Fox n Forests is the most recent in a long line of indie platformers that attempt to recreate the feel of a classic SNES platformer. Behind breathtaking 16 bit visuals, a fun mix of platforming and run-and-gun gameplay, and an impressively utilized season-switching mechanic, I feel comfortable saying that Fox n Forests absolutely succeeds in that regard, and if it had released on the SNES twenty years ago, it would be remembered as a classic today. However, by modern standards, Fox n Forests is a bit too faithful to its SNES inspirations. The game relies on many long-outdated facets of game design to extend the length of the campaign, holding itself a few yards shy of greatness. The end result is a game that, despite being under a week old, somehow feels as if it has already aged poorly.
Still, there is lots of fun to be had. Aside from a few sidescrolling shooting levels, Fox n Forests mostly relies on basic SNES platformer/run-and-gun gameplay as players jump through tricky levels armed with a never-ending arsenal of enchanted arrows. Swarms of enemies populate the levels. Gold collected in-game can be spent on upgrades such as health and magic boosts as well as a small supply of new attack moves. For a bit of Metroidvania flair, completing levels will also award the player with new magic arrows that can be used to uncover secrets in previously beaten areas. One particularly interesting part of the game is the checkpoint system: players choose whether or not they want to activate a checkpoint, and if they wish to do so, they must pay a fee that increases as the level goes on. Eschewing checkpoints means more gold at the end of the level, but also means much more punishing deaths. Meanwhile, controls are fairly tight and levels are well-designed. This means that, aside from some minor issues such as endlessly respawning enemies and sometimes questionable hit detection, gameplay is smooth, engaging, and fun.
While the basic gameplay does its job admirably, the defining gimmick in Fox n Forests is the season switching ability, and it is handled beautifully. The protagonist Rick the Fox is equipped with a magic staff that allows him to change seasons at the press of a button provided his magic bar is full enough. Pressing the button to switch seasons causes a breathtaking transformation on screen. Colors and lighting change to accommodate the new season; for example, switching from spring to winter replaces the bright yellows and greens with white and light blue, as trees lose their leaves and are quickly coated in snow. Music, meanwhile, will also change to fit the new tone. The different seasons are instantly distinguished by the careful attention to detail from the developers.
Switching seasons will affect the environment so that you can trap enemies and solve otherwise impossible puzzles. The creative implementations of season-swapping are a delight throughout the game. A seemingly untraversable gorge in one summer level is crossed by switching to fall and hopping across the gap on giant falling leaves. A level that centers around climbing a windmill during the fall harvest features many treacherous moving gears and conveyor belts; switching to a calm summer day brings the machines to a halt and allows for safe passage in a brighter, more tranquil windmill. In other situations, a well-timed switch from summer to winter can freeze aquatic enemies underwater. These situations, among countless other uses for season swaps, greatly enrich gameplay.
As for music and graphics, the bow that ties the whole package together, Fox n Forests has fantastic offerings. The seasonal melodies in Fox n Forests are wonderful. Music from the game stuck with me longer than anything else, and the gorgeous pixel-art levels and backdrops were quite memorable as well.
Unfortunately, while Fox n Forests has several strengths, I encountered quite a bit of frustration during my playthrough due to the developers’ rather cheap attempts to lengthen the game. There are four worlds in the game, and each individual world is rather short, featuring two good-size platforming levels, a boss fight, and a bonus level. Levels are full of hidden collectibles, which would have been a welcome addition, except you must find a certain proportion of collectibles before you are allowed to advance to the next world, even when you have already beaten the boss of your current world. To make matters worse, there is almost no way to get enough collectibles (magic seeds, in this case) in one run through the levels. This is because once you beat a world’s boss, you are awarded a new type of magic arrow, and many magic seeds in the world you just beat will require that arrow before they can be found. The demand for seeds rises as the game goes on, constantly forcing you to revisit the same levels time and time again to find a seed hidden deep within a level. Before I could advance to the final world, I had to collect 24 magic seeds, when the most possible at that time was 30. Requiring that 80% of a certain collectable be found before the player can advance is extremely questionable game design, and the fact that over half of the five hours it took to beat Fox n Forests were spent retreading familiar ground says a lot about the game’s true length and just how shoddy the attempt to hide it was.
The game has a few issues that suggest to me that it needed a bit more time in the oven. Collectables should be optional finds that encourage players to come back after completion, not that is relied on to stimulate the bulk of the game’s length. The short catalog of levels is disappointing, and while the ones we were given are great fun, there should have been almost twice as many. Another gripe I have with the game is the awful editing job: nearly every line of dialogue in the game is an attempt at some sort of witty banter, but poor translation and punctuation make every line more cringe-worthy than funny.
Fox n Forests is still a fun platformer in the end, even if it does hold itself well short of greatness. The developers have proven that they can do great things, but hopefully they give their next outing a bit more time in development. While Fox n Forests has several frustrating design decisions, the gameplay itself is still a treat complemented by beautiful music and graphics, and the season switching mechanic adds a unique flair to the game. If you are craving a nostalgic return to the SNES glory days, outdated design and all, look no further. For Fox n Forests, its summery qualities ultimately outweigh the wintery pitfalls.
- Strong gameplay to go with the amazing music and beautiful graphics
- Switching seasons is great
- Incentives to replay levels and progress your character
- A loving and faithful recreation of SNES-era platformers
- A bit too faithful of a recreation that often relies on cheap design
- You have to replay levels, often several times, whether you like it or not
- Small content load
- Dialogue needs a ton of editing