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Fox n Forests (PS4) review

 
Fox n Forests logo
Fox n Forests logo
Fox n Forests logo

 
At a Glance...
 

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed); PC, Switch, Xbox One
 
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Year:
 
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Final Score
6.0
6/ 10


User Rating
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We Liked?


  • Beautiful presentation; the chiptune soundtrack, art style and colour palette make it feel like a lost SNES classic.
  • Variety in the level designs, some showing wonderful creativity.

Not So Much?


  • A good idea in changing the seasons, but feeling like an idea that could have been used for more than basic switches.
  • Grind. Being forced to replay levels - some of which are wonderful, some of which you'll be glad to see the back of - takes the fun out of things fast; but progress is locked otherwise.


0
Posted June 4, 2018 by

 
Final Fiendish Findings?
 
 

The set up of Fox n Forests feels like a fairy tale – a hungry fox tries to eat a clever partridge, who bargains for her life with a promise of treasure. Our vulpine protagonist agrees, thinking he might get away with both a meal and a profit, and finds himself charged by a wise, ancient tree with restoring the seasons to order…

Rick – our fuzzy hero – isn’t expected to just head off unprepared though. The Season Tree gives him a magical crossbow, useful for both fighting off monsters and changing the seasons on a moment’s notice. As it may sound, this is a powerful ability, and is key to progress though the levels of this retro-platformer.

Fox n Forests screen

Changing from the regular summer of this stage to its alternate of autumn has the toadstools grow – and gives you extra platforms to jump on to.

Take the first level, for example – set in the springtime, you’ll soon be stopped by a stretch of water too wide to jump (and in platformer tradition, instant death if you fall in). Easy enough, change the season; it becomes winter and the water is frozen solid. Sorted. It’s a fun idea, though perhaps one that is underused – each level simply has a regular season, and a single alternate that you can switch to for as long as your magic gauge can last.

There is no room to see what happens to that example stretch of water in summer or autumn, for example; nor can you change from the default season while moving – there is no freezing water as you realise you’re falling blind into a pool, you need to have triggered it while standing still. There are so many ways that the seasonal changes could be used in platforming, but aren’t. It feels like the core of a good idea, just lacking a little more ambition.

The levels themselves are an interesting mixed bag. Most are straightforward runs across landscapes, taking various high and low routes to get from the level’s start to its end. Others focus it in different directions, such as the tall windmill in autumn which is entirely handled with vertical scrolling. There are also a couple of side scrolling shooter levels, Rick sat on top of Patty the partridge as they fly and shoot… though this isn’t R-Type, and between the large hitbox the characters have and the fire rate of the crossbow, these were levels I was glad to get behind me.
Fox n Forests screen
The game is presented like it was meant for the SNES – game music sounding convincingly like it is coming from a sound chip, and the colour palette drawing very heavily from the platformers of the early 90s. The presentation is something that hits immediately, and makes a good impression, the echo of gaming nostalgia even when you realise it is more complicated than the 16bit consoles would ever have handled. It’s the sort of presentation that keeps drawing you to the game, even when the gameplay might be in danger of dragging. Which, sadly, it does.

Probably the biggest problem the game has is grind. Each stage has special items – seeds being the most important, although mana ore (for increasing your magic gauge), grindstones (for improving your weapon) and bottles (for holding potions with special effects) are all hidden away too. After taking down each boss you are rewarded with a new type of shot for the crossbow – green firing shots in a semi-circle ahead of you, red being a burst of exploding shots fired ahead, and blue sending boomerang shots out in a wide loop ahead of you; these can also be used to shoot switches of the matching colour that open up new routes or reveal platforms…

It sounds Metroidvania, but isn’t. Nominally, you’re encouraged to replay the early stages with equipment from the later ones. However, without a map you’ll find yourself guessing where you might need to be, or if you’ve gotten the necessary upgrades yet… and for that matter, if you’ll even find the areas to explore – some are marked with little clues (a fish head suggests something “fishy”, usually a secret wall), some have obvious targets in the open, but some you’ll only discover with blind luck.
Fox n Forests screen
Now, if this was something for completionists, encouragement to replay early stages to find everything… sure, that would be a good draw. Unfortunately, progress through the game is gated based on finding these secrets, with each season needing a certain number of seeds to be discovered before unlocking the next levels. Or to look at it another way, playtime of the game is padded by forcing replays of early levels to find items that there are no guarantees of finding.

Finding four seeds to unlock summer you’ll probably have done accidentally by that point; finding 24 to unlock winter will probably involve re-rerunning numerous levels.

Basically, it takes something that should be fun, and forces you to grind. Normally, grind doesn’t put me off – I’ve gone through enough MMOs at this stage to see how it can work as a positive game mechanic – but this is grind without a guarantee of progression, and after re-running a few levels several times over the game does drag. If progress through the game was automatic, with the choice to replay for bonuses… this would be another matter. But the choice to replay is taken away, and it makes it impossible to simply play the game without doing what would be normally be considered a side achievement. After a while playing I was getting fed up having to keep going back, and was feeling the need to take breaks from the game instead.

It’s a shame. It’s a fun idea, and beautifully presented, but even when the game can be enjoyable moment to moment, being expected to keep retreading the same ground for no guaranteed advancement becomes a chore.


Peter

 
Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.