Developer: Big Blue Bubble | Publisher: Big Blue Bubble | Genre: Roguelite | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Epic Games Store | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
In a year that saw several amazing roguelites come into popularity, it would be excusable to let a few oldschool action platformers slip through the cracks. But if Foregone became one of them, the Arbiter wouldn’t take it lying down. She’d crash through a window, slide behind whoever let that slip-up happen, and unleash a Nova blast of energy to right that particular wrong. There might be a lot of competition in the indie game space, but Foregone stands tall and stands out with cool abilities, breathtakingly beautiful art direction, and a well-balanced loot system.
2020 might be remembered as the year that the latest generation of console gaming finally arose, but it is also undoubtedly the year of the roguelite. Hades and Spelunky 2 have gained a ton of traction in the streaming world. Just two months ago Dead Cells received yet another substantial update. The desire to crash endlessly against a wall until it shatters from reckless persistence has special resonance. But there are those who want the thrill and difficulty of roguelite gameplay, minus the procedurally-generated levels. Foregone is a tough-as-nails 2D action platformer, but it’s also very player-friendly. Combined with permanent skills and upgradable weapons, it never feels like victory is unattainable.
Foregone looks gorgeous in action. The pixel art defies belief, and darting, dodging, and dashing around the detailed world feels kinetic and empowering. Players embody a super soldier known as an Arbiter, a master of weapons in all their forms and the only one capable of taking down a cadre of living weapons. But there’s more to do than just slaughter foes, though there is plenty of that. There are also secrets to uncover and sharp-eyed players will be on the lookout for narrow passageways to slide through or platforms that require tricky jumps to reach. In a world where many video games rely on randomly-generated areas to provide drama for the player, it’s reassuring to know that Foregone‘s secrets are carefully placed. The game invokes Super Metroid in how secret rooms are concealed, though the action is significantly faster paced.
If comparisons must be made, Foregone feels like a blend of Mega Man X and Diablo. The double-jumps and slides build a great sense of momentum, but grafting a loot system onto the 2D action formula adds another layer of depth. Gear drops are frequent, and experimenting with different weapons never gets old. Players might be fond of a slow-but-powerful falchion with damage perks, but they also might find a spear that can inflict plague damage. And just when they’ve mastered the close-quarter-combat of the speedy daggers, they might find a rare set of Gunchucks (exactly as awesome as they sound) that demand attention. Strategies are frequently and wonderfully upended, and finding ways to make the skill tree and gear loadouts mesh is incredibly fun.
After all, an Arbiter’s weapons are only a small part of her abilities. Strewn throughout Foregone are powerful skills that can be equipped and upgraded. Skills range from the defensive, like the health-refilling Restoration, to the damage-dealing, like screen-wiping Nova. Each of them can be further fine-tuned to have extra effects after finding different Catalysts. Figuring out which abilities stack on top of each other to maximize the carnage requires just the right amount of finesse.
Once players find the rhythm, probably somewhere around the end of the first main location or the beginning of the second, Foregone becomes a ballet of destruction. Its momentum is infectious and the urge to keep going until you secure the next Waypoint is undeniable. The next rare drop might be right around the corner, though the next deadly boss fight may be, too. But unlike the Dark Souls franchise or even recent indie darling Hollow Knight, Foregone‘s boss fights feel less like major skill checks and more like a chance to prove how powerful a build is. Bosses are difficult, but the checkpoints are well placed. Foregone also has an excellent tweak to the Soulslike system of losing currency upon defeat: in the main hub, a skeletal being is willing to give players half of what they’ve lost in battle if they aren’t confident they can retrieve their hard-earned coin. It’s an excellent risk/ reward proposition, and yet another way Foregone lets players customize their experience.
The way Foregone‘s story is told, through collectible diaries and entry logs written just before demise, will have players asking one major question: when governments develop a super-soldier program, have they really stopped and considered all their options? Are super soldiers the right call? It feels like nine times out of ten, bioengineering goes wrong. That’s most certainly the case in Foregone, but it’s hardly a knock on the narrative. It’s slight, but enough to keep players smashing forward. There’s a sense of urgency to the proceedings, helped along by the voice acting. It’s a world at war, which is really all players need to know.
Foregone makes a strong case for a reinvention of the 2D action-platformer. The action is fast and ferocious, and the loot system gives it an element of randomness that rounds out the whole experience. In terms of aesthetics, it’s one of the most striking pixel art games in recent memory, and an absolute feast for the eyes. Foregone proves that just because the flavor of the moment trends roguelite, there is still room for a handcrafted experience.