forma.8 puts players in the role of a lost robot, who winds up on a strange planet with little information to go off of. The game is presented in a smooth style, with lots of stark, black lines that carve a world that is incredibly alien, almost devoid of discernible features. It all feels like diving into the shell of an old spaceship with tight corridors and chambers filled with angry opposition.
Unfortunately, the way Forma.8 (which is also the name of the player character) controls doesn’t mesh well with the game’s environment and level design. Movement is based on a thruster/momentum system that feels pretty similar to classic Asteroids. This results in a lot of careful stick movements to avoid bumping into walls, which can do significant damage to a player’s meager health bar. It feels like a prettier version of Irritating Stick, or those carnival games that it was based on.
Combat is pretty light and not as gratifying or instant as say shooting a beam or swinging a sword. The two abilities I’ve unlocked so far (haven’t finished the game due to my issues with it) include a close burst used for close combat and a bomb that can be propelled by that concussive blast. The blast doesn’t do nearly enough damage and puts the player directly in harms way, which can be annoying, even early on. After getting the bombs, there are enemies that have to be specifically targeted, resulting in the player retreating, fighting with the momentum, and launching bombs with little way of accuracy.
This frustrating mechanic set reached its peak in a boss fight that revolves around it and was where I decided to put the game down for good. There are multiple switches on the field, one blue and three red. The blue switch starts the fight and hitting all three red switches creates the win condition. To hit these red switches though, the player must launch a bomb at the boss (which is hard enough due to player speed and control) and then have the boss return that bomb into a red switch. There are just way too many variables in this fight that are mostly out of the player’s control. This could have been much more palpable if there was a way to just launch bombs forward. Granted there might be later in the game or in another area, but I can’t bring myself to look for it.
In sound design, which is incredibly important at selling the environment and mood in Metroidvania games, Forma.8 sticks with a lot of ambient synthesizer noises, none of which are really appealing. There’s not one catchy tune that stands out or really any melody hardly. It all feels empty, like a big void, which may have been done on purpose, but it just created a lot of dull flying around. Honestly, I was playing the game at night and it put me to sleep.
When the mood works, it’s pretty interesting. There are moments when the player can fly around larger monuments and structures and the camera slowly zooms out. In these moments, the player feels small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. These moments left me curious to at least see the game to the end, but its controls and conflicting design choices just didn’t make it worth it in the end.
Having more direct control of projectile placement would make a world of difference in Forma.8. While this is one of the worst Metroidvania’s I’ve played in a while, the foundation is solid enough that there could be some dramatic changes made to make it way more enjoyable, either via patches and reworking the game or in a sequel. Things like giving the player more direction on objectives or making it so every area didn’t look so similar or adjusting damage values could make it worth playing through at least once.
I also feel like this style of player movement would be more interesting in a stage layout, rather than a large connected world. Make each level an obstacle course and we could have something that would be pretty appealing, especially for speedrunners and even platform players.
Unfortunately, in its current state, I cannot recommend Forma.8 to anyone, even the most hungry fans of the Metroidvania genre. There are better games in that genre that explore similar feelings of isolation and there are better games on Switch that evoke that nostalgic feeling of older systems.
Mixed Bag, the game’s developers may be a company to keep an eye on though. They clearly have an eye for visual design using simple graphics. It will just take being able to look at the current state of Forma.8 and take in the criticism provided by the media and its players to make something better or it, or try something new for the next game.
Forma.8 is available on PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One, iOS, PC, Mac, Linux, and Switch. More information is available on Mixed Bag’s website.
A digital copy of the game was provided for the purpose of this review.
For a review of another Metroidvania game, check out my thoughts on the Vita version of Axiom Verge.