We’re getting low on animals that haven’t had a platformer, but a quick Google shows that Fin and the Ancient Mystery have done their research: there hasn’t been one with a fennec fox. Fin is a world-first.
It’s about the only area where Fin and the Ancient Mystery is pioneering, however. We probably shouldn’t expect it from a £4.19 indie platformer, but know that there is nothing resembling originality here. This is very much a traditional platformer, from its animal character to its crystal collectibles, all the way to its end-of-level Robotnik-style bosses and block-pushing puzzles.
While it might not be pioneering, its story verges on the unusual, mainly because of how dark it is. You visit your father, only to find him dying from a wound as a cat-like outline disappears out of a window. He tells you about six artefacts that have to be gathered if you have any chance of defeating The Destroyer, a master of shadows. Then he dies, and The Destroyer’s creatures start flooding into the colourful world. These creatures could all have been ripped from a H.R. Giger Taschen portfolio, as they’re grim-looking bats, scorpions and slugs. It’s not exactly the Mushroom Kingdom.
Graphically, Fin and the Ancient Mystery sits in an odd uncanny valley. It’s clearly aiming for vibrant and charming, with a contrasting darkness in its enemies, but neither side has any real charm. You have Fin, who looks and moves like a paper cut-out, battling Cthulhu creatures from another dimension. It’s not exactly ugly, as the independent elements are well-made enough, but they all look drafted from very different games.
The levels are more competent than we expected. There’s some talent on the team at Silesia Games, as – although they’re not sprawling or non-linear – the levels are reasonably well made, with the usual platforming elements stapled together to make engaging levels. Think Rayman with the charisma siphoned off, and you have Fin and the Ancient Mystery.
We had a fair amount of fun pushing about mirror blocks to create light-paths, as well as nudging explosive barrels towards barricades. There are plenty of hidden sections, tucking away chests that contain HP-increasing potions. And levels gently branch at points, requiring you to find a lever for a door, or even bypass sections of the game. We appreciate none of this sounds like much on paper, and you’d be right – there isn’t anything here that hasn’t been done countless times before. But Fin and the Ancient Mystery is reasonably dense with them, and it’s constructed engagingly enough that you’ll want to reach the end.
You’ll have to swallow a few flaws in the jumping and combat if you want to get there. It feels like there are missing frames in the animation, which means you slide across the game like a Resident Evil character. It makes the platforming feel a little ungainly. The same is true of the combat, which is lacking in heft and impact. You swoosh your sword about and life falls off enemies, but at no point do they animate like they’ve been hit. You have to guess that you’re doing damage, which is particularly problematic with the bosses.
Ah, the bosses. Perhaps adjusting for the combat being slippery, the bosses are trivial. They look varied, being giant spiders, hulking shadow beasts and jousting robots, but we were so overpowered that we could stand next to them and spam-attack, which meant all their special moves and phases meant bugger all. They keeled over and died before they even had a chance.
Part of that is down to the levelling system. You pick up XP after most battles (as long as you remember to reverse and grab it), and levelling up means you can improve your choice of melee combat or a magic fireball. We wondered whether we’d found an exploit, as Fin and the Ancient Mystery occasionally handed us dozens of level-ups at once, so we ended the game with 50 levels in each. But no – it’s just hugely generous, and we were carving through enemies, and occasionally bosses, in one hit.
Fin and the Ancient Mystery may only have ten levels, but they’re pretty lengthy, probably fifteen to twenty minutes each. They sit in a snug area of challenging, somewhere between easy and requiring a few restarts, and we reached the end without anything approaching frustration. For £4.19, that’s a decent return, and it’s even better value when you consider that the campaign – the game’s Story Mode – is only one half of Fin and the Ancient Mystery.
The other half is Adventure Mode, which offers sixteen challenges across three difficulties, amounting to forty-eight levels if you’re being generous. These challenges come in four forms, all requiring you to manage a time limit by collecting clock collectibles. There’s a clear-the-screen horde mode, a ‘survive against the clock’ trap game, an endless runner and a boss battle. These aren’t necessarily new, but they’re more than we expected from a budget release, and prove to be diverting enough. You carry your XP progress from Story Mode to Adventure Mode, so we’d recommend playing them once you’ve completed the game.
For the price, it’s a healthy package, and we didn’t exactly regret rinsing it of most of its achievements. Fin and the Ancient Mystery is so middle-of-the-road that it could be roadkill; we could squint and imagine ourselves playing the flatter moments of a Rayman or Sonic the Hedgehog. If that pricks your ears up like a fennec fox, then consider this a recommendation.
You can buy Fin and the Ancient Mystery for £4.19 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S