Early Access games; a divisive palette of colors that can either bring out the beauty amidst the bugs, glitches and unfinished content or, make the buyer contemplate with the mess that is now on his library and wishes that no one gets access to it, ever. Such is what a person sees when he hovers over the Early Access category on Steam. With dozens and dozens of games entering early access period daily, it’s hard to pick and choose the right one for you; quality-wise and preference-wise.
In between the countless MMO Survival games and Roguelikes, sits a little a little game called The Forbidden Arts, “an action adventure platformer with a deep lore and a focus on discovery and exploration”- at least according to the developer Stingbot Games. They plan to release the completed game on the following platforms: PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. We, at Indiannoob got a chance to spend some quality time with the game that should be publicly released into early access any minute now. Is it worth your time, or not? We got you covered. Here’s our early impressions on The Forbidden Arts.
THE FORBIDDEN ARTS
You play as a teenager called Phoenix living in the village of Korrath. One sunny day, a series of events lead you to discover the powers of pyromancy lying deep within you. With the help from a druid you awake the pyromancy within. This begins an epic journey to save the world of Chora from the blight of an evil necromancer who is hell-bent on conquering the realm.
I was really surprised to see that there is a strong focus on the story than going form point A to B. The story may seem simple and generic, but it goes along well with the gameplay and the world design. Everything in the game has a coat of fantasy and an alluring charm in general. It looks like that with the upcoming update, Stingbot games are looking to up the ante on the story and lore.
The Forbidden Arts, is side-scrolling action platformer with focus on exploration and combat. Your character can run, jump, double jump, scale walls, wall jump, climb vines and do all sorts of platformery things that has been fairly standard in the genre that is just a few years shy of turning 40. There are two main types of gameplay; traversing the overworld map which consists of multiple regions while avoiding the occasional pitfalls, and the standard maps where you have to navigate the environment heeding mind to traps, hazards and the enemies thrown into the mix. The platforming sections are fairly standard and there is no experimental mechanics or innovative aspects to be found within. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing, for simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. When it’s done right, even the most mundane of things can become fun and highly enjoyable.
Aside from platforming, your character is also able to fend off enemies roaming the map with dual daggers (weapon selection will be added at a later period) and by channeling your innate pyromancy powers which ranges from a basic fireball to a flame shield and the ability to launch yourself into the air much further. These abilities are gained by completing mission objectives and are maintained by refilling your energy at fire sources. These mechanics add some flair to the standard platforming sections and learning to manage and use your pyromancy skills effectively can lead you either to the next section of the map or to the game over screen. While the game is not exactly a metroidvania, the levels are varied and large enough to easily get lost in. Each map has it’s own unique enemies and bosses and tackling them head on without learning their attack patterns can lead to the good ol’ trial and error method.
The gameplay is enhanced by the addition of Spirit Towers, additional challenge areas unlocked by spending gold bars, which are one of the two collectibles in the game (The other is phoenix feather whose purpose is yet to be revealed) Completing these towers will increase your life/spirit bars respectively. The importance of these towers cannot be stressed enough as your chance to survive increases exponentially. Aside from that it’s a neat way of making sure that collectibles serve a purpose other than being purely aesthetic.
The simplest way to describe The Forbidden Arts is to compare it to any of platformers from the 80s or 90s. Because that is what TFA is. One cannot shake off the feeling of familiarity while traversing through the forests and mines the game has to offer. It is truly an old-school platformer at heart, hearkening back to the days of the Ninja Turtles and Ninja Gaiden from the NES era and Prince of Persia (1989) released for the Apple II. One button press at the right or wrong time can be the difference between life or death. The game at times, can be unforgivable and frustrating. But thankfully the developers frequently roll out fixes and tweaks and many of the game’s shortcomings were quickly patched out including enemies respawning in front of the player when loading a save and the frequency of health pickups. Thankfully the ability to save almost everywhere, in addition to autosaves act as literal life savers during these frustrating sections.
One thing TFA advertises well on its store page is the following words; “A game controller is not required to play The Forbidden Arts, but is highly recommended”. The game stays true to this. Playing with a controller is easy and fluid. But I can’t say the same for the keyboard controls.First of all there is no mouse support aside from the menus. Navigating the hero through the maps and effectively pulling off various moves and jumps can be a frustrating experience with a keyboard, even with so few keys being used at the same time. Although the experience has been improved from day one, the reasonably good experience from the controller hasn’t carried over well. This has led to many-a restarts and smack your keyboard moments throughout the game. Using a controller alleviates most of the problems. But this is an aspect that can always use an improvement.
The Forbidden Arts is opting for a more laid back, cartoonish art style, taking inspiration from The Legend of Zelda, Torchlight and your usual high fantasy media. There are lots of colors and it oozes atmosphere. Everything from the environments to the character models looks like they fit right in the world Stingbot games have crafted. That isn’t to say that everything is ultra-detailed. Some parts of the game looks like the assets have been re-used many time over. Then again, this is usual for games with such long side-scrolling maps and all complaints regarding to the aesthetics are in-fact nitpicking. It’s good that they opted for such an artstyle, as it will hold up well over time.
Sound design, for the most part is fairly standard. The music is calm, soothing and fit the environment to which they are attributed. Forests are filled with the chirping of birds and the gurgle of the streams, mines are filled with the sound of burning torches and crumbling of rock. Everything sound like they are supposed to and that’s that.
Current State of the Game
As per the time of writing this preview, TFA has limited content compared to the full version. The initial Early Access launch includes roughly 35% of the total game’s content. Players will be able to experience two overworlds, six levels, and two boss fights of the 5 overworlds, 13 levels and 6 boss fights planned. There is at easily 6-7 hours of gameplay available now. In a few days, one of the largest updates planned; the northern wastes will be released, which will add a 4th overworld to the game as well as a new mini-game, enemy types, abilities, a spirit towers etc, extending the playtime by several hours. The devs are planning to release another two major content updates while the game remains in early access.
As for the bugs and glitches, I encountered only two crashes and some minor bugs in my 10 hour playtime. The hero occasionally fell through the map a few times and got stuck in the terrain once or twice, and that’s about it. The game is surprisingly stable for an early access title and almost all problems are fixed by loading a previous save. The game runs well maxed out all the time with no massive frame drops even on a budget gaming pc.
The Forbidden Arts is definitely worth checking out for fans of oldschool platformers. It’s simple, challenging, doesn’t hold your hand and most importantly it’s fun, albeit being a standard platformer. With the Northern Wastes update coming out any day now, it’s a good time to check out the game on steam and you don’t have to worry about it being broken and filled to the brim with glitches. The available or soon-to-be available Northern Wastes content easily justifies the current $9.99 price tag. With a developer who is passionate and listens to every player feedback and frequently rolls out updates and changes, I see good things in the future of The Forbidden Arts.