(Originally posted on the defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog back in 2012)
Long before Raiden, Scorpion, Sub-Zero were a mere twinkle in the eyes of John Tobias, and Ed Boon. A humble composer would code, and score an opus of cinematic 8-Bit gore.
Get off the lawn, and try to survive in the Forbidden Forest
PROS: Awesome musical score. Awesome boss designs. Parallax Scrolling. Time. Fatalities!
CONS: A bit too short. No Ending. Some bosses are insanely difficult.
WTF?: A videogame? ON CASSETTE TAPE? WHAT SORCERY IS THIS?!?!?
In the early 1980′s when I was a lad, in between the time of the Atari 2600′s console market dominance, and the rise of the Nintendo Entertainment System came the realization a computer could be in every home. One of the most popular computer formats was the Commodore 64. Shortly thereafter, the video game industry crashed for a year or so. As Mattel pulled out, Coleco fell by the wayside, and Atari was being divided, game developers found themselves heading to computers. Not only Activision’s talent, but scores of humble little indies. Some of whom went on to become giants years later, like Electronic Arts, and Codemasters.
Around this time there was a musical composer named Paul Norman who had discovered that computers could be used to make music. He was also one of the few people at the time who realized even then, that these video games people had been playing could be used to tell cinematic stories. He coded today’s game nearly entirely in machine language. Forbidden Forest is one of those series that time forgot. Released by Cosmi back in 1983, it’s a series that tells a relatively simple story of an unnamed archer. Wandering into unknown territory, players are attacked by various monsters. The way that the game is structured is that each stage is essentially a boss character. Each boss must be defeated a certain number of times depending on the difficulty level selected upon loading the game.
Stage one assaults you with giant spiders
Stage two will have you battle a giant bee
Stage three tosses giant frogs at you
Stage four features lethal dragons
Stage five is the dreaded phantom
Stage six is a gargantuan python
Stage seven is the dreaded Demogorgon
The challenge of the game is not only trying to survive these horrible creatures, but also trying to be smart about conservation. Your character only has so many quivers of arrows to use against the hordes, so using them wisely is the only means of survival. You also have to reload your bow after every shot whether you hit your target or miss, so you can very rarely sit still, and expect to live. Moreover, some bosses can only be hit in a certain weak point making this management all the more important. Also in addition to increasing the number of bosses, upping the difficulty decreases the number of quivers you start with.
Despite it’s aging, rudimentary graphics the game still has a visual flair that impresses. Forbidden Forest was one of the earliest examples of using parallax scrolling in video games. This is a trick used many times over in countless games since. Layering foreground, and background sprites, and moving them at different speeds allows for a 2.5D look. The C-64′s 16 color EGA palette is also used to great effect, using palette swaps to simulate the various 24 hours in game time. The sky suddenly goes gray, then black. The moon scrolls across as the overnight hours go. This really even wows today when you consider the difficulty some of the bosses may give you. Bosses are a high point in Forbidden Forest too. Each boss kills in a different fashion so in the early goings you’ll almost want to lose because the death animations are blocky, and impressive fun. Similarly, some of the victories will lead to some triumphant boss deaths as well. So triumphant in fact, that your archer will do a showboating sequence to some catchy songs. Music by the way, is where this game always has, and always will shine. Not only does the game open with a really ambient, yet hook induced melody, but each boss has it’s own music. From the dangerous continuation of the over world theme, to the menacing music of the phantom, each song manages to fit the overall style of the game, while invoking a sense of “You are so screwed” during your playthrough.
That said, many younger players picking this up today will likely point out some of the sprite work can be glitch filled, or that those who are talented vintage gamers can clear it in less than an hour. Some may even point out that this game’s story is rather thin. The one tragedy is that the game has no ending which is indeed, anticlimactic. They would be right. But I challenge those people, as well as anyone who missed it back in their glory days to play this game. I can all but guarantee they will talk about it for hours on end afterwards. From it’s wonderful score, to it’s character designs, to it’s challenging arcade meets management gameplay Forbidden Forest is one of the Commodore 64′s greatest sleeper hits. Not a bad accolade for Paul Norman’s first ever video game.
Final Score: 7 out of 10 (Try it out!)