It is pretty hard to make a splash in an ocean filled with platformers. Luckily, Fox n Forests brings something to the table that may just get it recognised for its innovation. When I got given the opportunity to play Fox n Forests, I was both sceptical and elated to see what the title could bring to the table. To my surprise, it took a traditional layout and turned it on its end. By revolving the entire game around controlling the seasons, developer Bonus Level has brought a refreshing take on what made platformers during the 16-bit era so successful.
During my first thirty minutes playing this game, I tried to put myself in the mind of the developers that came up with this idea. I pictured a group of people all sitting at a boardroom table with nothing but silence in the atmosphere. The tension steadily rising for every word not spoken, until one of the developers stands up and says “Instead of changing the player through power-ups, why not change the world around them?” Sure, this probably didn’t happen at all, but I would like to think there’s a certain level of drama involved in discussing ideas - especially one as good as this.
A retro-platformer generally sticks to a regular formula - have a protagonist with a can-do attitude go out and navigate platforms and puzzles in order to meet their objective. Fox n Forests introduces the player into an easy-to-understand story, and immerses them into an intuitive platforming experience. It then adds to that experience by giving you control of the world around you.
The story is simple and to the point. Instead of trying to fill you in on copious amounts of lore, you’re given a simple objective and taken into the gameplay after a brief rundown of the situation. You play as Rick the Fox, naturally, and team up with Patty the Partridge on a quest to prevent an enigmatic evil from creating a frightful fifth season. In order to defeat the evil that stands before you, you’ll have to collect the magical tree bark and return it to the mystical sentient tree who gives you a magical season-controlling bow. While embarking on your quest, you have to bring home the magical seedlings found throughout the levels that will help give you access to new areas on the map. Neat.
Like its story, Fox n Forests’ levels and combat revolve entirely around the seasons. Rick’s “magical melee crossbow” lets him switch between seasons at the player’s own will, with two controllable seasons in each level. This gives players an astounding amount of control throughout the level. You can switch from fall to spring to make a mushroom grow taller so you can reach a new platform, or from summer to winter in order to freeze a lake so you can walk across the now frozen surface. While the seasons help you progress through levels, they do not help you during combat. In order to survive against enemies, you will need to use the “magical melee crossbow” that was entrusted to you. Rick’s trusty crossbow sports a splendid array of moves, from spread shots to aerial dives to good old-fashioned slashes and Rick himself benefits from light RPG-elements like upgradable health, mana, and melee damage output.
Combat works in two ways. The first being the ability to fire an array of arrows when on the ground, and the second allows players to perform aerial slashes when jumping. Arrows have more than one use to them. The levels are littered with secrets and new ways to explore. Firing a specific arrow at the matching coloured target opens platforms that will allow the player to reach the new parts of the level. A very thoughtful mechanic; considering that it will reward you for coming back to replay older levels.
For the purists out there, you need not be disheartened from Fox n Forests. The levels are littered with optional checkpoints which let you spend gold to save your progress: by giving you the option to skip checkpoints, they encourage players to take risks as they hone their skills throughout the game - a modern twist that can accommodate new and old players alike. However, I don’t quite think I’m ready to participate in any speed runs just yet.
The appeal to Fox n Forests doesn’t come from the fact players can have a god complex over the seasons, but from the nostalgic charm that is tucked away in each and every pixel throughout the game. The developers reference old Castlevania and Zelda games as major inspirations, but while Fox n Forests features similar artwork and a classic good-versus-evil story, it’s built on a system that defines its own identity.
Graphically, the game constantly tugged at my heartstrings whenever I looked at the retro-designed levels. The levels are well themed to their season and the visual contrasts are lovely. There was something oddly satisfying about seeing a tree fill up with snow as you went from summer to winter. The game is filled with charm to the brim. From the way Rick changes seasons in his He-Man pose to the ending of each level - where you launch a singing bird off of a see-saw in the most exuberant way possible. One cannot help but feel a strong case of nostalgia when playing the game.
That charm is only fuelled by the retro music that plays according to the season you in. The downside to all that nostalgia, however, narrows down the sound sampling for the characters in-game. They sound a tad-bit out of date for my liking, but some may appreciate the fact that the game utilises older sound samples. Personally, I would have preferred to see a balance between modern sound sampling for the characters and keeping the retro-themed music that is featured. However, this doesn’t take away from the experience of the game.
Will defend anything Dragon Ball. Occasionally has two-way conversations with himself. Has sleepless nights about Half-Life 3 confirmed.
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Bonus Level Entertainment
17 May 2018
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