As soon as you see it, the visually striking art style behind forma.8 grabs your attention. Standing in stark contrast to the vibrant and colourful background are the silhouetted black foregrounds, and in the middle of this minimalist world is a tiny dot.
It is in fact a probe, the titular forma.8, which was sent down from a mothership to the surface of an alien world, but in the process becomes stranded and separated from the other probes.
“You just wake up, when you’ve started the game,” said Mauro Fanelli, one half of the Italy-based MixedBag, who was chatting with me as I played. “You’re just in this room and you don’t know what happened. We don’t explain what happens in the game, and there’s no writing or text, nothing. So you just have to figure out what’s happening.”
For what is effectively a little ball, forma.8 is adorably humanised by its pair of eye-like headlights, glowing in the direction which it is heading and leaving a luminous light trail in its wake.
Flying down into the depths of the cave, you soon encounter a fallen probe, but this gives you your first ability, a shield. Except this isn’t your usual interpretation of a science fiction shield. It’s not on permanently, but instead requires you to ping it with the right timing to block and repel incoming attacks.
As you start to encounter enemies, similarly silhouetted in black as the cave’s walls and on the same game plane as you. The primary form of attack of these red eyed foes is to hit you, sapping your energy in the process. Blocking them with the shield will deal damage back, letting you vanquish them with a few hits. It turns every encounter into a little skill-based test of your timing and manoeuvrability.
Similarly, when playing with the second ability, to let you place bombs, they will sit in the exact place that you placed them, rather than taking on the momentum which you might expect to impart. Instead, the trick is to use the shield’s ping to propel them in the direction of your choosing, giving you a more offensive tool in your arsenal, but one which again requires skill and timing. It’s a theme which will continue as you earn more and more abilities.
Mauro explained, “We are going for a lot of action mixed with puzzles, and our intention is not to give the player too many hints to progress. The players need to discover how the game works, so we don’t want to put a big ‘OK, press this button to progress’ sign, as you see in modern games.”
It’s this kind of thinking which helps it to stand apart from its inspirations and similar looking games. That myriad of similarities, whether intentional or not, almost live up to the two man studio’s name, MixedBag, but it comes out of the other side feeling quite unlike any of them.
Though immediate comparisons to the PixelJunk Shooter games spring to mind, this is actually fairly different, thanks to the difference in how the ship handles and the lack of offensive weaponry. The silhouetted world and some of the larger puzzles are a little reminiscent of Limbo, perhaps, while the game structure places it under the Metroidvania umbrella, with those unlockable abilities, a world which will have secrets and areas that can only be accessed via backtracking, but is altered by actually flying around the world.
Mauro stated that “We are aiming for around 6 hours gameplay, to finish it and collect a lot of secrets, but if you really want to discover everything it’s not so easy.”
Also, without a primary offensive weapon, it makes boss fights a little more interesting. After descending down into the depths of the cave, dodging lava fountains in the process, forma.8 encounters a gigantic venus flytrap-like plant. It spits fireballs. My initial reaction was to fling bombs its way, but this merely served to make it more angry and more aggressive. Instead, it acted as another interesting puzzle, to make you think outside of the usual conventions.
With the game running in Unity, it gives the pair the ability to target almost every single platform it possibly can, as they aim for release sometime this year. From PC to iOS, it’s also coming to Wii U and PS4, and should be a good fit on the PS Vita with just a couple of tweaks.
The main one comes with the sense of scale in the game. At certain moments, the game will zoom out to show a large landscape and break out of the close and confined caves. When you’re controlling a small dot, that could be a little tricky on the Vita.
“On PS Vita, it stays really true to the TV sized screen, but on the smaller screen we will zoom it in a bit,” said Mauro as he explained their simple solution. “So when you have a big area, when you stay still it zooms out, but when you move it will zoom in a bit. So you can have that sense of scale, but keep the gameplay working.”
It was really the art style that initially grabbed my attention, when taking a peak at the games that were to be at Rezzed, but the gameplay went beyond my expectations. Instead of following too closely in others’ footsteps, MixedBag look to have crafted a clever blend of different ideas and genres that will hopefully help them stand apart.