iPhone Game Review: Forget-Me-Not Reviewed by Tim Harvey
Believe it or not, Forget-Me-Not by Nyarlu Labs isn't the first game on iOS to combine Pac-Man type gameplay with heavy roguelike elements, but it is the first one to make such a solvent so enjoyable.
In this game of randomly-generated mazes, monsters and, uh, flowers, you'll need to use quick wits and reflexes, as well as a bit of strategy to become unforgettable on the Game Center leaderboards. This is, by the way, not exactly a pick-up-and-play game, or at least not until you?ve spent some time getting accustomed to it. It may take a while before you even figure out what you?re meant to do and then some more time before you find out the best strategies for high scoring, and maybe even a bit more time still to put everything together to the point where you feel totally comfortable playing the game.
Doodle Jump it?s not, but even so I have come to the conclusion that it?s the most addictive game I?ve played in months and once you?re into it, it?s hard to pull yourself back out of it. I?ve lost hours of time at once playing Forget-Me-Not.
As I mentioned, it's tempting to describe F-M-N as a hybrid of Pac-Man and a roguelike. It has the mazes and retro style of both, although the gameplay tends a bit more towards the arcadey style of Pac-Man, rather than the RPG-lite style of Rogue. There is no inventory, leveling or NPCs (although the original Rogue didn't have NPCs either). What you do find, however, is a large bestiary with many different abilities and unique AI to battle, the aforementioned randomly-generated levels and a couple of different potions you'll quaff during your quest: one to restore your health and one that will increase your creature's firepower.
In fact it's the shooting, all forward-facing, that is the biggest departure from the two main formula's F-M-N gains its inspiration from, and in a way it can feel a bit out of place. When moving across the screen your shots travel in a straight line and you can't disable them. The game also uses wraparound, meaning that if something travels beyond an open area on the edge of the screen it will reappear on the opposite side of the screen, thus your shots will wrap around the screen and hit your character in its back if you're not careful, which can contribute at times to what one may feel are "cheap deaths." It's not to say that shooting doesn't work here, because it's one of the best ways to engage in quick, arcade-style combat with all the enemies you'll have to face, but it's also one of the ways in which F-M-N can frustrate its players, although I mostly feel that with regards to the shooting wraparound, it really just holds gamers to a higher difficulty standard and in all fairness, this sentiment does conform well to the retro roots of the gameplay.
If there's an aspect of the game that does contribute to cheap deaths though, it's the controls. The way they function is to allow you to swipe anywhere on the screen to change direction. Sounds simple enough, right? It works pretty well for the easier levels, but the problems begin when you get into more hectic levels later. It can get easy to accidentally move in the wrong direction if you try to turn with precision, and there is little margin for error when the screen is filling up with hostile creatures. To make matters worse, the lack of precision can easily cost you score multipliers as you try to collect as many flowers as possible in a continuous chain. It's really frustrating to constantly have a great path mapped out in your head for collecting the longest chain possible only to get it fouled up by imprecise controls--so much so that I rarely went to the trouble of paying much attention to it after my first few hours with the game. If you didn't need to move perpetually then it wouldn't be an issue, and if you weren't travelling on a 4-directionaly grid it probably wouldn't be an issue, but it is. I think the best solution would be to implement the double control pads as seen in Pac-Man Championship Ed. for iPhone, although it would kind of be a shame to have to add visual controls like that. The other possibility would be to have a control scheme that would allow you to tap in front of your character to move it in a direction the way it's done in several iOS roguelikes as well as having the swipes. This would make it easy to queue up directional changes ahead of time (a critical requirement for grinding walls, which I'll get to in a moment) as well as to make quicker, finer directional changes when necessary.
Control gripes aside, this is just a game that is maddeningly fun and addictive. There are so many surprises, and these come up in such delightful ways, as with any great roguelike, that I am hesitant to suggest a totally explanatory tutorial should be included. I do, however, think that some sort of tutorial would be good, to go over basics for the newcomers, like chaining, using keys, potions, and how to get an extra life. The funniest moment for me was when I realized that I could "grind the walls" by swiping towards a wall while moving against it, and that it would cause my little guy to shoot sparks until he flashed red and could then destroy enemies by simple running into them, and then finding out what would happen if I let him heat up too much! Coming across new enemies (such as the one who'll show up in any level if you stick around too long) often gave me a similar feeling of glee. There are lots of nods to video gaming's golden age to be found.
Another strength of F-M-N is in how it allows you to play in a "Random" mode, which mixes up levels completely, rather than the normally gentle difficulty curve of the "Normal" mode. In Random mode, you'll get intense enemies popping up on simple levels, or simple enemies popping up in huge levels, and everything else in-between. It's a great way to play if you simply want to jump in right away and discover a crazy new combination of random elements. Of course you can also go more into roguelike territory with a "Survival" mode (what game doesn't come with a survival mode these days?) in which you'll only get one life instead of the conventional three.
The randomness of the game could bother some players who are really serious about their high scores, since you'll have to get somewhat lucky to have the best possible run and comparing your score to your friends' or other people around the world therefore may not always be as fair a competition as it would be if everyone was facing the same levels and enemies, with a chance for the same powerups at the same time. I think of the randomness as a great asset though, personally, and I think tenacity is rewarded with it, as well as it just being a ton of fun and having a great deal of replay value. It certainly stays fresh a lot longer than the original Pac-Man with its single maze does for me now.
Another aspect of the game that could be seen as a weakness or as a strength, depending on how you look at it, is its abstractness. Your character doesn't have a name, a story, and heck if we even know what he/she/it is, other than a little square cluster of pixels. Why is he collecting all the flowers before moving to new levels? Why are all these beasties are after him? The truth is that it really doesn't matter to me, as I enjoy the strangeness of the scenario and characters, but it may matter to some players out there.
The graphics are simple, but delivered in a very crisp, colorful, and ultimately very satisfying way. The opening screen with a maze blooming and evolving is mesmerizing, and the same can be said of the game. Don't be fooled; a lot of attention has gone into the details, such as the way all the characters leave small trails as they move, and how your characters seems to emit some hint of light that creates a slightly off-color band that travels with you against walls as you move through corridors.
The game does get a bit visually busy in later levels when things are just going crazy onscreen, and it can sometimes happen that you'll lose your character in all the madness, which is basically a sure way to get to "game over" as quickly as possible. There is good visual feedback for where your character is, but the visual cortex can only take so much. I mostly enjoy these moments though, as it's very exciting to suddenly snap out of a trance and realize you don't know where you are onscreen. If that seems oddly forgiving then that probably speaks to how visually impressive this game is.
The sounds are perfectly placed. They're a bit minimalistic, perhaps, but it is immediately recognizable what a sound means. A few of the sounds effects, such as the ones you hear when your little guy warps in and out of a level, or when a bomb suddenly starts running around getting ready to blow, have started expressing themselves in my everyday life, such as when I am shaving or getting on a subway train. Of course they also capture retro nostalgia ultra-flawlessly, as in that the sound effects here are actually better than many of the sound effects in some of the classic games of the Atari era.
There's no music, but you can play your own iPod music if you so choose. Oddly, I wouldn't really think to because I simply enjoy the sound effects so much.
If you love retro arcade games, Pac-Man or roguelikes and have some patience, Forget-Me-Not will reward you for the time you spend with it despite some frustrations with the controls. It's a beautifully realized game with a deep scoring system and it seems that Nyarlu Labs didn't compromise and really nailed the artistic vision they had going into this project.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4.5 - A bit confusing at times, which is an achievement in a sense, considering how visually simple the game appears to be on the surface. In reality it's nuanced and very smart, and even occasionally hypnotic and beautiful. Sound: - 4.5 - Some great music would have put this over the top, but truthfully I don't miss the game not having any music all that much. The sound effects are some of the best I've heard in a retro game, ever. Controls: - 3 - The only slight blight on the game, the controls aren't as precise as some situations call for. Gameplay: - 4.5 - There's a great blend of arcade action, high-scoring strategy, and tons of variety and randomness that makes this all just absurdly exciting. Overall: - 4 - Clearly I love the game, but I am hoping for an updated control scheme that will really make this one fire on all cylinders. Were that to happen, this just could be the best arcade game of the year.
Playing Hints and Tips:
-Use the key in each level to protect your backside from fire--both enemy and friendly. -Remember that if you collect flowers without travelling to a blank space your score multiplier will soar. -A powered-up weapon will be reduced to its initial power if you lose a life. -Don't stay in a level for too long, or the big ghost-guy will come looking for you!