Forma.8 Review (Switch) – “Explore Your Patience”

Forma.8 is an exploratory puzzler of sorts by indie developer MixedBag. Originally available on Steam and other home consoles, it has finally made its way to the Nintendo Switch. The added availability of portability with the Switch accompanies this game well, but is it enough of an incentive to pick it up?

You’re introduced to the game with a rather short but simple cutscene. You play as a mechanistic droid, one of many, who’s only mission it seems is to explore and gather information on an otherwise uninhabited planet. You soon find out that there is quite a bit of life on this planet, as well as a few secrets. Besides the opening cutscene, there isn’t much the game does to hold your hand. You quickly learn how to “attack” via a short range radial burst of energy and you’re sent on your way to explore.

Forma.8 attempts to seem simple at the beginning, letting you find your own way and discover things for yourself. While in theory this works well, in actuality it may turn away a few players at the beginning. Personally, diving into the unknown is something I do quite a bit in games – I prefer the “true” experience actually. However, Forma.8 might benefit from a little more hand-holding at the beginning. I wandered around for a while with no clear direction or objective, I was just exploring. Taking in the simplistically beautiful environments and letting my mind wander with the underlying musical score. I really enjoyed this. After all, that was my purpose. It wasn’t until I realized what my goal was that I came to the conclusion that I would have to backtrack through everything I had just explored in order to reassess my surroundings, and approach the areas with my new found knowledge. This was far too tedious for even my liking.

The majority of your time in Forma.8 will be driving your small circular metal body around, trying not to crash into walls or get attacked by the fauna and flora. If you get hurt, it’s really not a big deal as there is health, as well as enemies who drop health, everywhere. The game is split into rooms of varying sizes. Some you can spend quite a bit of time in, others are just there for connections. However, all of them seem to have one thing in common: loading times to get in. On the Switch at least, loading into each room would take a few seconds, up to 15 at one point. Followed by frame stuttering upon entering areas, this really drew away from the experience; especially considering none of the rooms, as minimal and pretty as they are, should take any time to load on a modern day system.

Occasionally, you will stumble across a puzzle which can vary in difficulty. Often you’ll find racing puzzles, requiring you to tag glowing spheres before a timer is up, thus opening doors. You’ll also come across slightly more complex puzzles, as well as “boss fights”, which are essentially just stressful puzzles and highlight some of the game’s finer moments. If it weren’t for the small number of actions you’re limited to, in combination with the floaty movement of your little drone, many of these would be fairly easy.

When you solve these puzzles or defeat certain enemies, you are often presented with one of two types of collectibles. One is a nut (hardware… come on) and the other is a key. The nuts are for… well best you find out for yourself. The keys open the multitude of doors strewn throughout the various rooms in the vast world. The first half of my playthrough was severely limited on finding either of these. Sporadically, I would find nuts but only when the game wanted me to would I find a key. This severely limited my exploration and at multiple times became increasingly frustrating. At one instance, it was rage quit inducing upon realizing I had to traverse the entire world back through just to progress again. Some of this could have been avoided if the value of the collectibles were presented a little earlier in the game, but it also would have ruined some of the mystery of it.

Overall, the game plays rather slowly and can be monotonous. The minimalistic, colorful backgrounds and music have a Sound Shapes vibe to them that I thoroughly enjoyed, but it wasn’t enough to keep my playing for long periods of time. In reality, I enjoyed this game much more in the Switch’s handheld mode during travel. The slow pacing was perfect for travelling, when I may need to pause at any moment and pick it back up again. While docked, I constantly found myself thinking I could be playing something else that held my attention a little better. The puzzles are fun and some may take a moment to contemplate, but nothing really held me up and they are spaced somewhat infrequently when they really should have taken precedent, as there isn’t much else to do in the world. The game is only $10, but unless you commute frequently, I would wait for it to drop in price a bit before picking it up. It’s not a game you can pick up and beat in one setting, but that doesn’t mean it’s long either.

Overall Score: 5.5 out of 10 = Wait for a price drop…

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Forma.8! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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Cave Story + Review (Switch): “A Story Worth Telling”

Cave Story + is the latest hit indie to get a full retail release on the Switch by publisher Nicalis. Cave Story first released as a PC freeware project back in 2004. Creator Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya single-handedly crafted every detail in the game back in its initial release. Since then, the game has received various enhanced ports over the years, whether it be for the WiiWare, DSiWare, 3DS, Steam, and now Nintendo Switch. Is this story worth visiting?

Story: 4/5

Right from the start, you control a character named Quote, an amnesiac with no idea as to who or where you are, nor what’s going on. You find yourself in a mysterious cave without any weapons to start with. As you progress, you come across creatures known as Mimigas, a bunny-like civilization that seems to be dwindling in numbers. In speaking with them, you will start to hear bits and pieces as to what is going on, and just how pivotal your character’s role prior to his amnesia played. There are a cast of characters that really help flesh out the game’s plot, with several twists and turns that keep you constantly wondering and wanting to see more unravel. What are the red flowers? Who is Sue? What are the massive eggs in the Egg Chamber? Who is the Doctor? These are but a few questions that kick things off early on. Also, certain actions and choices you make in the game will affect your ending. It’s difficult to really get further into the story without ruining the surprises ahead, but what’s here is truly great and enticing. The main gripe here is that you cannot immediately skip cutscenes after at least watching them once (more on that later on).

Gameplay: 5/5

Cave Story + is, for all intents and purposes, an enhanced version of the original game. However, there are still many who may not have experienced Cave Story to this day, so lets cover the game’s framework and mechanics first. Cave Story is a 2D homage, action-adventure platformer, akin to Metroid where exploration is rewarded. It plays very much like an 8-bit game, with all the mystery and intrigue of discovering elements on your own, but providing just enough knowledge to get you going. You will traverse the various locations within the cave, finding health capsules to increase your health, weapons to further defend yourself, and useful items that will help you progress through the environment.

Controlling Quote feels incredibly responsive and simple. You have your jump and shoot buttons, with the shoulder buttons letting you cycle through weapons on the fly. If you do not have the Pro controller, no worries. The Joy-Cons felt just as great (and dare I say I preferred this control method). Platforming itself feels tight and fair. If you miss a platform, it’s not the game’s fault, but rather your miscalculation. Quote can wield a variety of weapons to defend himself. You will first acquire the Polar Star, a pistol-like weapon. Throughout the journey, Quote will wield missile launchers, blades, machine guns, flamethrowers, and a few others. Enemies drop gold gems, that when collected will fill up that currently equipped weapon’s level gauge. Each weapon can be leveled up to three times. Each level radically changes the way the weapon fires. Even their uses may change. For example, the machine gun not only gets more powerful, but by it’s third level, can be used as a jetpack of sorts. Each of the game’s weapons are a blast to use and quite creatively designed. While some weapons have ammo for them, you will rarely have to worry about collecting ammo. Ammunition regenerates at a rapid rate (except for the missile launcher, the only weapon with ammo to collect for). Careful though, as taking damage will begin to diminish the equipped weapon’s level meter, so it can drop down level.

Cave Story is a challenging game that screams old-school. While the game does offer multiple difficulty settings, you will be challenged even on the easy setting. Whether the boss battles test your skills, or the clever level design’s platforming does, it really nails that 8-bit, old-school feel. There are no checkpoints at all as well. The only means of a checkpoint are finding floppy disks to save your game. If you die, you will reload at the last save point. Thankfully, save points are not too few and far in between. The most impressive element that truly harkens back to the old-school gaming days is how your adventure unfolds. Certain character interactions and item swapping can affect the weapons and items you will carry to the end of the game, as well as alter the game’s ending. Holding onto one weapon, may benefit you in the end game, as opposed to trading it in for someone else’s weapon. Picking up certain items that seem useless may actually help in a way you didn’t expect. NPC interaction is a massive element to the game. You need to initiate the conversations with NPCs to see if that will provide a choice factor, or provide hints to assist in your adventure. The game’s pacing is also sublime. Never at any single moment did the game feel like it dragged or had filler just to extend the game’s length.

Upon completing Cave Story with the “best” ending or with certain elements completed in the story, there are a variety of extra modes and content unlocked. First off, you can unlock an additional story mode called Curly Story. This lets you experience the game as Curly Brace, who will have more dialogue in place where Quote never spoke. Additionally, there are Challenges to access in the main menu and even an unlockable Boss Attack mode. These challenges have leaderboard support as well. For this Switch version, two-player co-op is being added later this summer.

As superb as Cave Story’s gameplay is, there were two things that stood out as minor irritants. The first was the lack of being able to skip cutscenes. When you watch a cutscene, then start a boss battle, die, and then reload your game, to only have to keep pressing A to somewhat speed up the dialogue…well, that can be a bit tedious. The second is that while there is a map system, it’s absolutely minuscule to understand, whether playing on the TV or the Switch itself. While I rarely ever resorted to it, the times I pulled it up I couldn’t help but wonder why it was so tiny. Despite these two elements though, that doesn’t hinder Cave Story from being an absolutely addictive game that’s immensely difficult to put down. Upon completing the game the first time, I immediately started up a second file to replay the game and try to acquire a different ending and make different decisions to change up the game. Not many games achieve that nature.

Graphics: 5/5

Cave Story + is a beautifully vibrant and clean upgrade from the original Cave Story. Everything looks crisp and smooth, whether in 1080p on the TV or 720p undocked on the Switch. All characters have nice animations and better detail than ever before. Environments are also incredibly well designed, with each area having great detail and variety to help each locale look and feel unique. Even the water reacts smoothly to when Quote submerges and surfaces. All this, while also running at a locked 60 fps, really makes the game look stunning. The only aspect that would’ve been a nice additional option would be if you were able to change the graphical styles to that of the previous versions (even the 3DS’s polygonal look).

Sound: 4/5

The game’s chiptune soundtrack accompanies the action on-screen very well. Whether it be upbeat or somber tunes, each track fits well for the most-part in the areas and scenarios presented. While not every song stood out, what’s here is still very good. Sound effects also fit just right, with each weapon sounding unique and pertaining to the style weapon it is, the explosions, and the selection tones. A really nice touch is being able to choose from four versions of the game’s soundtrack: Cave Story +, Remastered, Famitracks, or Organya. Personally, I enjoyed Remastered the most of the four. You can even listen to the game’s Jukebox and hear each track’s version.

Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

Cave Story + is a fantastic game that still holds up all these years since it’s original release. The gameplay is addictive and downright superb, the visuals are stunning, and the story is very engaging. The game’s constant mystery and sense of discovery replicates that of the golden days in gaming. If you’ve never experienced Cave Story before, there’s never been a better time. If you’ve played through the game already, investing in the awesome physical copy (which includes CD soundtrack and full-color instruction booklet) is certainly worth the $30 price tag.

Pros:

+ Sublime gameplay
+ Engaging story
+ Various soundtrack versions to choose
+ Free future DLC
+ Excellent physical copy packaging to outweigh digital version

Cons:

– Unskippable cutscenes (when replaying sections)
– Map system is minuscule
– We have to still wait for two-player co-op mode

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Cave Story +! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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