Review: 'Fox n Forests' (Switch)

Screenshot from 'Fox n Forests'. Screenshot from 'Fox n Forests'. BONUS LEVEL ENTERTAINMENT

When you were younger, did you ever go down to the video store and grab a random SNES game to rent, not knowing how it would be? (Was the SNES around when you were a kid? Were video stores around? Ugh, I'm so old.) That is almost exactly what Fox n Forests feels like; it's an odd blast from the past despite being a new game, as it's able to imitate the look, feel and attitude of older SNES titles to a surprising degree.

You play the role of Rick, a fox who just wants to eat, but instead gets roped into saving the forest by Patty the partridge. The Deku Tree Season Tree has had some of its bark stolen and scattered about the forest, and if it's not returned in time it could lead to the forest being destroyed by a disastrous fifth season. To help him in his quest, Rick is given the ability to change the seasons, as well as a sword and a pretty sweet bow and arrow.

At its core, this is an action platformer, like any other random SNES game you could pick off the shelf. You travel from one end of the level to the other, jumping and climbing your way around, while attacking any of the mostly brain-dead enemies that stand in your way. The game's main attraction is your ability to command the seasons; in each level, you can temporarily change from one season to another, which will have a number of effects on the world around you. Platforms may appear or disappear, water may freeze and become traversable, and so on. You'll get different seasonal change effects from one level to the next, which helps keep things fresh, and they're always needed to advance; you may even need to use them against the game's bosses.

It's not as simple as just having to reach the end of a level, though. In order to unlock more worlds/seasons, you need to collect enough magic seeds. There are several scattered through each level for you to find, and considering how massive each of the levels in this game is, locating them can be a rather difficult task. Finding enough seeds to make it to the final levels is a bit of a daunting task, honestly; the levels are so big that exploring each path feels like it could take forever. And if you die, you go back to the beginning of the level and lose everything you picked up along the way, unless you paid to activate one of the level's checkpoints.

This is where most of the game's length comes from: finding magic seeds. Some of them you can't get your first time around, and you'll have to backtrack to older levels in order to come across seeds you couldn't find before. As you progress through the game, you'll be able to obtain power-ups and new abilities that let you explore more or do more damage; you'll need to collect a lot of gems and other collectibles to do it, though. It is fun obtaining more upgrades, though I found myself not using them very much, ultimately.

On top of the game's handful of levels, you also have to contend with four bosses, one for each world. I found these to be pretty fun; they're large and intimidating foes who can do a lot of damage to you, and their patterns will take a bit of work to decipher. Learning how to dodge and chip away at a boss's health is pretty satisfying, and when you defeat a boss you feel accomplished. These bosses are the main reason I wish there was more game here.

Fox n Forests has a pretty good game feel to it. It controls like an old-school SNES platformer, and it has the difficulty of one as well. While the level design can be expansive, it doesn't feel as scattershot as other games of that era; it's a bit tighter and easier to navigate, though if you want to go exploring it will be hard to find all of the possible paths. Combat isn't my favorite, though; you have both a bow and a sword, but you can only use the bow when standing, and the sword when you're crouching or in the air. This means no jumping and shooting, which would have made for a slightly more satisfying game. This also has the side effect of exacerbating the game's difficulty, which was somewhat difficult to begin with. It's still a challenge that makes you feel good when you overcome it, but when you fail you'll sometimes get annoyed with the game rather than yourself.

There are some other nitpicks to be had, too. The writing tries to be funny, but the jokes don't really land; the phrasing is always a bit awkward and stilted. This might be a side effect of the game being developed in Germany, though. It's also not obvious how to proceed after completing one world (you have to go back to the main plaza and go all the way right, which stumped me as most home base areas in games like this have exits on both sides). There was also one instance of the game interrupting me to present a tutorial that told me to look up controls in the pause menu, which was utterly baffling.

It's hard to nitpick the presentation, though. The game's pixel art style really looks excellent, doing a great job of capturing the look of the era. Characters and enemies look great in motion, and the level of detail in each world is surprisingly nice. The music doesn't stand out as much as the graphics, but it's fun to listen to and isn't going to drag the experience down for you.

Each of the game's levels is rather large, but there's only a few of them in the game, with four bosses and a handful of optional bonus levels. This game can be finished in only a few hours, though it will definitely take longer than that to find everything in the game, if that's what you're going for. This game is a nostalgia blast, but like many other games of the SNES era, it doesn't last too long. It's not really designed around repeated plays, either; you're clearly meant to finish everything in the same save file. So when you're done, there isn't that much else to do.

Overall, I think Fox n Forests did a good job of what I assume it meant to do: call back to a previous generation of games, with all of the aesthetics, game feel and difficulty that entails. It's a game that's a bit on the short side, but it's a fun romp while it lasts. This is especially good for a debut game, being the first effort of Bonus Level Entertainment, and I'm excited to see what 16-bit efforts will come from them next.

Final score: 7 out of 10

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

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