Fox N Forests Review (PC)
Feeling a bit foxy?
Fox N Forests is a side scrolling platforming game developed by Bonus Level Entertainment and Wild River. The developers at BLE set their sights on the 16 bit era and try to bring back the good ol feeling we once felt during that era. But did they succeed? let's find out!
The story starts like all stories start, a Fox is hungry, a bird doesn't want to be eaten and a magical tree is dying and needs you to find 4 magical parchments based off the 4 seasons...typical stuff right?
One day a Fox named Rick sets his eyes on a bird that is just sitting and minding its own business. Rick sees the bird as nothing but food,but before Rick can swing into action and eat Patty The Partridge(bird),she tells him a dire story and convinces Rick that only he can save the forest from its near certain doom!
Confused by this,Rick decides he will only save the forest under the condition that he gets food and a healthy coin reward for his troubles(hes very easy to please apparently). Patty agrees to this and tells Rick to follow her and this is where he meets the old Guardian tree. The Guardian Tree tells Rick of grave things happening to this forest, a 5th season is being created and thus throwing everything out of loop and draining all his power.
With the knowledge of the threat and the hopes of the entire forest resting on his shoulders,it is now up to Rick to set forth on adventure to obtain four magical parchments of the seasons that will restore balance to the forest AND get food in his tummy! yum!
The game play of Fox N Forests can basically be categorized as ''As Advertised''. BLE stayed true to what they said to the consumer and that this will indeed be a 16 bit game that pays homage to the great games of old from that era. If you grew up during the 16 bit era and played any platforming games during those times, you will get exactly what I'm about to explain without even reading the rest of this review(wait, dont leave yet!)
The purpose of this game is to take our hero,Rick the fox, on an adventure through multiple seasons and environments, Winter,Fall,Summer,etc. Each stage you play through offers a different variety of enemies and obstacles that you will have to get through to reach the end of each level. Which by the way, the end of each level makes me laugh a lot, i wont spoil it, but you will see what I mean once you've conquered a level.
As Rick you're armed at the beginning of your journey with magical arrows that work for you as your long range attacks,while a more traditional sword melee attack is used for close range. Your arrows however can only be used while you're stationary and you can not use them while mid air,which is a bummer,but ultimately makes sense in my opinion as it would make the game much easier than it already is.
With your trusted arrows and sword, take Rick through 4 different seasons/areas in order to restore order to the forest. Each of the 4 seasons branches off into 3 separate levels,first two include standard levels(even flying levels) and the third always including a major boss fight that holds the parchment of seasons that you need to complete your objective. A 4th extra stage can be accessed as well,but we'll get into that in a minute.
One of the core aspects of this game and one of the best things this game has going for it is its use of changing the seasons. Rick is capable of changing the current season hes in using his magic that was bestowed upon him by the guardian tree. With this power he can change a summer era to a completely ice frozen area. This helps a lot when coming up on areas that have a lot of water, with the season spell, that water will become snow and ice and will allow Rick to tread past it,which will lead him also to discover new areas you haven't previously been able to get to.
This tactic is also used on area's such as a dark halloween like graveyard(fall),but this time instead of just freezing everything, it will make vines and other grassy spikes completely dissolve and disappear. This allows you to gain access to hidden areas and find secret treasure chests,that once again, shows that you didn't even know were there unless you explored and used your new powers.
One last thing I'll touch upon with the use of these powers is while changing seasons is one of its main goals and uses,it can also be used to create platforms that aren't able to be seen to the naked eye, it will also allow you to access a different area and it also acts as a time stopper in specific levels that will cause certain objects like conveyer belts and swinging blades to completely freeze and stop in their tracks. It's pretty awesome.
As I stated earlier, there's a subject I want to jump back to for a minute, the 4th accessible level that you can go to is what I want to discuss. Generally there are 3, but each season has a 4th bonus stage. These stages basically act as coin gathering stage and nothing more than that,nothing too amazing,however, you can't just go to it anytime you want,nope,you have to work for it. You must gain entrance to them by completing a specific task and the reason why I brought this up again is because it feeds into my next topic. Magical Seeds. (I planted the seed from earlier for this. see! Haha!...not funny,ok)
Ah yes, these dang magical seeds. They're scattered everywhere in each level and each one is harder to find than the previous one was. There are about 40 or so magical seeds in total,but you only need 24 of them to fully beat the main story. But if you wish to complete and gain access to the 4th bonus level of the seasons then you will need to collect as many as possible and collect all of them in each individual season.
Seeds are also used as a means to gain access to a different section of the forest. For instance after you beat 1-3 on the seasonal map, you will gain access to a new power bestowed upon you by the guardian tree,but before you have access to the next area,2-1, you nee to get ''x amount'' of seeds before being able to continue your journey. This is where some gamers could find this a problem.
Due to the fact that you have to back track A LOT in this game, it can feel a bit tedious at times. During your play through you'll get so into wanting to see the next area and seeing what the game play has to offer,only to then get hit by a road block saying you may not proceed without getting a specific amount of seeds. This in turn has you going from level to level and playing these same levels multiple times to the point where you can play them with your eyes closed. It can really pull you out of the moment and suck some of the life out of the game.
I feel the developers at BLE/Wild River know and knew this. This is why they made the levels have branching off areas and also give you access to specific weapons that give you new paths to tread through. As I touched upon earlier, after beating the third level of each season and obtaining a parchment from the guardian tree, he gives you a new skill and this new skill gives you an arrow that is needed to access these seeds that are in areas you couldn't get to before.
You see, throughout each level you will find multiple targets set up. Red target,Blue target,Green target,etc. Each one of these targets can only be accessed by getting hit with the corresponding arrow that will activate them. For example, Red target can only be activated with fire arrows,blue targets can only be activated with your boomerang power up,green can only be access with your split shot(3 shots) green magic arrows.
When you put all these together,then all the sudden backtracking and finding all the new areas using your new powers makes it all seem worth it in the end. Sure it may still get tedious from time to time,that's a perfectly good criticism that I can't argue against, but allowing you to use these powers to activate steps to jump on and secret chambers, makes each level seem like a big exploration experience and it feels fantastic when it works right.
Besides those power ups I mentioned, there's actually MORE where that came from, crazy,I know right?. These new power ups and armor upgrades come in the form of stronger weapons,new jumping attacks,raising mana meter and adding more hearts to your heart gauge. All of these upgrades can be bought with in game currency of coins. The only exception to this is making the weapon stronger for Rick, those require little washer looking like objects,which can be found also in secret areas just like magical seeds.
One specific skill i wish to highlight for you that you will be able to buy and obtain is the ground pound skill. This skill coincides with the search for seeds and gaining access to colored targets and secret areas. When you first start the game you will see lots of concrete entrances on the ground that you will have no clue what they're for until you realize the skill is sold in the forest plaza. Once obtained, you may do a double jump and then downward thrust to destroy the concrete slab. This will in turn allow you to go underground to caverns to find crystals,money,washers and seeds.
Finally I want to touch upon some of my gripes for the game play. Some I touched upon and some I haven't mentioned yet. With all the good, does come some bad. Like I mentioned before, back tracking can be somewhat of a chore. Having to play multiple levels over and over because you need to find a specific seed can get boring. This is especially true if you're missing just one seed. This requires you to search every inch of the level multiple times and if you get stuck and cant find it,you're out of luck.
Even when you find the elusive seed that you couldn't find before, you can't just grab it and leave the level,if you try that then you will lose all money and all collectibles you just obtained, so it forces you to play through the entire level once again. This puts a huge damper on things at certain times. I feel this could've been solved by allowing the player to be able to go in the level,find what they need,then exit the level and keep their items,but its not game breaking,just a minor nuisance.
My second gripe I feel the need to point out is in stage 3-3. This stage is a race for your life stage. In this stage you have to run straight up jumping from haystack to haystack and make it onto platforms before the boss enemy climbs up to you and kills you. You must run fast and use time stoppage in order to freeze the conveyer belts so they don't sling you away to your death. However there is one particular jump that I personally feel was just poorly designed.
The jump I'm referring to is about half way through the level, you must freeze a conveyer belt and jump up to another one on top of it. However, the conveyer belt is positioned in such a spot that you need pin point accuracy just to make it up there. You have to hit a specific pixel hit box or it will not allow you up,no matter how much you spam your jump button, you will not make it. This in turn causes you to die quite A LOT and it will make you replay the level more than you should have to. It sucks a lot of fun out of an enjoyable game overall.
If I had to compare how precise and annoying this jump is, I'd have to go all the way back to TMNT on the NES. Do you all remember the days of seeing the pizza hidden in the middle of a platform that you just couldnt get to? you guys remember trying to jump and flip to land perfectly in that tunnel to get that pizza? well welcome back guys, the pizza jump is back but this time its a conveyer belt. I will have nightmares forever! well im just kidding about those nightmares though...(or am I?)
BLE really outdid themselves with their vision of the 16 bit era. Each season you go to is amazingly animated and textured,its just a great sight to behold. As someone who grew up playing the 16 bit era of platformers,while I was playing this I couldn't help but think back to my days as a kid sitting in my bed room with my SNES playing games such as Lion King and Aladdin. I had that same feeling I had when playing those as I felt playing this game and this is due to the great art style,great animation and of course the awesome music.
The music in this game is superb. All the bums and boom rock tunes you hear in this game remind me a lot of the way games sounded on the SEGA Genesis. Very boombastic and lots of heavy beats that make you nod your head to the beat and makes you want to go out and buy a soundtrack for it. Its just too good to describe fully. Just think of SEGA Genesis on steroids and there you go.
Fox N Forests offers you an experience from the 16 bit era that not only feels unique but also feels like a welcome home to all your past memories of an older generation. While it may not be perfect and it does have its short comings with back tracking and some poorly designed areas that require pin point luck and accuracy, it makes up for it with its character charm of Rick,Guardian Tree,Patty Partridge,Game play,Music,weapons and interesting boss fights.
There hasn't been many games that make me feel like I'm back in an era I cherish, but much like games like Shovel Knight and Blossom Tales, I'm brought back to these memories in full. Fox N Forests gives me the same feelings of joy and excitement that ultimately makes this a must own and a pleasure to play.
Fox N Forests is out now on PC/Switch/PS4.
*Review code provided by Bonus Level Entertainment