What is it? A Miyazaki movie with a jump button.
Expect to pay £16/$20
Developer Throughline Games
Publisher Square Enix Collective
Reviewed on Windows 10, GTX 960, Intel i7-6700HQ, 8GB RAM
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
It took me ages to notice Anne doesn't have a health bar.
A set of mechanical wings augment her jumps, and when I mistime one they erupt from her back at the last instant, slowing her fall. But when I goof in a sequence where she doesn't have the wings, Anne hits the ground, then stirs and goes through some nicely animated standing up and dusting herself off. No matter what height she fell from, she's fine. There's no health bar and Anne can't die.
That's because Forgotton Anne is more concerned with telling its story than sending you back a checkpoint. No matter what, it chugs on reliably like one of the old trains that connects its industrial city together. To back the metaphorical train up for a second, that setting will need some explaining. It's inhabited by forgotlings, who are lost objects from the real world that have come to life and banded together in this sooty otherworld. A city full of talking clothes, toys, furniture, and tools, all transformed into broad cartoon characters. That's a concept right there.
The city's ruled by Master Bonku and protected by his enforcer Anne, which is you. There are forgotling cops as well, including a memorably eager talking gun, but Bonku and Anne are the only humans in this world of chatty lamps and chairs who look like mascots for homeware stores. The Forgotten Lands need an enforcer because there's a rebellion going on, the forgotlings divided between those working to help Bonku build a bridge back to the real world and those sabotaging the factories for reasons of their own.
I could imagine someone being surprised when Forgotton Anne turns out to be a story where you learn those rebels have a point, but only if they've never played a videogame before. This is the plot of every Deus Ex game and plenty more besides, only now it's dressed up in a fetching set of clothes from Howl's Moving Castle. The predictability didn't bother me, both because it puts emphasis on how full of oddity and surprise the setting is by contrast, and because Forgotton Anne feels like a kid's movie in game form. Straightforward plotting suits it.
It looks lovely, obviously. The indie budget shows in a few moments but it's still a hell of an achievement, full of throwaway character designs with more personality than other game's protagonists, like the cigar-chomping teddy bear foreman or the teapot in sunglasses who plays poker.
As for what you actually do, it's a mix of platforming, some light adventure game stuff, and puzzles. Those puzzles involve manipulating anima, the magical energy that brings the forgotlings to life and has been harnessed to power their city. There are a lot of gates that can only be opened and closed by switching on anima vision and manipulating pipes full of the stuff. The puzzles get more complex as things go on but not to the point where you'll be stuck for days. I bailed on The Witness but I managed to muddle through this without help.
The platforming's probably going to be more divisive. It's definitely from a different time, and Anne's movements have that rotoscoped quality of the original Prince of Persia. Sometimes when you want to go up or down stairs (there are a lot of stairs), she slides sideways to hit the midpoint because that's where the animation puts her. Maybe that slidiness contributes to an "off" feeling I get from the movement and especially the jumping, though the wings are also a factor. They don't let you fly, but give Anne a super-jump you hold down right bumper to activate (I don't recommend the keyboard controls). For a full-length leap you're holding right bumper, left trigger to run, and hitting B to launch at the last moment. It never felt natural and I longed for a trad double jump.
The other thing that's going to put people off is the dialogue. One reason for that is that almost everybody has an accent, which is a fine way of differentiating characters when you can only afford a limited cast, but the broadness of some of them made me wince. Another is that none of it's skippable, even if you've heard it before. After you finish the story there's an option to reload any checkpoint and hunt for collectibles or try to do things a different way, like some of the 'big moral choice' moments, but having to wait through dialogue I'd already heard put me off making use of it. That's a shame, because I like this setting enough that otherwise I'd enjoy going back to it for more than the 10 hours or so it took to play through once.
Sometimes Forgotton Anne feels like it could just have been a movie, but I'm glad it's a game. When I'm wandering around a bar run by a refrigerator in a fez questioning shady appliances, or exploring a train station to figure out which of the staff is secretly a rebel, the interactivity matters. It could have been a mid-tier Miyazaki movie, but the fact it's a game and its spaces can be searched and scrutinized adds something. I wanted to spend more time there just like I wanted to spend more time in the world of Spirited Away. I wanted to find out even more about the Forgotten Lands—like, what do they eat?—and was happy to simply be in those places, even if the controls weren't perfect and some of the dialogue missed the mark.