This simple arcade platformer stands out not for the trendy retro presentation, but for timely subversion of the basic elements of the genre. Most of what I could be saying about it was already said by Waltorius in his blog, focused on stand-out PC games of history or, as here, more modern pickings along the path less-trodden.
"Endless Forms Most Beautiful has an interesting history. It was originally released by Dave Hughes early in 2012 for the ZX Spectrum. Yes, the ZX Spectrum, a machine that first hit the market in 1982. There is still a community developing for the Spectrum over at World of Spectrum, although I imagine many of the games are actually played through emulation these days.
Anyway, Locomalito (known for their retro-styled freeware games like Hydorah and l’Abbaye Des Morts) were looking for a game to remake for PC, and decided that Endless Forms Most Beautiful was an ideal candidate. The port not only updates the graphics with a more recent retro aesthetic, but also apparently lowered the difficulty significantly to make it more accessible to newcomers. Now, you can play this remake of the arcade-style game for free on your PC.
The game itself is a single-screen platformer, like many of the popular early arcade games. The player controls one of two imp herders, who hop between planes of existence searching for these enigmatic trans-dimensional creatures. What this means in practice is that each stage is full of imps to collect, and the player must work out a route through the stage to collect them all without running afoul of any patrolling enemies, or running out of time. The imp herders can’t jump, but the stages are peppered with teleporters that let them move up or down a level. Any given teleporter allows ascent or descent, but will not lead to another teleporter, so vertical moves are not reversible. This is a bit of a break from platforming norms, as is the screen wrapping: moving off the right edge of the screen has the imp herder reappear on the left, one level lower than before. Exiting the left side of the screen ascends instead.
While the rules are easy to understand conceptually, they serve to negate any ingrained platforming instincts a player might have. The game’s stages scale up quite nicely too, with new enemy behavior introduced regularly, as well as some simple changes to stage layouts that create navigational conundrums. I found the difficulty to be just right — not too punishing in the early stages, but tough enough that I haven’t managed to reach the later ones due to my insufficiently honed skill.
I like the aesthetics too. The title screen captures the classic arcade style perfectly, complete with the “insert coin” message in its appropriate font. And before each stage I was treated to a randomized description of the type of imp I was collecting, which are quite endearing. An example: Dibblelegs, which live in drains, have a lonely temperament, eat floor sweepings, and are thriving. It’s rare to see that kind of oddball premise for a game these days, and it’s certainly welcome.
The PC remake of Endless Forms Most Beautiful also features two-player co-op or competitive play, which I haven’t tried, but I imagine would be quite fun. But even just the single player component is worth a look. I haven’t been playing extensively, but when I do pick it up it’s surprisingly hard to put down. And given that it’s totally free, there’s no reason not to go check it out yourself. Sometimes a trip across dimensions catching imps is just what you need."
I think this near-immediate remake, which Mr. Hughes looks to have been involved in himself, justifies itself amply, seeing as the original has, simply, less to it, and doesn't seem to have capitalized on its most appealing ideas to the same degree. I actually thought the Spectrum game was the easy one since it didn't have a lives system, instead just keeping track of your pass rate with your progress ratcheting with every success, for as long as you care to keep playing. EFMB for the PC, while tough, is one of those games where you generally feel in control of your destiny, becoming more and more sensitive to the dangers and opportunities lurking in its sea of shifting patterns (though I have to say the name feels a bit pretentious and like it would have fit another game better; also there should probably be more of a warning that a bomb has appeared). Two thumbs up, way up!
Reviewed by: LotBlind (Waltorius)