The Fold is a dungeon made of cards. I have a choice between three of them, which might represent a monster to fight, gold to loot, a potion to drink, and so on. I can see a couple of rows further ahead though, where more monsters and maybe a pool of poison or a shield to boost my armor wait.
Since I can only choose from the cards that are adjacent to the one I’m currently on, if I pick the middle card from the next row up I’ll leave all three options open, but if I veer left or right that’ll narrow the choices down to two. And if I move to a card beneath a monster, they’ll leave their spot to attack, uncovering whatever’s beneath them.
Forward: Escape the Fold is a string of constant, tiny decisions. Picking up this pile of five gold coins means getting attacked by a toothy purple worm thing, but after that being in a position to reach the merchant chest and buy a new item. Get this shield to add four points of armor and then be hit by a giant squid who does three damage, or drink this healing potion for three hit points and be attacked by a salamander who only does one point of damage. A constant flow of snack-sized choices.
Sometimes the Fold narrows down to to two or just one choice, and every level ends with an unavoidable card where a grim reaper or giant scorpion or some other boss squats. Combat is simple: monsters have a damage number, you subtract your armor, and anything left over comes off your health. If you survive, they die. That means you can easily do the math and figure out whether you’ll beat a boss as soon as you see them, making the final moves of every level feel dry and mechanical. You know if you’re going to live or die, and you’re just going through the motions to get there.
When you do die, it’s game over. Sometimes you’ll have earned an achievement that adds a new item to future runs, or unlocked a character who has a different power—cast by picking up mana potions—and a different number of hit points. Though each run takes mere minutes, I don’t find myself enthusiastic about trying again when I finish. Maybe Hades has ruined other roguelikes for me, because I can’t help but feel the absence of its rewarding deaths.
In Hades, every failure pushes the story on, as well as letting you unlock some new stuff. In spite of the name, Forward: Escape the Fold doesn’t have anything like that sense of constant forward motion. It’s not that I’m asking for voice-acting or animation, but where Escape the Fold does imply a story and setting it’s through writing that’s spare, with bosses saying “I’m coming to get you!” and dungeon levels that arbitrarily become forests or towns. It’s all quite vague, leaving just the endless choices between gold and shields, scarecrows and wolves. There’s a purity in that, making it quick and casual enough that you’ll know how you feel about Escape the Fold as soon as you try it.