Games like Forgotton Anne are something of a rarity. The closest comparisons would be classics such as Another World, Flashback, and Abe’s Oddysee – puzzle platformers that emphasise storytelling and narrative depth as you explore 2D worlds, forming a sort of hybrid of point-and-click adventure and traditonal Super Mario.
Forgotton Anne goes slightly further, extending the action another half-dimension as the eponymous hero ventures back and forth through connected 2D planes of the wonderful world developer ThroughLine Games has created here. Presented in a Studio Ghibli-inspired animated style with fully voiced characters throughout, the Forgotten Lands is a whimsical place where lost things – single socks, junked refrigerators, abandoned toys, worn furniture – disappear to, gaining sentience in the process.
In true Ghibli style though, there’s darkness at the heart of this fantasy realm, and despite its charms, all is not right. Working as ‘The Enforcer’ for the mysterious Master Bonku, Anne sets out to investigate rebel activity threatening development of a bridge, one that promises a return to the human world. Yet Bonku himself – always communicated with through vast mirrors, an Oz allusion – may have sinister motivations himself. As the story progresses, Anne is drawn into a surprisingly morally complex tale, one where right and wrong are increasingly hard to define.
Yet for all its charms aesthetically and narratively, when it comes to actual game mechanics, Forgotton Anne lacks variety. Anne possesses a device that can extract or inject ‘anima’, the power source of the Forgotten Lands, and transferring it from one receptacle to another forms the crux of most puzzles. Sometimes you’ll use anima to re-power engines or other systems, leading to lock puzzles where you must place key orbs in the correct slot, or time your use of anima to activate circuits and switches elsewhere. It’s all variations on this though, and the platforming and pathfinding between them – sometimes using anima-powered super jumps thanks to Anne’s steampunk wing harness – don’t compensate with enough thrills.
Anne herself also lacks the quintessential charm of any of Isao Takahata’s or Hayao Miyazaki’s cinematic leads, fluctuating between kind and considerate one moment, stern and uncompromisingly brutal in her role as The Enforcer the next. Those shifts are just in the scripted sections of the game too – moments where the player is given dialogue choices often only offer those extremes, your choice potentially dramatically altering a scene’s tone.
It’s also sad to see the actual quality of animation – movement itself, rather than character design or colouring – can be choppy in places, mainly in cutscenes where the framerate noticeably dips. This may only cause consternation for more obsessive fans of anime, however.
Anyone seeking a more sedate, story-driven experience will enjoy Forgotton Anne a lot for the journey it takes players on, and anime fans in particular are likely to enjoy the visual stylings of the Forgotten Lands. It’s just disappointing that the game around those elements leaves something to be desired.