I’m a big fan of 16bit games. Having grown up in that generation, I have fond memories of that period – platformers were the big sellers back then with both Mario and Sonic bringing in the big sales. There were a countless number of platform games available, all with their own gimmicks or takes on the formula.
Fox n Forests then is a labour of love, bringing that 16bit magic back to the current generation, and it certainly looks the part with some great character and environment design to make it look like it could have been made back in the mid ’90s. The sound as well is brilliant with catchy midi tune beats that echo the period; you will often find yourself humming away to the tunes whilst you play.
In Fox n Forests you take on the role of Rick the Fox. While out hunting he winds up being tricked by his prey into helping the great tree save the forest from the evil that has disrupted everything by creating a fifth season. It’s not the most spectacular plot, but it is reminiscent of the simple ideas found in many games from decades past.
Gameplay is a fairly ordinary staple of side scrolling action. You shoot arrows left and right, swipe your dagger downwards, or upwards if jumping, and can unlock a few other attacks including a ground stomp. Again this is all par for the course of retro platformers and because of that the game just doesn’t stand out as anything special. There is a small RPG element found by upgrading your health and weapons, but this amounts to little more than collecting enough coins.
The control scheme for all this is competent but sometimes a little sluggish. Occasionally I found myself firing my bow over the head of an enemy rather than swiping my dagger or touching an enemy because things didn’t quite respond quick enough. It is these little niggles that begin to drag the whole Fox n Forests experience down.
The game plays out over a series of levels based around seasons, all punctuated with boss fights, and if you happen to have found all the collectible magic seeds in the levels prior to a boss you can also have a crack at a bonus level as well. Collectibles are a good challenge to hunt down with levels offering up a wide variety of hidden cracks and crevices and it’s here the game uses its one gimmick to best effect – in a system similar to Sonic CD’s time travel you can switch up the season by tapping the left trigger. This not only changes the look of the level completely but also opens new pathways and hidden areas. For instance, the level may be summer by default and you could be standing in front of a patch of water – jumping in would mean a lost life – but change the season and the water freezes over, allowing you to stroll right across. The levels are well thought out enough to not make it too obvious where these pathways may be, and it is good fun to go hunting for them.
Bosses come in the standard 16bit style of simply watching the pattern and attacking when you get an opening; a simple but effective way to deal with bosses, and there’s a good variety of them too. From giant frogs to fighting a wasp in a windswept arena they don’t however offer up much challenge and if you do fail, you will be given hints on how to beat them.
Occasionally the platform levels are broken up by something a little different, the first of which sees the action move into a side scrolling shooter in the vein of R-Type with Rick flying on a partridge through a burning forest. These levels should be fast and enjoyable but here they are anger inducing at best. This level for instance requires you to switch season frequently to avoid pillars of flame, but the problem is that the game gives you no indication of where the fire may be when you switch back. This leads to the loss of a lot of lives in the process of learning the layout and by the time you get through you won’t ever want to go back. This isn’t just isolated to this level either, there are a few that can become an absolute nightmare.
This then leads me on to the other big issue with the game – progression. For some completely bizarre reason once you beat a boss you can’t just move on to the next set of levels. Instead you are forced to go back to previous stages until you have collected enough magic seeds to unlock the next level. Tying progression to collectibles like this is silly and it is compounded even more so when those collectibles are well hidden; even then quite a few of the seeds are in areas that require a move you must purchase, meaning you have to grind earlier levels for coins to unlock them. This grind only serves to stifle progress and elongate play time.
All in and Fox n Forests has a great nostalgic look, whilst the sound quality is equally as retro. It has some really well thought out levels and the seasons gimmick is sometimes used to great effect. However this is all let down by the slightly sluggish controls and frustrating design choices that ultimately hold you back.