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Fox n Forests - A KGK Review

As a self-confessed platformer addict and retro geek, when something like FOX n FORESTS comes along, my appetite is seriously whetted. The game is touted as being a 'true' 16-bit platformer, the connotations of which extend to audio, gameplay and progression as opposed to just a pixelated art style. Having loved Shantae and the Pirates Curse, Maldita Castilla EX and Volgarr the Viking, I got stuck in as soon as I was handed the review key by our resident Beaver.

As the fox Rick, assisted by your avian sometimes-companion Patty, you progress through rural, 2D landscapes – forests, mostly – seeking out missing pieces of bark for a magical tree. So far, so Disney. However, your path through the three levels of each world is littered with coin-dropping enemies and necessary-to-progress collectibles. Thankfully, our hero can double jump around the place while unleashing and endless supply of arrows from his hunting bow, and slashing anything which comes too close with his hunting knife. Quite often, you'll reach a point which seems impassable, but with a pull of the trigger on your controller, Rick holds his knife aloft Lion-O style and the season of the landscape changes. Summer becomes winter, spring becomes autumn, lakes freeze over and huge leaves drift from trees. All of these changes allow you to progress onwards, sliding over ice and leaping across leafy chasms, climbing huge berries and finding hidden platforms beneath once lush canopies.

It sounds pretty cool, and it should be, because it's FnF's unique selling point. Well, apart from Seasons After Fall, which does the exact same thing. But FnF does have one other trick up it's sleeve: RPG-lite, Metroidvania-even-liter upgrades. As well as your health and mana, the source used to change seasons, you can upgrade your abilities allowing you to make combat easier and giving you moves which let you access places in earlier levels. They're all pretty standard fare, such as jumping attacks, and the ability to blast downwards through previously inaccessible trapdoors and the like. Using these tools, you'll make your way across five worlds that gradually introduce new features, such as zip lines and even auto-scrolling flying levels.

It sounds like a great game, and it really should be. Unfortunately, after good initial impressions, the cracks appear faster than ten overweight builders tarmacking a drive at the foot of the Kilauea volcano.

Platformers live and die by their gameplay. This has been proven time and again: It doesn't matter how pretty they look or how original they are, if the basic gameplay elements aren't quite right then you've got a problem. Conversley, a game can look as simple as a box jumping over other boxes (Thomas Was Alone, Geometry Dash), but with the right tight, responsive gameplay, they excel.

FOX n FORESTS certainly looks the part. The artwork in everything from the loading screen to the shading on enemy animations is beautifully done, adhering to the strict sprite resolution and palette of colours offered up by similar games from the Sega Megadrive, or Super Nintendo. The music, although not at all memorable, is delivered in classic chip-tune style helping to ramp up the nostalgia factor. But it's in the most vital area, the actual platforming, it lets itself down over and over.

To start with, almost every jump you have to make in the game needs to be a double jump. Why? Why not just take the double jump and make it a variable single jump a la Mario / Sonic, and have that as the standard? Also, until you upgrade your skills using the coins you gain from killing enemies, you can only do your in-air attack on the first jump. When you do upgrade, your new and improved attack can only be done on the second jump, leaving your inferior one still on the first. It's a really strange decision, and plays very awkwardly, as does your standard attack when on the ground: You can launch up to three arrows in quick succession at enemies, but as soon as you hit the fire button you're glued to the spot, unable to move. If you try to jump and fire Legolas style, you instead perform the useless air attack, meaning you either have to attack your enemies at range when on the ground (when your knife would do), or attack them up close but in the air. As long as you remember which jump has the preferred attack on it.

All of the platforming feels clunky; weighted at some points but floaty at others, it's anything but 'pixel perfect' as the developer advertises on the FnF Steam store page. You'll be narrowly missing ledges at some points because you can't get high enough, then overshooting at others and falling into an insta-death waterfall. Unless you've activated a checkpoint, this means starting right back at the beginning of that level, some of which you may have been trudging through for fifteen minutes. There's no way to recover what you've lost, it's simply a reset, like you've never played the level before. Collectibles, enemies, coins, progress: It's all gone.

Speaking of checkpoints, I don't get them. I really don't. Every so often, you'll happen across a badger asking for coins to activate one. If you don't, then you face the above situation; restarting. If you do pay him (maybe he's trying to elope with Ms Badger and avoid a culling), he takes an absolute pittance from your coin stash and when you die, the level only resets to that point, meaning you keep anything collected before getting the checkpoint and respawning with the badger, except for TB. Maybe. There is no down side to paying him, no risk at all, as when you return to previous levels from the world map every coin-dropping enemy will have respawned, giving you a potentially infinite amount of wealth. But why would you return to a level you've already finished? Well, prepare to be baffled.

Opening new worlds requires the use of seeds. There are five seeds hidden within each level, some of which can only be accessed once you've gained new abilities or upgraded your gear. To upgrade your abilities and gear, as well as coins, you'll need items which are also hidden as collectibles throughout the levels. Everything locks itself behind exploration, which works in a Metroidvania-style game such as Hollow Knight, as you can return to the place you needed to go, grab what you need, and get out and back to progressing. In FOX n FORESTS, each level follows a moderately non-linear path from start to finish, with hidden rooms and platforms and caves, similar to the way Super Mario Bros. 3 did it back on the NES. The big difference here is that you have to return to previous levels to get more seeds and unlock new worlds with more levels, and you can only do that by returning to other levels with new gear to grab collectibles, which in turn allows you to craft even better gear, giving you the ability to reach previous seeds. As you lose everything when you die, you have to progress through the entire level to keep what you've collected. It's tedious. Really, really annoying.

Everything on the gameplay side just feels off. Wrong. Even the season change doesn't feel right, as you can only change to a level's alternate season when standing still, but changing back can be done at any time, mid jump even. It's bizarre – they could have allowed you to switch at will both ways, building puzzles around creating platforms as you move along, using ingenuity to reach places that are otherwise inaccessible, but it's not at all like that. More often than not, you'll reach a point why you either outright can't continue, or face certain death, and that's the game's way of telling you to change seasons to reveal the route forward.

I started out feeling FOX n FORESTS was a 7.5, maybe an 8. The more I played, the more I became frustrated and disappointed with it. Even going back through to write this review, my opinion is still falling. The more I experience, the more cracks appear, and the more points tumble through them.

As it stands right now, FOX n FORESTS is a good looking game with good ideas, but as a platform adventure, it fails at every step. Thankfully, some of those steps could be helped over time with simple fixes, and the game isn't broken – you can progress through the full game without any major bugs (apart from occasionally getting stuck in the scenery and having to quit out, or the only option to close the game being ALT+F4).

It's utterly mediocre in it's platforming and sense of progression, and having to replay earlier levels in the fashion this game dictates is painful.

If there are patches and alterations, I may revisit it in time, but I really can't recommend it in it's current state.

Overall Score 5/10

Developer: Bonus Level Entertainmemt

Publisher: EuroVideo

Price: £15.49

Release Date: 30th May 2018

Steam copy provided for review.

Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 & Steam

If there are patches and alterations, I may revisit it in time, but I really can't recommend it in it's current state.

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