In a previous post I raved about Forbidden Forest – one of my favourite games on the Commodore 64 – and a superb blend of atmosphere, action and aesthetics. So, you can probably imagine my level of excitement shot when I heard that Paul Norman was working on a sequel – the cunningly titled Beyond the Forbidden Forest.
On release, the computer press of the day was a little divided – Zzap!64 – my gaming bible – awarded 91% and a Zzap! Sizzler, an opinion backed up by Your Commodore’s 9/10. On the other hand, Commodore User (7/10) and C&VG (4/10) were less enthusiastic – not that I was going to let that stop me. As soon as the game was released, I handed my £10 over at my local computer shop and raced home to play it.
Initial impressions were excellent (providing you ignored the rather dreadful cassette inlay). The game retained the cinematic feel of the original, from the lightning strike opening to the many animated sequences. It had the same blocky but oddly effective graphics and the sound (particularly the music) was hugely atmospheric. Just like the first game, each level featured an imaginative array of hideous creatures (a giant mutant worm, scorpion, bats, a multi-headed hydra etc.) before the final battle with the ultimate evil. Throw in the gory death sequences and it’s clear that Paul Norman took a good look at the original Forbidden Forest, saw that it was good and cracked on with making a sequel.
Unfortunately, although the sequel was plainly a Forbidden Forest game, a number of crucial changes were made to the gameplay that, for me at least, had a major impact on how much I enjoyed it.
For a start, the structure of the game was changed and – possibly in an attempt to address comments that the first game was too easy – the game was split into two parts. Part one saw you facing off against the first batch of mutant creatures. Each time you defeated one, you earned a Golden Arrow, helpfully supplied by a mysterious golden orb. In order to get access to part two, you had to collect a minimum number of golden arrows (the more you collected, the greater your chance of success in part 2). That was fine to an extent, but if you died you either had to start the game again from scratch, or sacrifice some of the golden arrows you’d earned in order to be resurrected. Death was pretty frequent in Beyond the Forbidden Forest and this meant you ended up constantly replaying the same levels earning golden arrows, then losing them, desperately trying to amass enough to get to part two. I found this made the game repetitive, frustrating and unnecessarily complicated, losing the simple appeal of the original, where you just played through the levels until you either beat the game or died.
Even so, I could probably have lived with this change if it hadn’t been coupled with some other issues that impacted on the game’s playability.
The rather grandly-named “OmniDimension 4D” was the first issue. OmniDimension meant the player could move in and out of the screen, from the foreground to the background. Your enemy could do the same, appearing at different depths on the screen. Undoubtedly, this was an impressive effect for the time but it made hitting the monsters a lot more tricky. Not only did you have to try and guess where they would pop up, you had to take account of their depth relative to you, when lining up a shot and it was all too easy to misjudge their depth and have to watch as your arrow sailed harmlessly past.
Adding to the confusion was a new firing system which spoiled the elegant simplicity of the original. I can’t remember exactly what was entailed in firing an arrow but I do recall that because of the need to set both direction and depth, it was more fiddly and frustrating than Forbidden Forest. I tried and tried and tried to master the firing system, but never really felt in control. Too often, by the time I lined up a shot, the monster had moved elsewhere (so I had to start the whole tedious process all over again), or I unleashed my shot, but felt that there was a large element of luck involved in whether or not it went anywhere near its intended target. Let’s just say that I got to see the death sequences of those first few levels A LOT.
I desperately wanted to like Beyond the Forbidden Forest. I gave it a lot of play time to see if I could master it. Long after it had stopped being fun, I persevered, in the belief that if I just kept playing, I’d eventually start to enjoy it. Sadly, the confusing “4D” effect and the fiddly controls meant that I always found the sequel to be more of an exercise in frustration than fun.
With Forbidden Forest, Paul Norman bottled lightning. Everything about the game worked so well. The sequel was a different matter. Whilst it undeniably looked and sounded like a Forbidden Forest game, it just didn’t play anywhere near as well. Sequels often get criticised for playing it safe and just doing more of the same, and Paul Norman should certainly get credit for trying something a little different. Sadly, for this gamer, it didn’t really work and just made me realise how good the original truly was.