Saturday, May 19, 2018

Fox n Forests Review

Fox n Forests is a 2D action adventure platformer developed by Bonus Level Entertainment. It's available on Steam, Switch, and PS4 for $19.99, and it's coming soon to Xbox One. It’s inspired by games, like Ghosts 'n Goblins, Mega Man X, and Actraiser 2, and combines different elements from many classic SNES games.

You play as Rick, a fox on a mission to save the forest by collecting magical bark for an ancient talking tree. The tree has been losing his power in his old age, allowing evil forces to take over the forest. The magical bark will supposedly rejuvenate the old tree and help him protect the forest. The game has a children's book style presentation, with rhymes and horrible puns. It never takes itself seriously, and often breaks the fourth wall. I’m all for light-heartedness, but this whole thing comes off like a lame Internet meme, and I often felt like skipping all of the text.

The main gimmick in Fox n Forests is the season switching mechanic. Pressing ZR (R2) or ZL (L2) will change the season, and make platforms appear, open new paths, and even help you kill some enemies. For example, you might come across a lake you need to get across, so you switch the season from Spring to Winter, and run over the frozen lake. There are only 2 predetermined seasons per level, so it’s not like you’ll be scrolling through all four. It’s a pretty neat mechanic, but it’s tied to the same resource as you magic arrows, so you’ll constantly be mana starved if you use either one too much.

Fox n Forests’ combat feels like it can't decide if it wants to be Ghosts ‘n Goblins or Actraiser 2. Shooting is the safest, and often easiest way to kill enemies, but you can't shoot while jumping, running, or ducking. You stop in your tracks every time you try to shoot while running (like in GnG), and there's no canceling out of the shooting animation. You get 3 different kinds of shots as you beat bosses, but since they all use the same resource as season switching, I never felt like I could use them as much as I wanted to.

The game feels like it's made for shooting, but every new move and upgrade you can buy is for melee attacks. With such a big focus on melee, you'd think it would be your go to attack, but meleeing is the last thing you want to do most of the time, because that's the easiest way to get hit by enemies. You don't have a neutral melee attack, because that's the shooting stance, so meleeing always feels like a secondary, last resort attack.

I think a lot of the problems with this game stem from the town or hub area and everything it involves. In the Forest Plaza, or town, you'll find 3 shops, 3 spots to plant trees, and the ancient talking tree. In the shops, you'll be able to upgrade your melee attack power, buy new melee moves, heart containers, MP upgrades, and special attack potions. You can't just buy all this with the gold that enemies drop, though. Buying most of this stuff is gated by your progress and how many different doodads you’ve collected. Your progress through the game is also gated by the amount of seeds you’ve collected. After beating a boss, you'll be able to plant the seeds you've collected to open up a new area. All these collectables are hidden in each level, and often require the magic arrows to get to them, so you're forced to replay each level multiple times. And to make matters worse, you don’t get to keep anything unless you finish the whole level. You can’t just grab the thingys and go back to the world map, like in Mega Man X.

Levels in Fox n Forests are like 3 Mega Man X3 levels put together. They are way too long and full of hidden whatchamacallits to collect. There are usually 5 seeds and 2 grind stones (a fitting name) in each, and 6 of them also have a crystal ore. The levels have linear action platforming design in one part, and usually more maze-like lower and higher areas, which have most of the doodads. The platforming and exploring by themselves are fine, but enemies respawn like 5 seconds after being killed, so that gets annoying when trying to solve a puzzle. Sometimes the thingamajigs are in underground tunnels and caves, and sometimes they’re above the trees on the mountain tops. There are checkpoints, but they’re not automatic, you have to buy them with gold. If you do not buy the checkpoints, you start back at the beginning or at the last one you bought, and you lose all the money and doohickeys you’ve collected.

Fox n Forests levels are at their best when they're focused on doing one thing. There is a vertically scrolling, Castlevania Clock Tower-like level, and 2 Gradius-like levels in which you ride on your partridge friend, like a biplane, and shoot down birds while avoiding hazards by switching seasons. You’re still dealing with the MP double edged sword of using the season switching and magic arrows, but these are some of the best levels in the game, because there aren’t 3 different layers to go looking for gizmos in.

The graphics are definitely the highlight of the game. They really nail the look of a Super Nintendo game. The SNES could never handle a game that looked this good and had the season switching mechanic, though. The art style is very reminiscent of Capcom SNES games, like Demon’s Crest and The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse. The sprites are colorful and fairly detailed, even if they’re in SNES resolution, and every level has 2 different seasons, which look completely different. I played the Switch version, and it has some weird frame skipping issue that is very noticeable in the forested areas, but it didn’t affect gameplay. Hopefully that gets taken care of with a patch.

I didn’t like the music and sound effects at all. The music is very samey, simple, and repetitive. None of the songs really stood out to me. The sound effects all sound very muffled, like someone put a pillow over the microphone or something. I get that it’s supposed to be retro, but this is the bad kind of retro. Games don’t have to sound cheap just because they’re retro.

This game looked like it had potential, but all these gating systems with the N64 Rare style thingy collecting messed everything up. Somewhere underneath all this padding there is what could have been a really cool SNES style action platformer. As it is right now, it's a jack of all trades and a master of none. This game would have probably turned out better as an arcadey Ghosts ‘n Goblins style game, like the name suggests.