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Forward: Escape the Fold
Everything in Moderation
In Forward: Escape the Fold, you advance through a dungeon by moving your character onto one of three cards in front of you. Cards can represent enemies, health items, treasure chests, poison, and more. As you progress through the thirteen levels of the dungeon, you’ll accumulate power-ups; these can interact and stack on top of each other, so that by the end of the dungeon, they can be very powerful.
Technically, it’s a “roguelite”, meaning:
There are no save points: if you die, it’s game over and you have to restart with nothing
You can unlock some things that persist between restarts, like new player characters with different stats and abilities
Each “run” through the dungeon is highly randomised in its level order, enemy placement, item selection, etc.
You’re meant to die most of the time: the fun lies in replaying over and over again with new strategies and characters
As roguelites go - and I admit I haven’t played that many - it only takes a few minutes to learn thanks to its card-based interface that only gives you up to four choices at a time (1-3 cards to advance onto; and your special power, assuming it’s available). Since you can only ever move forward or diagonally right and left, you have to plan where to go as some choices will preclude others by rendering them out of range. Almost every choice is conveyed through the same card interface, even ones that might work just as well using other things like buttons, so when you’re travelling through a peaceful village, you choose which stores to visit by moving “up” rows of cards.
All of this makes it perfectly suited for phones as it can be played one-handed in a normal portrait orientation; practically all actions involve dragging your character’s card, handily located at the bottom of the screen by your thumb, onto the three cards above it. And since your character’s overall “state” is easily grasped by icons showing their health, shield, mana (spellcasting ability), skulls (kills), etc. at the bottom, it’s easy to play in short bursts.
Doing well in Forward means balancing short versus long term gains; do you choose to boost your health or shield to improve your immediate prospects, or take bigger risks to maximise money, skulls, or new items that are important for ultimate success? It’s the usual dilemma presented by turn-based strategy games, and while it’s hard to get the balance right in your first few games as you don’t know what to expect later on, the game is so fast and so simple to begin that any unfairness is easily forgiven.
As a “casual” strategy game, Forward never makes you think too hard. Because you can only see three rows of cards ahead, it’s impossible to overplan, unlike chess or go where you have perfect information about the game world; once you’ve decided on a strategy for your current run, you might as well play quickly.
The best strategies are opportunistic, based on items you collect that combine well with other items. In one run, I gained an item early on where, if I got poisoned (by advancing onto a poison card or was attacked by an enemy with the poison ability), nearby enemies would also be damaged. I began collecting other items that also gave useful effects when I got poison, reasoning that I might as well get more out of it. This “poison run” ended up seeing me devastate even the strongest enemies simply by poisoning myself all the time. In a “stealth run”, my items combined to render me hidden to enemies practically all the time, so they would never attack me. This kind of thing is made explicit by “corrupted items”, which have wholly negative effects but can activate or magnify the effects of other powerful items.
People describe these combinations as “game-breaking” in that you become so powerful the game lacks any challenge toward the end. This would be annoying in a normal 20-40 hour game but works well in a highly replayable 10-20 min game where runs usually end in defeat, meaning that breaking the game feels especially sweet whenever it happens.
Even so, Forward would be pretty boring if that’s all there was. But as with other roguelites, the game changes and becomes richer with each run. You’ll typically unlock weird new cards that will randomly appear in future runs, and occasionally you’ll unlock new characters and special powers that offer new strategies; unlike items, these unlocks are permanent.
I remain suspicious of roguelite games in general precisely due to this mechanic of incrementally unlocking abilities between runs. I think it encourages people to play far longer than they might have otherwise. After a certain period the gameplay becomes so repetitive it becomes a grind, doing run after run trying to unlock the final few characters and abilities. It’s relaxing, even soporific, to play a game you’re incredibly familiar with and good at, but I don’t know that it’s a great use of anyone’s time; I wouldn’t say the same thing about chess or go, because those are much harder to master and can become far more complex.
Then again, I don’t play chess but I did enjoy Forward. It doesn’t try to wring any money out of you beyond its $1.99 upfront price on mobile, and provided you don’t feel obliged to unlock everything in the game, you’ll have a good time. Everything in moderation!
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