Review: Forward: Escape the Fold

31 Mar 2022

I’m quite a fan of roguelike/lite games, but I have to admit, they can often be quite the time sinks. If you’re the type that has found their style of gameplay interesting, but find that they’re often too time consuming or too elaborate, you might find today’s entry quite refreshing.

Forward: Escape the Fold (Steam, $9.99) is a very simple, retro-styled roguelike that is meant to be played in short sessions, without lots of fluff, while still offering fun decision making and the procedurally-generated replayability that fans of the genre crave. Let’s YOLO and jump right on in to see if it lives up to its aims!

Deal Me In

Like most of its kind, Forward offers a simple premise. Enter a procedurally-generated dungeon and fight your way forward until you escape or you die. Unlike most though, this dungeon, your character, and everything else takes the form of cards dealt in front of you. It reminds me a tiny bit of the Hand of Fate series, which we’ve reviewed in the past.

However, Forward keeps everything simple. No flashy graphics, no 3D action scenes; it’s all about the cards. No complicated stats for the most part, no puzzles to solve; it’s just you and the dungeon (and the occasional tavern and other worldly elements).

Start the game, pick a mode and one of several unlockable characters, each with a different ability and starting item set. The game is very relaxed, and you can take all the time you want to make your decisions. Should I grab the gold coin cards with the enemies behind them? Should I accept the poison to avoid a dangerous foe? While the game’s rules are simple, your choices need to be carefully considered. I quickly found that despite only having up to three choices to make at any given time, the depth of the game was more vast than I expected, with the wide array of item cards you unlock as you play games.

For instance, I came upon a treasure chest card, which offered a choice of one of three items. Two had beneficial effects. The third item was “corrupted” and had a negative effect. I’m like, “Now why would I choose the corrupted item?” And then I later discovered there are other items which offer benefits based on the number of corrupted items you have, creating an interesting dynamic of weighing the benefits with the sacrifices made to get those benefits.

Combat is extremely simple. Any time you come across an enemy that you can attack or be attacked by, your health is reduced by the damage number on the enemy card, and the enemy disappears, sometimes leaving loot in its place. Your goal is simply to have more health at the end of each stage than the boss card’s damage number. Succeed and your health increases and you gain a treasure.

Places to Go, People to See

As alluded in the intro, each time you play is a self-contained game. There are 13 stages generated at random before you can “Escape the Fold,” and each stage might take you a few minutes at most. Each time you play, you’ll either die or make it to the end, and that’s the game! You receive a score and a ranking, and any new items you discover are added to the pool of item cards available the next time you play. Within an hour, I had won my first game, and when you do so, you also unlock a different ability option for the hero you played as.

Once you do, the game offers a hard mode and a challenge mode with distinct setups from the regular characters. I was a little bit disappointed that there isn’t at least a basic story that progresses with each play, but at the same time, the game advertises itself as a “bite-sized” roguelike. Die and it’s game over, win, and… you win! This is honestly both the game’s strongest and weakest point (but mostly a strong point). It’s both great that you can get a complete experience with a game these days in a single play session, but small bit of a downer that it’s over so quick (especially when you die, ha ha)!

It manages to be a remarkably satisfying experience that gives you that “just one more game!” feeling. However, there are some minor stumbles. Most notably, sometimes you can start off with a dungeon floor that’s mathematically impossible. There have been a few cases where I start a game, die on the first floor, and when I make a note of all the cards that appeared, found that there was no way to make it through. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s a bit of a downer when your game is impossible from the start. The procedural generation should be able to ensure that the first floor is always possible. After that, your item decisions can shape things in myriad ways, so it’s fine at that point of you end up boxing yourself in with regretful item choices.

I also would have liked there to be a bit more background info or story. How did I get in the Fold in the first place? Who are the characters I’m playing? And so on and so forth. There is some flavor text about each floor of your dungeon and its boss, but I think there should be at least a bit more than this. It’s not that important when you can easily win/lose a game in one go, but it could enhance the experience.

Dank Dungeons

While it’s meant to be part of the charm, I have to say the visuals are a little too basic, even for retro-styled pixel art. There are some subtle animations and visual effects, but literally 95% of the screen is all shades of gray at all times. The art on the cards and such is decent, but not terribly remarkable. Almost all of the game’s atmosphere comes from the audio, which is a bit of a disappointment. Pixel art doesn’t have to be boring by any stretch. While definitely not critical, this was the game’s lowest point for me.

The audio experience however, is very good. Between stages you have this creepy, eerie sound that’s almost bone-chilling, and in the dungeon stages proper, some quality BGM with deep-dark-dungeon vibes is found. The music also increases in intensity as you approach each floor’s boss, which is a great touch. The sound effects are also really well done and well matched to what generated them, from the cards to the combat.

Victory in Sight

Gameplay-wise, Forward: Escape the Fold has a lot to offer. The quick games and solid gameplay experience make it a great game to play when you don’t have time for big long RPGs. That said, the visual experience could definitely be better.

What strikes me, though, is this game almost doesn’t need to be a video game. I dare say the KickStarter that supported this release would have done just as well if it was an actual card game. I think that could definitely work and if it isn’t in the cards (wink), well, it should be.

Regardless though, this game is a great value with it’s strong replayability, and it is definitely worthy of recommendation to fans of the genre, but I think even other curious souls out there should give it a go. It’s is very pick-up-and-play and could spark a new interest in a new genre for you if you are that curious soul.

~ Final Score: 8/10 ~

Review copy provided by Two Tiny Dice for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Two Tiny Dice.