Fox n Forests
It is quite common that you will find an indie game inspired by 90’s side-scrolling adventures. Hitting on nostalgia and the appreciation of a simpler time in games are the bread and butter for smaller development studios.
Bonus Level Entertainment developed Fox n Forests for the envelope of nostalgia, but did so with their tongue-in-cheek to a certain level. Seemingly torn from a child’s fable stands Rick the fox. In this homage to Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Rick is tasked with locating four pieces of Magic Bark for the wise Season Tree.
Within minutes of playing, you begin to witness the pieces of inspiration begin to bleed into the game. From the obvious Deku Tree nod, Retro, to the checkpoint companion being your “link to the past”. The dialogue and visuals placed into Fox n Forests drive home the feeling of playing on the NES. As you begin your journey, the mechanics of Fox ‘n Forests harken back to that of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and the aforementioned Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Even the chiptune soundtrack evokes the feeling of dusting off an old cartridge.
As you set upon the task at hand, Rick will come across a slew of different enemies and will have to manage distance and safety. Rick’s crossbow will only fire when movement has been suspended, while the sword can only be used in conjunction with directional movements. Balancing the two in the 2D platforming venture takes a certain amount of adaption, but is wildly more accessible in comparison to the difficult platformers of the past.
A core mechanic of the game is utilising the changing of the seasons. Taken from the underrated Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons, Rick can change the environment. Switching from Spring to Winter will close river gaps, freezing them over. Moving into Autumn can sprout mushroom tops for easy platforming. The procedures will spend precious mana Rick has stored, so time and efficiency is key. Mana can be found by collecting small, silver gems which will replenish Rick after each seasonal change. This mechanic not only helps Rick advance through the stage, but opens up new paths and secrets.
Each ‘world’ may seem small on the map, but within each of them lies levels with multiple paths that are necessary for completion. As you progress through the journey, Rick will hack and shoot his way to numerous treasure chests containing gold. This gold can be changed for upgraded movesets, increased health and mana, or offensive potions at numerous shops located in the game’s hub. Gold is not the only thing Rick will find, since each level contains a number of magic seeds. A set number of seeds are needed in order to grow sprouts. These sprouts let Rick advance to the next world. More often than not, the seeds can be found in plain sight. It might take a few runs through the different paths, but you can find and collect them. However, sometimes Rick will require a new magic arrow in order to discover new areas.
The use of replaying levels with newly acquired arrows evolves Fox n Forests to that of a metroidvania title. Yet, it only scratches the surface. Rick will often come across a number of shooting boards and it is clear whether our fox friend is readily equipped. When destroying these boards, it will often reveal a set of new platforms and areas to discover. Not long after a few are revealed does it become clear that these new paths won’t always take you to the treasure you need to progress.
Metroidvania games of the past will often reward players coming back to earlier levels with new equipment. Unfortunately in Fox n Forests, these rewards will not always balance out the effort taken. All too often are treasure chests filled with only a handful of gold coins or the odd ghosts revealing themselves for a combative surprise. The aspect of replaying through levels is not only encouraged, but a requirement in order to proceed to the next world unless Rick processes enough seeds. Not having the carrot at the end of the stick hurts the aspect of exploration.
Thankfully, each level is unique in its own regard, from their own specific changes to the environment from the changing of the seasons, to enemies and paths you may take. Some levels even offer a take on vertical platforming to change the pacings. Another has Rick flying on his winged companion; Patty. These changes to level design stop Fox n Forests from feeling too samey. Each world offers two standard levels, and a bonus for 100% completion.
At the end of each world lies a unique boss. These boss encounters will task the player with honing in on a specific aspect of the core game, whether it be climbing the platforms of a tower away from a mechanical spider, or causing the Autumn winds to blow a giant hornet into thorns. The bosses always differ from one another and focus in on what makes Fox n Forests the enjoyable game it is.
While it may not be for everyone, specifically those looking for the platforming challenges of Castlevania: Symphony of The Night or the recent Cuphead, Fox n Forests is a well polished 2D side-scrolling adventure which does not overstay its welcome. Instead, Bonus Level Entertainment developed a condensed, tight experience that makes you look back to the days of the 16-bit era. They never shy away from giving the player that wink and nod when making a dialogue reference because this is a game built by those who understand the genre.