The Forbidden Arts comes to consoles from Stingbot Games. It first appeared on Steam Early Access back in February of last year, but this year it leaves that phase of development while coming to consoles. We follow the story of Phoenix, who discovers that he has some unique abilities hidden within him. This is a grand adventure set in a fantasy world full of elves, dangerous beasts and magic—but is this world worth exploring for the low price of $15?
Spiritual Content: The Forbidden Arts is set in a world in which fantastical races, creatures, and magic exists. Players control a character who uses pyromancy to fight off enemies.
Violence: This game includes combat in which the character will use a pair of daggers to attack enemies. He can also use his pyromancy to shoot fireballs and use other abilities that will light enemies on fire. Players can fall in spikes and other death trap obstacles. There is no blood or gore to be found within the game.
In The Forbidden Arts, you play as Phoenix, who is just discovering his abilities for the first time. From the beginning, we are greeted by NPCs and introduced to the world and lore of the game. It is the typical “long ago an evil force was sealed away” kind of deal, but magical elements play a big part in the world-building. I think this may be the most interesting part of the game, because I still have mixed feelings about its other aspects.
The gameplay is a mixed up between a 2.5-D sidescroller and overworld with 3-D movement. The visual presentation itself looks good for an indie, but the layout of each level has a flat and blocky aesthetic. The hub world feels like something I would also want to explore, but it isn’t very dense and seems to exist only to provide a way for players to travel to the next level.
When playing through a level, the platforming is decent, but there are plenty of issues that get in its way. The camera feels a little too zoomed in to focus on the main character, which makes it tough to gauge jumps. There is a map on the top corner that helps but it serves as more of a radar. I looked if there was a way to pan the camera so I could watch where I’m jumping, but didn’t find that to be an option. With double jumps and the ability to cling to walls, I see the potential in platforming that could be much more enjoyable, if standard design practices were followed.
The combat sadly suffers from a similar inconsistency. The weapon used by the main character is a set of daggers, but a fireball becomes available within the first few minutes. The fireball is limited to meter, but more can be absorbed throughout each level. The daggers suffer from a very short range and sporadically connect with an enemy’s hitbox. The enemies can be dangerous since they can take you out in only a few hits, and the fact there is a useless dodge roll and no block button makes these encounters much more challenging.
I can’t say that The Forbidden Arts is unplayable, because I enjoyed it when all of the elements worked together in perfect harmony. The enemies may be deadly, but they are fun to fight when I learned their patterns. The lack of a block button is also solved with an unlockable shield ability, which becomes a huge help. The platforming also feels better when I know the layout of the area more, though, I do have to die a few times to the various stage hazards before I get to that point. Those times when it all connected to form an enjoyable experience are what kept me coming back.
What became the ultimate saving grace in The Forbidden Arts was the saving. If it weren’t for the option to save anywhere, the difficulty of the game would increase exponentially. I was grateful for this feature because it brought me back to the action quickly. I am a fan of cleverly placed checkpoints, but having to restart a level upon death is the quickest route for me to play a different game. This game is respectful of my time by being generous in this aspect.
A big part of what kept me interested in The Forbidden Arts was the setting. The world fits in the high fantasy genre, but elemental magic acts as the foundation while playing a big part in what drives the story forward. I was pleased to discover a considerable amount of NPCs within the game, breathing some life into this world and keep it from being an empty place.
On the surface, this game might have come out of a time capsule from a few generations ago, but it has grown on me. It is built on a cartoon-like art style that could have made The Forbidden Arts look much more appealing if they had leaned into that further. The visual presentation isn’t quite as strong as I feel it could have been, because it lacks a much-needed personality. I commend the developers for doing what they could with what resources and time they had.
What disappoints me the most about The Forbidden Arts is that it has the potential to be what could be a high-fantasy version of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I want to get invested in the world and its characters, but the inconsistent gameplay flow and lacking visuals keep it from standing out among the sea of indies. Having started in Early Access last year, I would have loved to see what The Forbidden Arts looked like if it had been baked in the oven a bit longer. I look forward to seeing if the game will be updated in the future.
Review copy generously provided by Stride PR.
The Bottom Line
The Forbidden Arts has the potential to be great with its interesting world and premise, but the strange level design and problems with the gameplay keep it from igniting into something impressive.