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FOX n FORESTS (PC) artwork

FOX n FORESTS (PC) review


"Drawn out stages and a short adventure can't sink this authentic SNES-style platformer"




FOX n FORESTS is the absurd tale of a fox who stumbles upon an unlucky owl and sees dinner. That would have been the end of the story, except the owl is clever, and the fox is not, and before you know it, our ursine avatar is duped into undertaking a perilous as well as wondrous side-scrolling mission involving global warming, talking trees, and dangers galore -- all for the empty promise of untold riches.

It seems that the wizened old Seasons Tree is dying. Fortunately for us, once the owl brokers our meeting with the Tree, the latter equips us with the only tool we'll need to save the day: the magic crossbow! And the magic it conjures is singular: with it, we are able to change a given area's seasons on the fly. Canít cross that body of water? Change seasons and weíre suddenly in the heart of winter, and that body of water is now solid ice that we can cross safely. Or perhaps you canít navigate past a gargantuan tree in your midst in the heat of the summer sun; perhaps a change to autumn will thin out leaves and reveal a naked branch pathway to progress. And so, with magic crossbow in hand, off we go into the fray to right nature's balance.

And that fray, is gorgeous. FOX n FORESTS recalls Super Nintendo cartridge rentals, and evokes a simpler time with its lush sprite work and painterly backdrops. Pair the vibrant visuals with the bombastic brass stylings (that french horn, though!) championing our reluctant heroís cause, and you arrive at atmosphere that is truly special.

There are four worlds, each made up of three stages -- the third of which is always the boss encounter (two of the twelve stages are side-scrolling shoot-em-up affairs which is very cool). Itís not a lot of game, truth be told, not a lot of variety in locales. And yet, the stages themselves are an unwieldy length, presumably to make up for that fact. But super long levels canít course correct here; instead, we simply end up with another problem. Short game, drawn out stages. Thatís not ideal.

But once we experience whatís on offer, itís possible to forget these issues, for the most part. Besides being a picturesque tribute to the ActRaisers and Skyblazers of our past, FOX n FORESTS plays pretty damn well too. If you can get past some seemingly arbitrary programming decisions vis-a-vis the magic crossbow, that is.

Aside from its magic, the crossbow has a deadly bayonet attached to it for slicing and dicing, but only when we're crouching, jumping or double jumping. When we're standing still, the fox inexplicably decides to bring the actual crossbow function of the weapon to bear, firing off bolt after bolt. Later on, we're able to power up and obtain special coloured bolts which also double as keys when employed against correspondingly coloured bullseyes. The bullseye-unlocking affords a little metroidvania stage revisiting which does add some meat to the game's bones.

But the crossbow's limitations feel awkward and forced: why can't we fire bolts while in midair? Why can't we slice and dice with the bayonet while standing still? The answer, in both cases, is that there is no answer. These are just purposeful programming constraints implemented to balance combat, and while they don't make sense, the play doesnít suffer, so they donít have to.

Where FOX n FORESTS really shines is in how it manages your progression. You come across a badger named Retro, a few times per stage. Heíll offer to save your game and effectively act as your checkpoint, but only if you pay him. The further along you are, the more his services cost. As such, you can effectively bet on yourself: if youíre confident you can push through and stay out of danger, you can risk death and keep your money. If you are a more cautious player, you might want to save at every opportunity, but that will seriously cut into your profits and limit your purchasing power when it comes time to shop for upgrades between stages. You can add hearts to your health bar, power up the crossbowís melee damage, and buy special one-time use potions which help get you out of trouble. Itís all very carefully measured and balanced and it makes playing the game a joy.

Where FOX n FORESTS stumbles is in the way values your collectibles. In some games, finding hidden items is an optional thing, and good treasure hunters are rewarded in some way that makes further progression easier. Not here. In this game, you must find collectibles, or you simply cannot progress. A certain number of special seeds must be collected in each world in order to access the next. Itís pretty obnoxious stuff when only a handful of stages in, you already need to replay the few stages you have access to in order to treasure hunt towards unlocking more of the game.

And yet, despite the inconsistencies and unevenness, FOX n FORESTS manages to shine. Invisible entrances to secret paths in the trunks of trees; the contrasting look and industry of stages as you season-travel; double jumping, slashing and firing off boomerang, three-way and rapid-fire type bolts -- thereís a lot to see and do in its world. Itís certainly not a perfect game, but itís good enough that Iíd want to see how a sequel might smooth out its rough edges to arrive at something truly great. As it stands, this effort is rife with moments of authentic 16-bit brilliance, offset by some unfortunate clunkiness, but itís still worth your time.

3.5/5

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (July 08, 2018)

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