Fox n Forests, from Bonus Level Entertainment, is a 16-bit inspired game which has been heavily marketed as having heavy inspirations from games such as Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. So, my initial impression and question to the developer was, “Is this going to be as hard as Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, as I remember that game being Brutal?” – to which I was advised, “Only on the hardest difficulty”. This sparked my interest as I love a good platformer yet hate it when they are made hard intentionally just because they can. Also, our anthropomorphic protagonist has the ability to change the seasons in order to progress through his quest and save the forest – now that sounds cool!
The story within Fox n Forests is nice and simple and is really used as a means to link the levels together – so it isn’t too deep or confusing. You play as Rick, the aforementioned anthropomorphic protagonist, who is a clever, witty and very sarcastic fox. He is offered a reward from a Great Deku Tree look-a-like in exchange for saving the forest. As Rick is merely a local, he is given a powerful crossbow as a means of attack, the magical ability to change the seasons at will, and the ability to perform a double jump – this is basically the set up as to why he has all these platforming abilities.
Rick sets out to fend off creatures, traverse platforms, buy himself checkpoints, and find the elusive fifth season. Throughout his adventure, he will journey through various levels, all with their own unique style and enemies, and with the power of changing the season, each level also has multiple variations which alter the way you progress. There are a few annoying things about the game though, which I’ll touch on below, but as a homage to 16-bit gaming, Fox and Forests sits with the best.
The core mechanic of the game revolves around the ability to change the season. This is such a cool mechanic and I found I was using it all the time in order to search for and discover secret paths and routes to other areas. The downside is that the alternative season drains your Mana meter, so you can only spend a certain amount of time within that variation until the mana bar refills itself (which is automatic over time). An example of how this works is, say you come across a lake, or a waterfall – hit the season button and the water will instantly freeze, allow you to walk across it or jump up the waterfall. If you change to Autumn, then you will see leaves falling across holes, which allows you to jump on them and reach the other side. You can also change to Spring/Summer and cause giant fruit to grow on trees, which you can jump on to access higher areas.
The season you can switch to isn’t by choice, the game will swap to a pre-designated one in regards to the level/situation.
Not only this, but enemies such as beehives will freeze in winter, yet baby birds will grow into evil adult variations if you swap seasons with them on screen. This mechanic is really cool and they have used it perfectly. Combining a kind of puzzle solving element along with the platforming and combat is a great idea and it all comes together great as you aren’t rushed through the level and are encouraged to move at your own pace.
In terms of controls, this is where I encountered a few things I wasn’t that excited about – until I progressed further into the game. As with most games which take heavy influences from the 16-bit era, Fox n Forests is hard and brutal both in its gameplay and mechanics. You can’t shoot your bow whilst jumping, with only a very short ranged knife as your companion in these situations, and jumping is a pain. Well, it’s not a pain in that it doesn’t work, it’s just gone true to the time period and a lot of the jumps are almost pixel perfect, which ended up in me falling off ledges or failing to reach my destination quite a few times.
However, as you progress through the story, you will receive coins which will allow you to purchase upgrades to your abilities – these make your life so much easier and resolves a few issues I had. They also allow you to gain access to new areas, one such example is the ability to thrust downwards and destroy blocks beneath you to gain access to a new area. You also require these abilities to find certain items within the stages, items which are used to unlock new routes and areas on the overworld map. As such, the game offers a forced replayability factor in the style of a Metroidvania game.
One thing that did annoy me though, to a point where I can’t understand why it happens as I can’t think of a previous 16-bit game that does this, is the enemy respawn. In some instances, you can kill an enemy and then it will spawn in the same place a few seconds later – even if you haven’t left the screen. It’s not game breaking or an instant “don’t buy this game”, but I found it very strange and, at times, annoying.
Throughout the levels you don’t only see enemies and coins, you will also see coloured archery targets, seeds and a checkpoint guy called ‘Retro’.
The archery targets are pretty cool – as you progress in the game, you will receive magical arrows which can be shot from your crossbow at a cost of mana. You must use the arrow with the same element/colour as the target in order to activate secret entrances and pathways. Thus adding to the replayability of the level and another tick on the Metroidvania requirements.
The seeds are simple – hard to find/reach items which are used to open up paths on the overworld.
Finally, the checkpoint guy is an unusual aspect. You must pay him an increasing amount of coins if you wish to activate a checkpoint here in the event of your death. I say increasing as the first time you use him it will cost X amount, the second one you find will be X+10 or X times 2, etc… It doesn’t cost to resurrect, only the initial cost to use this point as life insurance.
The one complaint I have about the above is the seeds. If you have read my previous reviews for games such as JYDGE then you will know that I’m not a fan of the three-star method. This is the method in which a game limits your progression to the next level until you reach a certain goal or obtain a certain number of something. I feel that if you have beaten a stage then you should be allowed to progress through the story – unless it is a story specific item. Now, Fox n Forests has a similar wall put in place – you must keep replaying the levels until you find enough seeds to move on. Some people will love it, I personally am not a fan – especially when some of them are quite well hidden and hard to find.
And now the bit which needs no explanation at all – the game looks amazing. I’m not a big fan of pixel-art and my main complaint is that it looks too blocky and horrible on big TVs, but the developers have really gone all out and created a beautiful game in this style which works great on a big TV. This is due to all the fine details and subtle animations which have been put in place throughout the game. You can clearly see the inspirations from the 16-bit era games shine through without any knock on effect to the gameplay and mechanics of the present (bar the pixel perfect jumping). Not every level is as bright and green as the opening levels though, as later ones have drawn inspiration from another game, which I’m sure you’ll notice.
The sound is equally impressive, with its chiptune music and its sound effects which sound like they were ripped right out of a Mega Drive game. Seriously, I’ve spent a few days playing the SEGA Mega Drive Classic collection and if Fox n Forests was on there then I wouldn’t even know that it’s a new game as it plays with such an authentic quality.
Fox n Forests is a 16-bit inspired puzzle platformer with an emphasis on exploration and collection. It stays true to its influences and expands upon them in order to create a truly unique and entertaining game. If you gave this game to someone, without telling them what it is or the fact it came out this year, they would seriously think they were playing a game of the past. The only issue for me was the requirement to find certain items in order to move the story on and get to later levels. I’ve always had an issue with this in games as it feels like a forced replayability mechanic, which is a shame as this game didn’t need that to get me to replay it.
However, despite that one issue, I thoroughly enjoyed playing the game and I have no issue recommending the game to fans of platforming and retro-style games – Also those who fancy a challenge.
FOX n FORESTS£15.99
- Brilliant Homage to the 16-bit era but with a modern twist
- The season changing mechanic works perfectly and helps create a lot of new challenges along the way
- Combat is satisfying and solid
- The sound effects and music are spot on for a 90's feeling
- Exciting and interesting gameplay with the various abilities and mechanics
- Jumping can be a bit pixel-perfect at times
- Forced replayability in order to find and obtain numerous seeds to move on
- The story seems like it's taken a back seat to the gameplay at times
- Enemies re-spawn too quickly in some places, like within seconds