With such a vast and star-studded back catalogue of games in the genre, releasing a new 16-bit title is by no means an easy feat. Rather than go for an easy win, developer Bonus Level Entertainment decided to add their own stamp to 16-bit platforming, turning to Kickstarter to gain backing for their vision.
Complete with single frame cutscenes to tell the story of Rick the Fox, FOX n FORESTS wastes no time in setting the scene – a forest in despair as the seasons of the year are mixed up and under threat from an evil presence. Rick’s quest is to find four stolen pieces of magic bark and use the power of the seasons, which is the main focus of the game, via a magic crossbow.
Each level can be switched between two of the four seasons. Switching them presents solutions to the many simple environmental puzzles, reveals hidden paths and can help defeat enemies, but switching seasons puts a strain on your mana bar, meaning the changing of seasons is restricted to solving obvious puzzles or occasionally switching to see if an alternate route presents itself.
In key sequences, gems – which replenish mana – are conveniently placed so that the restriction of using the seasons shouldn’t become a burden. Throughout the game this restriction, which is also drained when using special arrows, is a mechanic that is there to stop you spamming special ammo or remaining in the alternate season. It only fails as a mechanic when you mess up a long sequence of jumps that are only revealed in the alternate season – returning to the start and waiting for your mana to recover.
The combat mechanics are smooth, although in the later levels things can get a bit manic. Jump, slash and shoot are the tools of your trade, but while shooting, Rick is rooted to the spot and he can’t jump and shoot either. Like the mana, this never becomes too much of an issue even during the boss battles.
Bosses, while very simple in their attack patterns, have a fun puzzle element to each that can be easily solved. You can opt for help in how to defeat them – just don’t mash the A button when it’s game over, this also happens to be the help prompt button!
Before each boss can be tackled – there is one for each of the seasons – magic seeds must be located and a set number collected to allow entry to new parts of the forest. Often coloured targets need to be shot with the correct arrow to allow passage beyond and find these elusive seeds. Cue the Metroidvania influence of gaining better abilities so you can access other areas in previous levels.
Unfortunately during my playthrough a bug (or weird game mechanic) occurred while I was underneath a lake. Rick the Fox was frozen in place when changing the seasons, so despite the lake being dry, Rick wouldn’t move. More annoyingly and despite finishing the game, killing a boss without hints and making it through a whole level without taking damage, none of the achievements unlocked leaving me with a measly three achievements worth 160 points.
There’s plenty of replayability – beyond trying to unlock those stuck achievements – with hidden collectibles that allow you to purchase better weapons and gear, although quite why you need better gear after finishing the game beats me. There are also outstanding seeds to collect so that you can grow the final tree, which I imagine rewards a final cutscene.
FOX n FORESTS nails the nostalgia of 16-bit gaming, although I did find the game rather easy, despite one or two tricky parts. I say tricky… more like frustrating. I’ve gone back and played some old platforming favourites and they are still damn hard, so I challenge the fact that I am older and better at these games – I am not – FOX n FORESTS is just too easy and at a 3.5 hour play through, not nearly long enough either.