Sometimes first impressions of a game are spot on, but sometimes a game surprises even a seasoned gamer such as myself. The trailer for Forgotton Anne did just enough to sell me on the game, but did not prepare me for just how much I was drawn into its quirky premise along with its world and characters and especially its art style. This is not another review of Forgotton Anne, but an analysis of the current trend of classic animation in video games, and whether there is a place for this art style going forward.
First off, I will acknowledge that Cuphead came first. As someone who does not own an Xbox One but does own a PC with Steam, I can very much play Cuphead, and with a Dualshock 4 to boot. As my PS4 is my system of choice, it’s also the first system I contemplate buying software for, but I will play Cuphead eventually. In the short term, I’m glad Forgotton Anne served as my introduction to titles that draw their inspiration from hand-drawn animation.
Secondly, I’ll acknowledge that Forgotton Anne’s art style has more in common with the Ni no Kuni series as it takes a page from Ghibli’s book aesthetically, in spite of not actually being made in Japan. That said, its look differs enough from that of Cuphead that it can’t be called a rehash, and as gorgeous as the art is in the Ni no Kuni games, I’m always acutely aware that I’m playing a video game while Forgotton Anne actually makes me feel like I’m controlling an animated character in an animated film. Granted, there are times that I’m at least somewhat aware that I’m looking at an anime-inspired product rather than something actually made in Japan, but never jarringly so.
It seems likely that the side-scrolling format lends itself better to hand-drawn cartoon/anime art, and it’s probably no coincidence that both games to feature such an aesthetic have been side-scrollers in spite of being of different genres. A reason for this could be that 2D art and 2D worlds go hand in hand, and there is also a reduced need to render fully 3D character models and backgrounds, which for obvious reasons are far more complex. Of course, there’s always classic animated FMV games, but they’re a different beast and kind of an acquired taste.
Still, this isn’t the first time devs have attempted to adapt classic animation into video games, even solely within the realm of 2D games. The 16-bit era in particular included a number of attempts, and Disney games especially came pretty close to emulating the look of the characters from the properties they were adapted from. The PS1 was even graced with the last such title, based on Disney’s Tarzan. Fast forward to recent years and we’ve had remakes of Disney’s Duck Tales and Castle of Illusion (which are sadly now delisted from the PlayStation Store) that also come close to looking like the properties that inspired them. That said, even they fall short of looking like an actual animated feature.
Perhaps the biggest reason games like Forgotton Anne actually genuinely look like animated flicks is the fluidity of the character animation. It’s for this reason that I credit two titles released in the past eight months for finally bringing animation and video games together. Anne moves like an animated character and looks just as fluid as one when she does. I’m not seeing pixels or polygons moving. Anne doesn’t just look like an animated character; she is one. For the first time, I’m not accepting a reasonably close facsimile as the genuine article because I actually believe I’m looking at the real deal.
It’s worth noting that Anne and the supporting cast don’t have that many different animations, but they’re a throwback to a period of animation that wasn’t known for being overly elaborate, and yet still somehow managed to look great. Throwbacks to the past aren’t uncommon, especially in the modern era, but we now have an intriguing aesthetic throwback that provides a much-needed breath of fresh air in an era when the market is over-saturated with 16-bit inspired side-scrollers. The exploits of Anne and the characters she meets look different enough to stand out.
Forgotton Anne’s premise goes hand in hand with the aesthetic too. Well, somewhat. To the uninitiated, I’d say that while it looks like a Miyazaki film (or at least a remarkably close Western-produced facsimile), its plot reminds me a lot of both Pixar’s Coco and a classic movie called The Brave Little Toaster. However, that still culminates in an experience that feels like an animated movie.
So, that raises the question of whether there is room for more classic animation inspired titles in the future. The obvious answer is, of course. The real question, however, is whether prospective devs agree. The thing is, hyper-realism is only one style and video games are already an escape into the realm of fiction. Art styles that focus more on aesthetics than realism can and often do fit the medium, and animation is just one of many such styles. Forgotton Anne won’t make you feel like a military soldier, but it will remind you of a good, relaxing family film the likes of which were a big part of many childhoods.
I’m hesitant to say the video game market should be flooded with classic animation, but I suppose it can’t be worse than seeing wave after wave of 8 and 16-bit titles. Ideally, I’d like to see the occasional game try to emulate old animation. Not so many that we get sick of it, but I also hope the two games we currently have won’t be the only such titles.
What are your thoughts on the resurgence of classic animation through video games? Would you like to see more games like Forgotton Anne or Cuphead? As always, feel free to leave your comments below.