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August 2018

The Forbidden Arts

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Stingbot Games
Release Date: 2019


PC Preview - 'The Forbidden Arts'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 7:00 a.m. PST

The Forbidden Arts is an action adventure platformer with a deep lore and focus on discovery and exploration.

In the eyes of the publisher and/or developer, Steam Early Access is good for a few things. It can raise some awareness for the upcoming game, sometimes serving as a method of cheap advertisement by using early word of mouth to get people excited for the title. It can serve as a means of getting some extra funds to get the game to the finish line. More importantly, it can be a way to get early feedback for the title or any features, so it can be addressed before it is too late. In the case of The Forbidden Arts, a game slated to hit Early Access in early February, that feedback will be beneficial to increase the potential of a solid action platformer.

The Forbidden Arts is presented mostly from a side-scrolling perspective. You have the standard run, duck and double-jump moves, and you can also use vines to scale walls. You can perform a wall-jump, but you'll begin to slide down a wall once you cling to it. For the time being, you can use your dual daggers to attack enemies and summon a fireball to deal projectile damage. The ability to throw fireballs is limited by your mana, which can be replenished by syphoning energy from a nearby source of flames.

So far, this is pretty basic stuff, and the ideas work fine if you don't expect anything extraordinary. The game needs to work on three main areas to appeal to the masses. First of all, action takes place in side-scrolling levels, while full 3-D overworld levels are used as hubs to connect everything. That's a nice idea on paper, but once you reach an overworld, there's not much to do. You can hunt for collectible gold pieces, and you can die by touching water, but these areas serve no other purpose and feel unnecessary. It also doesn't help that the controls that make sense in a 3-D world carry over to the side-scrolling portions. In particular, it feels silly to use a trigger to duck when you could've tilted the analog stick down.

The second major area that needs work is the jumping mechanics, particularly the wall-jumping. It doesn't work as expected, partly due to the fact that you immediately slide as soon as you cling to a wall, and the slide is at a good enough pace that by the time you reach the next wall, you haven't covered much distance at all. It also doesn't help that the distance between most walls is so great that it feels like you're jumping often but making very little progress. In other games, this is usually mitigated by moving away from a wall, doing a double-jump, and then clinging to the wall that you came from. Alas, you aren't allowed to do that here, and if you make that mistake at a significant height, you'll take damage or die. With so many places where the wall-jump is required, this can be a real chore.

The final major area that needs tweaking is the combat system. Your character might have twin daggers, but he fails to do any combos, so the combat feels too simplistic. The daggers also lack any sort of range, so flying creatures can still hit the hero because they fly slightly above the straightforward dagger thrusts and manage to score some cheap hits. That last part is very important to know, since you can only survive two hits before dying, and every checkpoint records your health status. That can mean you'll reach a checkpoint and face an enemy who attacks with no noticeable tells. You're stuck in the hit, die and repeat cycle until you get in a lucky blow. In the game's current state, this is infuriating enough to discourage players.

The good news is that this initial Early Access build has a substantial amount of content. Six of the 13 stages are playable, and two of the six boss fights are also there. Two of the five planned overworld areas are in, but as stated earlier, their empty nature means that there's work to be done before anyone can get excited about those sections.

As expected, the presentation is rough, but there are some good spots. In particular, the musical pieces are distinct since they're done on a folk guitar. The music is quaint and provides the game with a nice signature. Elsewhere, the enemies are detailed nicely and have some good death animations, and the environment is nice and bright. While general animation issues and frame rate performance still exist, those things can be ironed out in the later stages of development, so that's not a concern at the moment. The same goes for the voices, which are currently sparse and about the expected quality for placeholder media.

There's still plenty of time for The Forbidden Arts to become a solid adventure platformer. The developers at Stingbot Games did state that they wanted to be in Early Access for about a year. For a game of this scope, that's a good amount of time to get the mechanics polished up. Until then, interested fans should keep an eye on the game's progress.

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