Not Quite Risen from the Ashes
Hoo boy, I do not like doing this. I like being nice. I mean, behind every indie game there’s an indie developer with a unique story. And I like to give indie devs the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re doing their best. But, alas, “doing your best” doesn’t necessarily equate to the production of a quality game. Especially not in this case. Because, well… The Forbidden Arts isn’t that great. As of the preview version, anyway.
Stoking the Flames
The Forbidden Arts begins with Phoenix, the game’s protagonist, caught in the throws of a vision-like dream, where he can here a distant voice beckoning to him. Shortly after, he is awakened by a patrolling guard who suggests that, instead of napping in the middle of town, he should instead pay a visit to Elia — a druid who resides within a nearby forest. After making the trek all the way to the druid’s house, Phoenix is then informed that he has latent magical powers which can be awoken from within him — and that he may one day need to use these powers to defeat a resurfacing evil.
If you feel like the flow of that last paragraph was a little clunky, you aren’t alone. I think that it is, too. But that’s because the story itself is pretty clunky. While I don’t know the correct term for it (if there even is one), The Forbidden Arts has what I would describe as a very “now you’re doing this” feel. The way in which this game treats Phoenix, its own protagonist, makes him feel more like a puppet than a person. There’s a distinct lack of agency, and it’s very noticeable. The fact that the game tends to throw you from to task is also jarring. It’s not like there’s no sense of connection between the events — because there absolutely is — but it isn’t incredibly strong.
Trials and Tribulations
The Forbidden Arts is a fairly standard platformer, and things never get too difficult in a basic mechanical sense. Along with the platforming basics (because I’m sure most of you know what running and jumping are at this point), Phoenix also has a few other useful skills at his disposal such as double-jumping and wall-jumping. Normally, that would be the end of my description with this kind of thing. But alas, The Forbidden Arts runs into a handful of issues that require further examination.
This game isn’t merely a platformer. At times, it’s also a precision platformer. If done well, precision platformers are a lot of fun. Unfortunately, this is a case where things aren’t done quite so well. Precision platforming in games don’t just require precise player input. They require precise controls as well. This is where The Forbidden Arts falters the most. While the game gives players plenty of areas in which timing and accuracy are crucial, the game’s sloppy control system actively works against everything that the player is trying to do. Tapping forward results in Phoenix full-on sprinting a step ahead. Trying to jump anywhere close to the edge of a platform results in Phoenix not jumping at all (and you dying). The timing for the double-jump’s button press is far less forgiving than it should be. The list goes on, but I’ll stop there for brevity’s sake.
I can’t harp on everything, though. While the game does have its fair share of hiccups. there are still a number of instances of enjoyable platforming, which genuinely feel like they’re testing your skill. The Forbidden Arts also does a great job with its collectibles. The gold pieces scattered around the continent tend to be hidden in such a way that they’re often difficult (in a good way) to find, but never to the point of feeling unfair. So long as you think creatively along your journey, you should end up finding most of them. And don’t be afraid of a little trial-and-error, either! The Forbidden Arts is nice about letting you save almost anywhere.
A Fight to the Finish
Like its platforming, combat in The Forbidden Arts is also simple in theory, yet somewhat difficult when put into action. In the beginning, Phoenix has a very tiny skillset, limited to his basic melee attack and, a little while later, a fireball projectile. As he progresses throughout his journey however, Phoenix bolsters his magical repertoire with additional offensive spells, as well as some much-needed defensive magic (that shield can really come in handy!). Sadly, things aren’t as polished as they should be.
Enemies can damage Phoenix simply by touching him. That in and of itself isn’t a big deal. Tons of platformer games work like that. The problem comes in with enemy movement. Many enemies seem to… how do I even describe it… glide, rather than walk or run? It’s very strange, and it’s best experienced through actual gameplay. Because of how they move, combined with Phoenix’s short range, it’s very easy to have one run into you while you’re trying to fend it off with attacks. And, should let up even once, they’ll start charging at you again. Phoenix’s post-damage invulnerability period is also very short which, depending on which enemy you’re fighting, makes a hasty retreat very difficult.
Lukewarm… For Now
Between the less-than-tight controls, and a somewhat lackluster story, there’s a chance that this game may not ever rise up to see its full potential. I won’t throw my hat into the ring just yet with this one, however. From what I can tell, Stingbot Games seems to be doing whatever they can to make the game the best that it can possibly be. They’re receptive to (and friendly about!) community feedback, and have already released several updates tweaking problems that players have had. As now, I can’t really recommend The Forbidden Arts. But maybe someday, after enough tweaking, that could change.