How Metroidvania is it? Low Fit. The structure of Within a Deep Forest is basically a complex level select. Technically it's ability gated, but the main goal is to complete its 11 major platforming challenges.
Primary Challenge: Tricky Platforming
Time to beat: ~3 hours
Review Info: Within a Deep Forest was played on a Windows PC using the freeware version available in the ''Free'' link below.
Buy Within a Deep Forest if you like…
- Tricky Platforming
- Unusual Games
- Amazing Music
- Other Nifflas Titles
▼ Review continues below ▼
Dr. Cliche is going to freeze the world because he hates it, and it’s up to a random bouncing ball to stop that from happening. The fact that this game even has an opening cutscene is kind of humorous, because the game does very little to establish any kind of cohesive narrative throughout. Within a Deep Forest is really just a game about controlling spherical object that has a wholly unique physical interaction within the game’s space. This creates a type of platforming challenge you won’t find in any other game. It’s less about precise aim and nudging an easily controlled body into the right position, and more about predicting how your angle and velocity will influence your bouncing ball’s trajectory. For a lot of players this will result in a plethora of potentially frustrating trial and error moments as you work to get a feel for how this unfamiliar premise works. But the developer also seems to have a talent for creating an inviting atmosphere, so it becomes easy to be lulled into to a trance based on the theming alone. This makes it much easier to assimilate the experience necessary to complete this game’s challenges. The “metroidvania” aspect of Within a Deep Forest is really just a vehicle to iterate on that tricky platforming premise, and because its ideas are so unique, in my opinion Within a Deep Forest should be part of the tricky platformer fan’s “must play” canon.
Upon creating a new save file, there are two areas you can warp straight into, but one of them really is just a tutorial playground. The object of the game is to find all ten of the materials your ball can be made out of, and while each of them is functionally the same thing in terms of how they control, their speed and maximum height can differ significantly, with some surprise properties to be had with many of them. The game suggests that any time you get a new material you should head back into the tutorial area to practice, and this may be good advice. Or you can be like me and just figure things out the hard way by leaping straight into the new challenges each ball might unlock.
The main forest essentially acts as a hub world for different levels you can access. You enter levels though cave entrances or doors that you find, and once inside you can exit at any time by pushing the escape button. Escaping warps you back to Pinewood Forest at whatever location you last saved at. Metroidvania purists out there are probably scratching their head at this description, because for some having levels at all disqualifies Within a Deep Forest from the genre outright. The rewards for completing levels include those other materials I mentioned however, and there are ability gates throughout the hub world that prevent you from accessing everything all at once. The point of this restriction is really so that platforming challenges can be based around the new materials you find, but there is a bit of that Metroidvania exploration flavor that results from this design. Some levels dead-end with only an NPC giving you a hint about where you should look next, so there is also a puzzle-box element to it all. Getting a new material and knowing exactly where you can use it in the hub world very much has that Metroidvania feel.
The levels themselves are heavily gimmick based, and any ball type you have can be a viable option for solving the gimmick. In the earlier more straight forward levels it may seem like it’s just better to use a ball that bounces the highest and moves the fastest, but sometimes just switching back to your more mellow starting ball will help you through a challenging segment thanks to the simpler and slower movement. As you progress you’ll find many types of balls, including a glass ball that breaks if you move it too fast, an iron ball that is the literal opposite, and a worthless seeming ball that bounces lower and slower than everything else. Every ball has its purpose, even the worthless one, and of course as you get closer to all ten of the materials you can collect, experimenting with the best ball for a given situation gets that much more complex. This is a major aspect of what makes this game so interesting.
Some of the best level gimmicks are basically puzzles. The most stark example of this is the level that forces you to use that glass ball I mentioned. Most of the game you have to find ways to build up momentum to clear a gap or maneuver through some kind of deadly obstacle course, but when suddenly the ground itself is deadly you have to recontextualize everything else you’ve learned up to that point. I don’t want to give away every gimmick the levels have to offer, because part of the fun of this game is figuring out which ball works best for the current situation. You can even go out of order with the levels somewhat, taking balls from “later” challenges to bypass more difficult sections with the sequence break. Its with this dynamic that Within a Deep Forest really finds ways to stretch its premise to the absolute limit.
As can happen with stretching any idea though, not every gimmick is going to be a winner for every player. There were certainly some levels that I had to face that made me embarrassed to be playing on my laptop in an airport as I did for part of my playthrough. The platforming gets so tricky sometimes that I couldn’t help but involuntarily cry out against my inability to make a particular jump, so I highly recommend playing this game in the privacy of your own home where you’re only weirding out your pets or family that are already familiar with your exasperated emotional shenanigans.
What really solidifies this game as a worthwhile title to try is the atmosphere that it creates. Regardless of how frustrated I got, thanks to the music and the zen of the visuals I couldn’t stay angry at my situation for very long. While the drawn-in graphics are about as simple as it gets, there are still little critters here and there that give life to every scene. Every ball is obtained from some NPC that gives just a little sense that this is a world worth saving, and I think that’s important no matter how silly the premise of the game is. There’s also a great amount of creativity in every zone. Fly too far to the right of the hub and you’ll get chomped on by a Dragon, which may be one of my favorite “invisible wall” stand-ins I’ve seen in a game. In one of the levels you have to time your jumps around disappearing and reappearing platforms, but instead of just having that happen with no explanation there are two jerk gnomes controlling those platforms at the top of the screen. I don’t know who those gnomes are and what they’re doing up there, all I know is that I hate them. There isn’t any logic to the abstract locations that the levels take place in, but there’s still a sense of place created by these small little details. Within a Deep Forest doesn’t take place in a world that could exist in reality, but it certainly takes place in a living world that could exist in thought.
One of the best parts about diving this deep into a specific genre is getting to see passion projects like Within a Deep Forest. This isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed a game by Nifflas, but Within a Deep Forest may be the one that solidifies me as a fan of his work. Between Nifflas’ signature music and the bouncing of the ball you control, there’s a relaxing rhythm to Within a Deep Forest that just left me in a good mood after playing it. The platforming is also difficult enough, even with the game to normal, that it also gave me a strong feeling of accomplishment with every level that I completed. The “plot” is pointless, but that may also be the point, and watching the “exciting conclusion” and end credits were ultimately delightful. The production values are obviously low and not every level is going to be a hit thanks to the variety, but its got perfectly fine controls, and as I’ve said, there just isn’t anything else quite like it. Especially considering that you can go download this game for free today, I can’t recommend it enough.
There is no combat which is excellent
The constant bouncing is extremely unusual, but that's almost the entire appeal of playing this game over other platformers
Besides finding where levels are there really isn't a ton of exploration in this game - no optional collectables or anything like that - but it is rewarding to discover where the levels are
Every level has its own gimmick you have to figure out, with some being more puzzle-like and others being more about trial and error discovery
The story is cute and amusing, mostly because it's so unnecessary
The simple graphics are all they need to be
Nifflas has a specific style that really sets a unique and relaxing mood - it really elevates this game
There are two difficulty modes, and it might be fun to master each level for speed or just to show off