The 16-bit era is full of so many unforgettable classics, and I don’t think any genre holds up as strong as the 2D action platformers from this generation. Even 25 years later, virtually anybody can have a great time popping in Sonic 2, Mega Man X, or Donkey Kong Country. This month’s Fox n Forests is an obvious tribute and throwback to these types of classic games. This is brought to us by the German team Bonus Level Entertainment and funded via Kickstarter two years ago.
You play as Rick the Fox (a possible nod to the ‘90s NBA star Rick Fox?) and are tasked with saving the forest from a mysterious fifth season, which is causing havoc. You ally with the Season Tree, Retro Badger, and Patty the Partridge to navigate the four main seasons and collect the magic bark to save the forest. Like most games from this time, the story is a rather minor part and the fun is all in the action. In other words, you won’t find an abundance of dialogue interrupting your gameplay. Although, what is there is rather humorous and Rick has an edgy attitude and Badger is full of old gaming references. Even the bosses throw out some bad puns before the battles begin, which brought a smile to my face on more than one occasion.
You navigate through the levels fighting or avoiding enemies, jumping across treetops and ridges, and collecting money and other items. You are armed with a magic crossbow and a dagger for attacking the many creatures that stand in your way. What differentiates Fox n Forests from other games of this nature is the ability to change the season with your mana. There are four main worlds for each season. You begin in the Spring World, but at any point you can change the seasons and this greatly alters the environment. For example, you may have to switch to winter to freeze a body of water so you can make it across. If you’re caught in the midst of summer forest fires, switch to a rainy spring to get safely through. Switching to autumn causes giant leaves to fall from the sky, which you may jump on to reach new areas. Switching seasons also impacts the trees, vegetation, and some of the enemies, which can open up hidden areas and different pathways. Each stage has one specific alternate season assigned to it, so you can’t rotate between all four seasons willy-nilly.
There are not a lot of levels packed into the game – 2 stages per season, with a boss stage and a bonus stage added onto each. However, the areas are enormous and extremely challenging. There are a few levels that play like a 2D shooter (like a simplified Gradius) with Rick riding on Patty the Partridge. These have very different rules and you go from having 5 hearts to just one, although you don’t have to pay for checkpoints. These sections challenged me the most and it took me well over a dozen times to clear them. The boss battles are a real treat (especially if you like intentionally cringe-worthy jokes). They are gigantic in comparison to Rick, and each requires a mixture of special attacks and season manipulation to defeat them. I did find these battles to be far easier than the stages themselves. You may return to the World Map at any point and replay a previous stage, or visit the store to make purchases and upgrades.
There are all sorts of things to collect in the game, some to aid you and some required to progress to the next season or to locate bonus levels. You begin the game with five hearts and if you lose them all you start over at a checkpoint or the beginning of the stage. Gold coins are needed to activate a checkpoint and you may opt not to spend them if you’d like to take a risk and save up for other things. Coins can also be used at the shops to purchase new attack skills, buy magic potions, or increase your hearts or mana. It is relatively easy to stock up on coins as there is a lot of backtracking and they appear frequently. Rick has a mana meter which depletes when changing to the secondary season, or using a special crossbow attack. You can replenish this by collecting mana jewels. Finally, there are the bonus/required items such as the magic seeds, which are concealed in the levels. To unlock the bonus stages, gain new attacks, and most importantly move on to the next season, you’ll need to collect a specific number of these. Many of these cannot be found the first time going through the stage, as you need upgrades to your crossbow to unlock certain areas. So, be prepared to revisit levels multiple times.
The graphics look like they could be from any early ‘90s Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis game. The stages and backgrounds are colorful and full of variety. There are dozens of enemies and allies, all of whom are animated well. The music and sound are pleasant and fit the game well, but they do not really stand out. When you switch to the secondary season, the music changes but gets really low. I imagine this is to remind the player you are using up your mana. Unfortunately the quality of music and sound does not come close to the gems of the 16-Bit era. I’m just happy they did not spring for voice-overs to kept it feeling like a true classic game. The game controls well enough and it’s easy to change seasons and crossbows. Attacking is a little odd because you can’t jump and fire your crossbow and there are several ways to swing your dagger.
I adore this game, but it is no secret I have an infatuation with ones like this from the early 1990s. The game should be enjoyed by older gamers who grew up with the genre and by younger gamers who will most likely enjoy the characters. The unique season-changing feature is no gimmick, and blends perfectly with the terrific platforming elements. Although, not a true Metroidvania game, I found it exciting to continue to revisit levels to search for secrets and the special items. The game could have been longer, perhaps adding one stage for each season, and the boss battles should have been tougher. Unfortunately, this game released shortly after the amazing Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and it’s not easy to standout from the crowd when an 800-pound gorilla hogs the spotlight. However at $19.99, I think Fox n Forests is a bargain and should be provide many hours challenge and fun.
Fox n Forests was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.