Fobia is a first for me in that writing the review for the game has taken me longer than actually playing the game itself! It’s an incredibly short but not sweet experience. Developed by Tapteek, a two-person team, Fobia is a 2D puzzle platformer very reminiscent of games like Limbo and Inside. It, therefore, has chase sequences, traps and puzzles but unfortunately, don’t go expecting anything new or ground-breaking for the genre.
The premise is that you are a little girl having to face her fears and overcome obstacles in her path. You would expect that having the game being called Fobia that the fears she is facing would be linked to popular phobias such as spiders and snakes or being trapped in dark places, however, the only noticeable fear I can conclude from this game is that the girl has a fear of being lost alone in the woods (Xylophobia).
Again, like Limbo and Inside, there is no story narration within Fobia. Therefore, you would expect some environmental storytelling or the use of music or colour to showcase emotion, as demonstrated incredibly well within the game Gris, however, this is non-existent in Fobia also. There is literally only one instance of a musical score which is a rather sombre string-piece at the game’s title screen – I guess this is trying to set the scene of bleakness ahead of you.
The gameplay is very simplistic, involving you just running and jumping. As you travel through the wooded area you need to avoid traps, such as falling boulders, spike pits and collapsing bridges. There are more technical traps such as rotating wheels with spikes on them and swinging spiked clubs that you have to time your jumps to avoid. These aren’t that challenging but more frustrating as you have to be pixel-perfect in your timing to avoid them as the little girl’s wooden character animations don’t always make it very clear where her jump will land.
Certain traps you can see coming from a mile off as you can see them nesting in the ground or you just expect a rickety bridge to have some slats that will fall, however, a few traps will suddenly appear almost out of the blue and kill you straight out. It, therefore, makes it all about trial and error rather than skill. This isn’t helped by performance issues either. Often I would get stuck or move through the ground at an awkward angle – I even managed to avoid the final encounter altogether by hammering a couple of buttons and doing a super jump (which I have no idea if it’s a bug left in the game or an actual move I’m meant to be able to do). The game as a whole felt incredibly rushed and more like a university project or demo rather than a complete game.
Within the woods, you’re not completely alone as there are a couple of beasts out to get you with the game’s inclusion of a large wolf and bear which provide the chase sequences. These are incredibly short-lived and barely worth including in the game as you pretty much outpace the animal as soon as they appear on the screen. It’s only the first time you come across the beastly wolf cloaked in black that the encounter is of any interest. It appears dead in front of you and you have a fraction of a second to turn around and jump over the previous snare net-trap to catch the wolf in it.
If you have already played Limbo then you have pretty much experienced everything that Fobia has to offer. Limbo has a high level of quality and intriguing puzzles, so I can understand why developers would try to replicate the game whilst including new and fresh ideas, unfortunately, Fobia doesn’t do this in the slightest. Fobia could have even taken some inspiration from a game like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice by inducing levels of fear and atmosphere through having areas that are in near-complete darkness, forcing you to use the sound of the environment to progress, or maybe incorporate a forest fire to test your platforming skills. Alas, there was nothing built upon and a lack of creativity, which was so disappointing.
I realise that I’ve been incredibly negative so far, there must be some positive elements to the game, surely? Thankfully, the hand-drawn art style is very attractive. The woodland and cave system scenery that you traverse has a sepia and monochrome colour scheme to it which contrasts incredibly well against the female protagonist who wears a bright red hooded coat. The only other colour comes from the red-leafed tree at the start of the game and light specks of orange that fall from the sky – these could represent falling leaves but it’s not very clear if this is what they are. The environments are very basic with trees, platforms and rocks as silhouettes. This scenery design works well and is very pleasant to the eye, it’s just a shame that there isn’t anything going on in the background. I think you only come across one deer and the odd bird but I guess the game is trying to emphasise how isolated and secluded you are.
There’s a strange part where you run over a large mound for it to turn into a white-faced stone giant that literally does nothing and I have no explanation as to why it’s included in the game. It could be an easter egg to the manga Princess Mononoke, due to the face looking similar to some of the woodland creatures from this film, but that’s just speculation.
With Fobia not having a musical score to create any atmosphere or tension, it really needed to rely on having an excellent sound design. Whilst it isn’t all bad, it certainly could have been a whole lot better and it wouldn’t have taken much to implement. It does a good job of making you feel like you are within woodland with its bird song and crunching footsteps, whilst the cave area has an excellent echoing sound of dripping and running water. What I can’t understand is why there is absolutely no sound when a tree falls and no growling or roaring to build tension and suspense when the beastly creatures appear. They are completely silent! It’s such a wasted opportunity and emphasises just how unfinished the game feels.
I was rather thankful that Fobia can be completed easily within 25 minutes, yes you read that correctly, 25 minutes! If you manage to nail the obstacles the first time you could probably knock another 5 minutes off that time. There is literally no reason to replay the game either as, of course, the Nintendo Switch doesn’t offer any achievements or trophies for you to hunt for. I can’t understand how a game that is so incredibly short and unpolished can retail at £8.99. I would be at a push to even want to spend £5 on it. I can only advise you to save your money and spend it on Limbo instead.
I was left with no satisfaction upon completing Fobia. The only emotion that the game instilled into me wasn’t terror or excitement, or for me to care for the little girl alone in the woods, no… just disappointment. There wasn’t even an attempt to create a bond between yourself and the little girl. She’s painfully as bland and emotionless as the game itself and I’ve now developed a new phobia – playing games that lack quality, feel unfinished and don’t offer anything new, just like Fobia!
**In regards to the price, the game is also available on mobile devices (iOS and Android) priced between £2.39 and £2.99**