A young man with restless dreams visits the local druid to find there is a hidden power inside him. He is then introduced to a world of magic, sent on an adventure and tries to save the world, all in The Forbidden Arts from Stingbot Games. This challenging 2D/3D platformer comes to Xbox One after an early access appearance on Steam in 2018.
The local witch is fairly persuasive after getting you a potion to awaken your inner pyromancy powers, the protagonist; Phoenix; is asked to use this Forbidden Art to seek out the other magic users across the world and join together to defeat the big necromancer baddie hell bent on world domination.
The Forbidden Art takes the form of a 2D platformer with a fully fledged 3D world map to explore across five beautifully realized levels, each lovingly representative of the biome in which they are based. Starting in a rolling meadow in the Local Village, things escalate quickly as you make your way through the mines, mountains and desert proving yourself to the other magic users.
Open world exploration allows you to traverse the world in general but also allows access to shrines dotted across each region. These can be rebuilt by a helpful local builder dependent on the amount of gold you’ve collected as you progress on your adventure. There’s ten nuggets carefully hidden in each level and four in each over world area to find. Once you have enough to complete the rebuild, the shrine gives you access to a challenge which, once completed, rewards players with either a health or magic upgrade.
It’s a far cry from a walk in the park. Each level contains a set of enemies unique to their area, which will attack on site with both physical and magical abilities. These get stronger as you progress but thankfully you do as well. The necromancer has helpfully taken control of the other users of The Forbidden Arts making them rather hostile, the end of each level culminates in a boss encounter before you can progress.
The various bosses in The Forbidden Arts have a set pattern to them which becomes more complex as each fight progresses. It plays out mostly as a series of actions before getting to the point where you can land a hit with your daggers. The dance then repeats several times with various additions to it until you again land a final blow.
Defeating the boss releases them from the necromancer’s thrall and rewards you with a new power which you can deploy at any point with a button press. You can only select one out of the five available at any time and you can switch at anytime with the shoulder bumpers. Some take a chunk of magic, others deplete whilst you hold the button but you can always refill your reserves at any source of fire.
Enemies are not the only thing to concern you in the 2D side scrolling sections. These well constructed and beautifully realized levels have some very precise and challenging platforming elements which are further complicated by tough enemies and instant death spike pits and water. Thankfully there are checkpoints at regular intervals but some areas will have inexperienced players pulling out their hair in frustration.
Most of the time the controls are fairly intuitive but the mix of platforming, enemy strength, power usage and instadeath can cause some difficulty as you try to switch powers quickly to little avail. Some of the enemy attacks also home in on you and without jumping or dodging at the last second, you will continue to be hit even with your fire shield power active.
The nature of the character movement also sometimes led to a simple death. If you just tap the jump button for slightly longer while trying to land on thin ledges, you’ll often overshoot. This caused jumping to unfortunately feel as if it wasn’t as fluid as it could be and almost a little wooden at times. Some of the enemy and character animations also felt a little stiff. Some fluidity would go along way in making the gameplay feel more natural.
We experienced a few minor issues with detection around automatic ledge grab mechanics, with a few instances where the player would simply just fall to their doom even though a repeat attempt has you doing exactly the same thing but climbing the ledge to safety. A second consistent issue stopped us executing the double jump with a particular power active so it was impossible to progress for a while since that combination of power with a double jump was the only means of getting over the death pit. That said its been in a progressive build process, it has been in early access and has had consistent patches and updates over its release to date.
The Forbidden Arts potentially misses a chance to utilize the unlocked fire powers to better effect in exploration, the gold hidden can be collected on the first pass of every level; a metroidvania style backtracking mechanic with more hidden gold would likely extend the gameplay by a good few hours.
An enjoyable challenging platformer, The Forbidden Arts has some of its shine removed by some wooden animations and stiff movements but it shouldn’t stop fans of the genre playing through to completion.