Sometimes when you play and review certain games you have to put yourself in the shoes of the person the game is aimed at. I’ve played simulation games in which I may not be the target audience, and fighting games where the mashing of buttons isn’t my scene. At all times though I‘ve tried to appreciate the quality of the product and how it would appeal to the fan base it’s aimed at. Ary and the Secret of the Seasons is another of those games; a title that is, in my eyes, firmly aimed at a younger audience. It’s a colourful, almost Disney-type affair, but even with the most rose-tinted of glasses on, I can’t help but notice problems.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons is an action-adventure game aimed at a younger audience, all created by those at eXiin and Fishing Cactus. I was lucky enough to see a preview of the game in action back in 2019, and have been eager to play the game in its finished state. The story follows the main character of Ary, a little girl living in this Disney-like world of Valdi. When her brother goes missing on an adventure, her father goes into a deep depression and it’s up to Ary to go out into the world, all in order to find out what has happened to him. She first has to seek the guidance of the Guardians of Seasons, an ancient organization that harnesses the power of the seasons for you to control and use. What then plays out is an open-world adventure with a good story that the younger gamers and parents will enjoy. The writing is fun and the cutscenes are all good value for money. But let us talk a little about the gameplay.
The game is set in the third person – open-world with main mission quests and side quests galore. You venture out into the world and have a minimap with arrows to point you in the right direction. From there, you’ll partake in a bit of basic adventuring, and some simple combat, mostly utilising attacks, rolls and a counter move. It is all quite basic if I’m honest, but it works well enough to set the scene and allow for progression.
The big selling point of Ary and the Secret of Seasons is how you control the seasons. Throughout the game, you get to collect orbs of the seasons, magical artifacts that control the four. With these orbs, you can affect the weather in a small radius around you. So, for example, if the world around you is set in the middle of winter and frozen you might well come across an ice wall blocking your path. A quick touch of the d-pad and the summer orb comes into play, creating a sunny seasonal effect. Hey presto, the ice is melted and you’re on your way. Or if you come across a lake, filled with water in the summer, the winter orb freezes the lake, allowing you to pass. Further to that, spring can give you access to vines to crawl up inaccessible paths and autumn can fill valleys so that you can swim across if needed.
By far, the best part of Ary and the Secret of Seasons is found in using these powers – that and the puzzles you have to solve throughout the game. These are normally in places where you may need to move blocks around, activate switches and climb platforms to unlock some treasure or find a story-based item. These areas are clever and provide a welcome break from the open-world wandering and combat. You’ll have to actually use your brain in an interesting way, and it is here where Ary reminds a bit of Zelda. If the whole game were a series of linear led temples, designed with puzzles to solve, fully showing off the mechanics of the gameplay, then the whole thing would benefit greatly.
However, for the good moments, there are some major problems – mostly focusing on the fact that Ary and the Secret of Seasons doesn’t feel finished. The loading screens seem to go on for ever, and movement between interior to exterior worlds all screams ‘last generation’. There are issues with pop-ups in the visuals and Ary herself doesn’t feel as solid or grounded as she should be. This is most evident in the combat situations and across platforming areas; a good few times I’ve been left stuck, needing to reload checkpoints.
Visually, and as mentioned, the game has the look of a Disney cartoon, especially when it comes to the cutscenes. The characters are beautifully designed and ping off the screen. The world itself is colourful and the way the game switches seasons all at the touch of a button is very impressive. However, it does, at times, feel a bit rough in places, mostly due to the visual pop-up and number of glitches that are present. It’s not helped by the fact that the textures make it look like an Xbox 360 game rather than an Xbox One title coming at the end of the console cycle.
Sound-wise though the effects are top notch throughout, with that same Disney feel rolling from the visuals into the audio, pings of bells and jingles helpfully letting you know that you’re on the right track. Overall, the soundtrack is solid and uplifting, while the voice overs found in the cutscenes – not in the whole game – are well-performed throughout with some great character work.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons on Xbox One is a game that gives you some good content for an alright price. If you have young ones in the house and you want a good family game that will manage to keep them quiet for a good 10 hours or so, this could be it. If you’re a bit longer in the tooth though, or just want to play through something without issue or constant loading screens, then you may well have to seriously consider things before putting in a purchase.