Developer: Bonus Level Entertainment | Publisher: EuroVideo Medien || Overall: 8.0/10
In southern California, we experience something called “June Gloom.” It is sort of a mid-season switch from the “Cold” (aka Less Hot) season into the Hot season, and basically everyday feels like my heart — cloudy, overcast, and named something stupid. I would be hard-pressed to tell you what the “opposite” of June Gloom is, other than simply “a normal day.” Why did I bother giving you this useless trivia since you’ll never be in southern California or my heart? Fox N Forests, an otherwise typical platformer, takes the idea of “swapping seasons” to heart and creates a unique gameplay gimmick that feels like it was ripped out of the late 90’s to early 2000’s.
While it’s easy to assume the intended throwback of the title is to the Super Nintendo era, it feels more like a Game Boy Advance platformer, which was an extension of 16-bit games past the year 2000. This is mostly due to the game feeling different than what you may normally get from the Super Nintendo in regards to level design, controls, as well as the ability to upgrade stats or unlock abilities. There is also sarcastic dialogue that gives the game a feeling of being more “postmodern.” The graphics are great, and pixel art is beautiful at times, but the resolution is purposely very low to emulate playing on a classic platform, which is not usually something I would be a fan of, but in this case it works. The main gameplay hook is an interesting one — changing the season you are currently in so that it changes the terrain or adds elements to get you through obstacles. This ability uses mana, and as there is a limited amount of it, this ability is on a timer essentially. There are also mana crystals littered throughout levels, allowing you to replenish your mana bar quicker, or keep the season change in effect as long as your timing is right. Logically, changing seasons is a curious mechanic, because it seems you are actually time traveling, yet all of the enemies are in the same place as you go back and forth through time. Baby birds instantly turn into asshole crows that drop shit on you, fire tornadoes coming off burning windmills are replaced with angry lightning clouds, large leaves coming from space float down, etc etc. It all sort of just doesn’t make sense in that context, but you roll with it as the game has a lot of fun with this mechanic in interesting ways.
As a platformer, the main thing you do is progress through a level by jumping and getting through obstacles. The levels are purposely very long and can take upwards of 30 minutes or so to complete one run, including deaths. While games in this genre usually have a high quantity of levels that take 5 to 10 minutes each to get through, Fox N Forests has a lot less individual levels and crams the already sprawling levels with secret paths and areas. The gameplay never gets a break because they set you back to a checkpoint without restarting the level from a menu; this is a nice quality of life consideration, but the side effect is your Del Taco fries will go cold if you were planning on eating “after this level.” The enemies add to the texture of a level, keeping it somewhat fresh depending on your problem-solving skills. The enemy variety can also feel a bit lacking, with some enemies just getting a pallet swap or appearing over and over.
As you play an asshole fox named Rick, you’re promised something or other by a large tree-face-thing and an adversarial wise-cracking bird. They want you to help save the forest from the “Fifth Season” by collecting Magic Bark from ridiculously large, equally assholish bosses — it’s basically something you’d expect in the genre to have to go and collect shit to save something you have no emotional attachment to. The Magic Bark could very well be tree-face-thing’s shit for all you know. The large tree-face-thing gives you a bow that has a bayonet on it, allowing you to only shoot straight. Sad! All of the other directions can only use the bayonet, which has a very short range but is powerful. Useful! You eventually get magic arrows to change your firing pattern and along with your ability to change the seasons, you’re on your way to killing tons of evil forest creatures and stealing their money. Additionally, there are also shoot-’em-up levels to break up the platforming; they feel out of place, honestly, but are still fun since they rely on the season-changing mechanic heavily.
A big “feature” of this game is the secrets. Going back and playing levels to find all of the nooks and crannies in pursuit of obtaining collectibles is going to be the main time sink here. The collectibles are actually pretty hard to find and there are only a few of them, so when you find one it is actually meaningful. As all of the collectibles directly relate to upgrades or unlocking levels themselves, you’re definitely motivated to go back through them over and over. Upgrades to health and mana are similar to what you could expect in a platformer. Fox N Forests is also said to have “RPG elements,” but there’s no experience or progression necessarily, so you’d be hard-pressed to qualify any game system as an “RPG element.” I would say the only “RPG element” is the fact you have to grind gold and replay levels over and over (SICK BURN!!!!!!).
Each level has 5 magic seeds and a couple of other collectible items, with four “seasons” containing 2 levels and 1 boss. To enter a level for the “fifth season” you have to collect all of the seeds for a particular season, and then you get to enter the level. Since the seeds are pain in the ass to find, I haven’t been able to get into one just yet, and I have no idea what to expect since it’s hard to imagine what a “fifth season” would be. Boss levels are also unique challenges, but since their challenges haven’t been introduced at any point before you attempt the boss, you’ll always die on your first attempt. An odd decision on the game developer’s part is that they add a “help” text box after you die to the boss, basically telling you exactly what to do to kill the boss the next time you attempt it. There is no consequence to dying in the game, so you are allowed to attempt bosses as many times as you want. This feels a bit fourth-wall breaking, and doesn’t really make much sense why they blatantly tell you how to beat a boss like this, considering there isn’t an arrow pointing you to all of the collectibles in a level. Usually a boss is supposed to utilize at least some sort of skill you learn beforehand in a more advanced way, rather than being completely independent of what you had previously seen. Otherwise, the bosses can be a fun challenge.
Fox N Forests is a pretty enjoyable title, and with pretty graphics, responsive controls, and a simple upgrade system, you’ll find there to be a unique challenge with the large levels full of secrets. Exploration is not typically something you see in platformers, so it feels like something different despite being an obvious throwback. If you can somehow change the season to a Steam sale, consider this an option to spend your money on.