Map Schwartzberg and I have been playing (and very much enjoying) Forma.8 recently, so we got together to discuss what makes the game so good.
Lucius P. Merriweather: I saw that you’ve been playing Forma.8 – bloody great, isn’t it? I’m about two-thirds of the way through, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it – so much so that I thought we could do an email chat about the game that we could morph into an AMAP article. I’m just desperate to talk about how good this game is!
For a start, it reminds me a lot of the underrated Wii U game Affordable Space Adventures, which was just one of the best games on that system. And going further back, it shares a lot of DNA with Solar Jetman by Rare, one of my favourite games of that era. The whole diving into subterranean caverns with an inertia-driven spaceship thing – it’s sort of a mini-genre in it’s own right.
Then again, it owes quite a debt to Metroid, too, don’t you think?
Map Schwartzberg: There are a lot of superficial similarities to Metroid for sure – finding new tools to progress further into the game, jarring and impactful boss fights and that certain wanderlust that makes you want to go even further into the depths of a mysterious planet. What strikes me the most about Forma.8 is the sense of lonesomeness that pervades it. Like a certain bounty hunter, our little orb friend finds itself in a seemingly uncharted place where there are no given destinations, no dramatically epic music to prod you forward and this sense of dread as you realize you can be taken out quickly if you aren’t deliberate.
While the game has combat, it’s often a secondary option to just scurrying out of the way. I don’t know if it was intentionally designed this way, but it gives Forma.8 this sense of weakness; that it can defend itself if need be, but really you’re just trying to figure out where to go and how to get there without being destroyed. Thoughts?
LPM: Definitely. Combat is deliberately difficult, so fighting is always a less attractive option than just running away. I mean, you don’t even have a gun, right? Instead you can only drop bombs while fleeing in the other direction, or deflect attacking enemies with your shield. Or if you’re being really clever, you can drop bombs and then deflect them towards enemies with your shield, but it’s very tricky to get the angles lined up. The whole system is designed to make you feel vulnerable and tiny, an insignificant speck exploring a hostile alien planet. And in that sense it works brilliantly well – as you say, it’s a thoroughly lonely game.
And because it feels so lonely, when you come across something large and significant, it really feels like a revelation, a proper discovery. Probably my favourite moment was stumbling across the crab. [MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW] The screen zooms out and out and OUT, and suddenly you’re a tiny dot hovering over an absolutely ginormous crab, which seems to be attacking a tower. It’s only later that you discover she’s after her lost child – reuniting them is by far the most affecting moment in the game. [END SPOILERS] Loneliness, heartache… this is a game with FEELINGS, for all that it’s superficially about buzzing about and solving puzzles.
MS: The moment with the crab is extremely moving. It’s very reminiscent to when you rescue the animals at the end of Super Metroid, where your only connection to them is being friendly in a hostile environment, but that kindness is enough to endear you to them. More to your point though, the feeling I get with Forma.8 is sheer wonderment. Not just the moment with the crab, but many times when you arrive back on the surface of the planet, the game likes to pan the camera out just to make you awestruck at how beautifully haunting it all is. It’s not necessarily explorable, but it fills your heart with an undeniable wanderlust. In some cases, you do get to poke around in the crannies (my that sounds dirty!)… once you’ve collected the right upgrades.
The sense of empowerment you get when you have the ability to dash through barriers and later just straight up teleport through small walls turns the game on its head. My first go through Forma.8 I didn’t realize how much the game expects you to return to past areas and use these powers to find yourself in places you had no idea you could get to. More often than not you’re rewarded collectables. There are also those challenge rooms that seem nigh impossible that you can then later blaze through thanks to Forma.8‘s upgrades. There aren’t many power-ups, but what’s there feels substantial.
LPM: Man, those challenge rooms! I spent ages fannying about trying to light all of the lamps within the brutal time limit. I’d ALMOST do it each time, and I think I must have retried the first room I came across about ten times. It was only later that I got the boost upgrade and realized that actually I COULDN’T have done it without that particular item. They became a breeze after that.
Actually, that reminds me of one point – the game really doesn’t hold your hand. It basically expects you to work out what’s going on and what you should be doing, and I kind of liked that. It’s easy to miss stuff if you don’t pay attention, but it trusts you to figure it out. Like working out you can propel a bomb by hitting it with your shield – that becomes an essential technique, but at no point does the game tell you that you can actually do it, or how to do it.
Having said that, I could have done with a better map. There are so many collectibles to gather, and unlike the recent Metroid: Samus Returns, the game doesn’t mark them on your map when you go near them. There were a few points where I got an upgrade and knew that there were a few items I’d passed that would now be accessible, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember where they were. It was only at the very end of the game [Ed’s note: by this point in our email conversation I’d completed the game], when I only had half-a-dozen or so items left to get, that I worked out how to obtain the compass that highlights rooms that still had pick-ups in them, which allowed me to go back and completely 100% the game. (Incidentally, this is the only game I’ve ever got all the achievements/trophies for EVER. I think that’s a good indication of how much I liked it.) But man, that compass was hard to get.
Oh, and while we’re talking about frustrations, that pink blob thing can just f*** off and die right now. THE UTTER BASTARD.
MS: I like that Forma.8 pushes you to “figure it out” on your own, too. I’ve griped (perhaps even on these hallowed pages) about some games’ need to force you to find every nick-knack before giving you the full ending, and while forma.8 definitely does that, I found myself realizing I wasn’t thorough enough and wanted to go back and find them. I felt invested in our little orbicular hero enough to give him the proper send-off. Scouring the world can be a bit annoying because, like you said, the map is a bit opaque. I actually made my own on paper, marking spots to come back to which was way more fun than anticipated. I hadn’t done that since probably the early 90s, but it felt great to do and also necessary as at the time of me playing it, there wasn’t a solid guide to be found online. I’m all for a little mystique in games, and this fit the bill nicely.
LPM: And I guess the point is that the game is so enjoyable that it makes you want to create all these little paper maps to thoroughly explore the world. It challenges you to beat it – and it’s an enjoyable challenge. Basically, what I’m saying is that Forma.8 is bloody great and everyone should play it right now.
Forma.8 is available digitally on Vita, PS4, Wii U, iPhone, PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One and Switch.