Can you do a barrel roll, fox?
We’re in something of a platformer renaissance at the moment. New Mario games are a given on any new Nintendo console, but there’s also been huge success with the recent Crash Bandicoot remake as well as a string of indie games like Super Meat Boy, Shovel Knight and Celeste. The forthcoming Spyro game will presumably follow suit.
The real golden age of platformers, though, was the early 90s. Spurred on by the media feud of Sonic and Mario on their respective consoles, there was a whole slew of mascot-based games featuring cute and cuddly cartoon characters jumping on the heads of comical enemies. And that’s not to mention the wonderful Disney games that make many gamers teary-eyed with nostalgia.
It’s these 16-bit games – and the associated wistfulness – that FOX n FORESTS attempts to capture. It certainly looks the part: it features a cartoon fox jumping through colourful levels based around the four seasons, presented in 16-bit graphics and with an appropriately irritating MIDI soundtrack. The fox (hilariously named Rick) is on a quest to collect four pieces of magic bark for the Season Tree to maintain his grip on the seasons, cueing an adventure across a familiar world map.
What really tugs on the nostalgia is a badger character called Retro who marks checkpoints throughout the level. Give him some coins and he’ll save your progress with an amusing reference or quip. Lines like “Can you actually do a barrel roll, fox?” show far more personality than Rick himself.
The problem is that FOX n FORESTS doesn’t really play the part. What made the 90s platformers so fun was their creativeness within a simple framework and their elegant design. With FOX n FORESTS, developers Bonus Level Entertainment have tried to do too much, and not all of it sticks.
Moving Rick himself feels clunky. Rather than jumping on the heads of enemies, he shoots bolts from his magical crossbow. Except when he shoots he remains static, rooted to the floor. Confusingly, he cannot aim his shots and when he’s in the air the same button instead instigates a melee attack. The result is a strange stop and start rhythm that has you running, jumping, slashing and shooting – but never at the same time.
That crossbow also brings the ability to change the season. At the click of a button flowing rivers turn to ice, forest fires are soaked by rain and leafy trees become bare to reveal platforms. It’s a smart idea, but it’s woefully underused. Its implementation is simply a way to overcome obstacles rather than a clever method of solving puzzles.
Getting to the end of a level is not enough. Hidden throughout are a number of collectables that are tied to weapon and health upgrades, so seeking them out is beneficial and turns this platformer into more of an exploratory adventure. Except, frustratingly, the game is locked up, with a certain number of these collectables required to progress. It quickly becomes a chore. That’s especially true as many items are hidden behind targets that require a certain weapon from later stages to activate, meaning levels must be replayed frequently.
There is at least some variety to the level design. Some levels scroll vertically rather than horizontally, while others turn into a side-scrolling shooter riding atop your bird friend. And with so many collectables and bonus levels there’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into. But overall, FOX n FORESTS is just too bland and derivative to live up to the games that inspired it.