Endless Forms Most Beautiful has an interesting history. It was originally released by Dave Hughes early in 2012 for the ZX Spectrum. Yes, the ZX Spectrum, a machine that first hit the market in 1982. There is still a community developing for the Spectrum over at World of Spectrum, although I imagine many of the games are actually played through emulation these days.
Anyway, Locomalito (known for their retro-styled freeware games like Hydorah and l’Abbaye Des Morts) were looking for a game to remake for PC, and decided that Endless Forms Most Beautiful was an ideal candidate. The port not only updates the graphics with a more recent retro aesthetic, but also apparently lowered the difficulty significantly to make it more accessible to newcomers. Now, you can play this remake of the arcarde-style game for free on your PC.
The game itself is a single-screen platformer, like many of the popular early arcade games. The player controls one of two imp herders, who hop between planes of existence searching for these enigmatic trans-dimensional creatures. What this means in practice is that each stage is full of imps to collect, and the player must work out a route through the stage to collect them all without running afoul of any patrolling enemies, or running out of time. The imp herders can’t jump, but the stages are peppered with teleporters that let them move up or down a level. Any given teleporter allows ascent or descent, but will not lead to another teleporter, so vertical moves are not reversible. This is a bit of a break from platforming norms, as is the screen wrapping: moving off the right edge of the screen has the imp herder reappear on the left, one level lower than before. Exiting the left side of the screen ascends instead.
These simple changes to movement give Endless Forms Most Beautiful a new kind of challenge. While the rules are easy to understand conceptually, they serve to negate any ingrained platforming instincts a player might have. The game’s stages scale up quite nicely too, with new enemy behavior introduced regularly, as well as some simple changes to stage layouts that create navigational conundrums. A variety of special pick-ups that appear at random intervals spice things up as well. I found the difficulty to be just right — not too punishing in the early stages, but tough enough that I haven’t managed to reach the later ones due to my insufficiently honed skill.
I like the aesthetics too. The title screen captures the classic arcade style perfectly, complete with the “insert coin” message in its appropriate font. And before each stage I was treated to a randomized description of the type of imp I was collecting, which are quite endearing. An example: Dibblelegs, which live in drains, have a lonely temperament, eat floor sweepings, and are thriving. It’s rare to see that kind of oddball premise for a game these days, and it’s certainly welcome.
The PC remake of Endless Forms Most Beautiful also features two-player co-op or competitive play, which I haven’t tried, but I imagine would be quite fun. But even just the single player component is worth a look. I haven’t been playing extensively, but when I do pick it up it’s surprisingly hard to put down. And given that it’s totally free, there’s no reason not to go check it out yourself. Sometimes a trip across dimensions catching imps is just what you need.