I love puzzle games, I love platformer games, I love games with a deeper story than it seems. I did not like Fobia. A game advertised to feature all of this, bundled with amazing visuals and a cool concept for a story and gameplay. This game is marketed with the tag line of face your fears and phobias. At first that was really interesting to me and made me imagine a game where instead of traditionally defeating enemies and overcoming platforming sections the “face your fears” idea fundamentally changes the way you play the game. I truly thought that this could all set up an underappreciated gem on the Switch. At the very least it could be an enthralling adventure through a new world. That’s what I wanted to believe…
The only story that’s present in Fobia is that you’re on a journey to overcome your fears, but that’s never stated. You don’t know who you’re playing as or why they’re doing what they’re doing or why they are where they are. You just play the game until it ends. Normally, I don’t find a lack of story to be a huge issue, but when a game advertises that it has a deeper meaning, it needs to at least provide a story that can contain said deeper meaning.
Fobia, basically comes down to this simple formula; run for two minutes through absolutely nothing, do an impossibly unfair puzzle/platforming section over and over again until you manage to push through (every time you die you have to run back through the nothingness which doesn’t help any), then run for another 2 minutes through nothing. Rinse and repeat.
There are two sides to the Fobia, the puzzles and the platforming. The few puzzles this game has are very basic and the platforming sections are an entirely separate problem on their own.
While the game to its credit, did clarify that it was difficult, it did not tell me that it was going to be difficult to the likes of “Unfair Mario”. At no point in the game did I feel any death was justified. In fact a phrase in my head that I found myself repeating over and over was “how was I supposed to know that would happen?” The game has you depend on trial and error as a legitimate strategy.
I can think of a couple of examples. One section had a trap that was triggered by walking over a pile of leaves, but there was no indication that that was the case since the trap blends into the background (More on this issue to come). Another example was about a third into the game you encounter a ghostly wolf. You have to lure him into a trap so he captures himself (going against the face your fears idea by having you directly run away from the actual embodiment of fear). The issue is that the timing of triggering the wolf was near impossible to activate. The only way I was able to do it was guess when he begins running off-screen towards you. So you just stand there and begin running for your life at random and keep trying until you succeed.
A game can utilize trial and error, but if it’s not done right then it’s just infuriating and feels like you’re seeing the death screen more than the game itself.
Another problem I had was the basic movement. Your jump is short and you run at a really weird pace where everything is faster than you requiring some puzzles to have frame perfect reaction in order to escape death by a hair. It never feels like the platforming was built for your character and the whole way through everything you do is, solely based on luck.
At first glance the visuals are easily the best part of Fobia. The warm red mixed with the variations of grey are an interesting choice. The choice of visual design really sets Fobia apart from other 2D puzzle/platformers. However, once you play through the game you realize that the game’s icon is all you needed to sum up the entire level design. Fobia plays as one continuous level, where you run through what feels like the same image copy and pasted over and over again. There’s only one time during the game where it is not just a mysterious forest and that’s a cave section thrown in the middle. The cave section is again just the same thing over and over until you crawl back out of the cave back into the same forest. There’s no diversity in its design and quickly becomes bland.
A problem that I did have with the visuals in some areas was trying to tell the foreground from the actual tangible surfaces. At times I was needlessly confused on where I could stand since the two layers looked identical. The foreground in the caves at times would even obstruct my view of certain platforming sections needlessly confusing me. When making a game one of your main concerns should be making the visuals work in a way where they’re always noticeable, but never impede on the experience.
Throughout the game many bugs and glitches were very apparent and easy to stumble onto. A continuous jumping glitch when you respawn, hitting the corner of a platform causing you to get stuck, dying to nothing or triggering a trap by doing nothing are the main ones I encountered. Granted, I didn’t come across these issues often, the most common one being the respawn glitch which happened maybe three or four times. However, having these bugs just gives the game a bad image, and makes it seem generally unpolished.
Fobia is a game that doesn’t live up to its potential. The visuals could have been so much more with a little variety, the gameplay and central mechanic of “face your fears” could have been a fresh take on a tired concept that is moving from the left side of the screen to the right, and with a little more time in the oven, could have been a solid gaming experience in general. I really do hope that the developers try again at creating a new title, since I do think that there are some good concepts that could work, but as it stands now, Fobia is not the game that it could have been.
Love playing games and experiencing all that the different developers have to offer, happy to have the chance to broaden my horizons and explore more of the vast universe of indie games with Switch Atlantic!