I live for indie developers and the unexpected jewels they produce at times. How can you not admire the ambitiousness of a little fish in a big fish’s pond? Stingbot Games out of California, inspired by retro classics have developed ‘The Forbidden Arts’, released in Early Access on Steam in 2018, and now in full release on PC, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One.
The tale begins with our hero, Phoenix, trapped with haunting visions that plague his mind. Seeking counsel from a villager, Phoenix discovers and awakens a fiery strength within his soul. Charged with his new pyrotechnical power, Phoenix must travel the lands and rid it of the increasing necromancer threats and take down the ringmaster of the evil tormenting the realm. Phoenix is quite endearing much like Zelda’s Link, and the tale is interesting with enough in-depth dialogue to keep invested in for quite some time.
Gameplay is essentially a single player platformer with a sprinkling of 3D open world integrated in. Like typical platformers, you must double jump and climb from area to area, avoiding flying enemies, spikes, water and other hazards. Fortunately, the enemies can be tackled with dual daggers or using a fire magic gained from any burning source, clearing your path for a quicker run through. The enemies’ range in difficult in each level, with some just flying at you to others hurling their own balls of poison and wielding shields which you can roll away from, to plan an attack strategy. The controls were surprisingly quite smooth for a platformer on the Nintendo Switch, improving even more slightly when using the pro controller, my own personal weapon of gaming choice.
As you progress you learn more skills to upgrade your magic and even can equip new gear. While not bringing much innovation to the table, gameplay can be quite challenging but definitely rewarding. You will die a lot, but I found each time I died, I learnt the angle at which I needed to approach the problem to progress, making for fulfilling gaming.
Each level is a unique area, from forests and swamps to hives and graveyards, teaming with spaces to climb and discover, above and below floor level. Along the way you can find and collect gold to use in the open worlds to unlock towers to complete, to increase your health or magic bar. I highly recommend looking for these gold pieces as the upgraded health is a definite must to tackle the bosses without self imploding.
My only critique with the gameplay was I found the health bar depleted way too easily, with some enemies easier to dodge out of the way than others. At times, Phoenix would stick to a character if they were performing a move that was part of an action sequence. An example of this, was the rat like enemies with the dust clouds, once they started a cloud my character would often get stuck despite being just out of range. Also I would have liked more auto saves potentially as I often would die just before the save point, taking myself quite far back if I was just roaming looking for gold and not for the end of the level. There is a manual save option, but other than exiting the game, its not something the general platformer would typically think about.
The artwork in The Forbidden Arts is absolutely charming and charismatic. Each world and character is teaming with tiny detail, whether it be the tiny scarf waving in the breeze around Phoenix, to the flickering flames of miniature torches hanging on cave walls, there are small things to look at in each environment. The cut scenes were also quite impressive, leaving me wanting more of them throughout. The enchanting, fantasy, folk music compliments this atmosphere perfectly, making for a perfect soothing ambiance for when your blood is beginning to boil from dying over and over again.
Overall, The Forbidden Arts blew me away with its addictive gameplay and gorgeous art style. This was a quaint little game while not a triple A title it definitely holds its own as a challenging good time, that is certainly reminiscent of the classics of times passed.
- Endearing plot and lead character
- Rewarding, robust gameplay
- Unique levels
- Detailed environments and enchanting music
- Controls are smooth on the Nintendo Switch
- Game mechanics not very innovative
- Health bar depleted easily
- Sticky enemy attacks
- More save points