We all know the story about the wolf and the three little pigs, but did you hear about the fox that put aside his predatory nature to save the forest from evil? I didn't think so. In Fox n Forests, you get to live out this fantasy, set within a love letter to 16-bit era action platformers. Although there are modern influences, it is hard to not think of Super Star Wars or ActRaiser as you play through the game. Even the explosions sound straight from the SNES and Genesis era.
You are given a crossbow hybrid weapon to help you on your quest, but you are in control of something even more powerful: the seasons. The fox, who goes by Rick, it not exactly the hero type, but is persuaded by a bird who just so happened was going to be his lunch. With the promise of vast riches, you set out in a beautifully crafted 16-bit colorful adventure. As a side-scrolling platformer, you’ll make your way through self-contained levels, but it will be necessary to backtrack once you gain new abilities or weapons. In fact, progression is gated by collecting enough magic seeds that are hidden throughout the locations, usually in hard to reach places. Until you gain enough, you are unable to grow the flower that unlocks the next starting season (more levels).
In a similar fashion to Metroidvania style progression, you can also find items that will increase both your magic and health bars. Without a dedicated map, it does make backtracking through these levels a bit problematic, as you need to remember where the inaccessible areas were. As mentioned above, Rick comes equipped with a crossbow that doubles as a melee weapon. Starting out, your skills are somewhat limiting, and fighting enemies is more frustrating than enjoyable, but once you unlock a steady stream of new powers, I started to have more fun with the game. You’ll unlock magical arrows that can open up new passageways or be used to take down enemies rather swiftly. From a triple shot to fire arrows, these are a must if you want to take down the bosses in each of the seasons. You’ll also collect empty bottles that you can purchase one-time use potions. These can obliterate enemies on-screen or help take a sizable chunk of the boss’s health. There is a bit of trial and error in determining what each one does, so you may end of wasting the first few times you purchase them.
Although your magic arrows use your mana with each shot, the primary use of your magic is to change the season. Each level is set across two different seasons, and you’ll use this to bypass certain foes or help traverse the environment. For example, if water impedes your progress, changing the season to winter freezes the water, allowing you to walk across easily. Similarly, you may be jumping from tree branch to tree branch, and changing the season to Summer allows you to climb on top of the already fully grown flower. On the downside, you can’t change the season while in the air, so ensure you are in the proper one before leaping off blindly.
Enemies in Fox n Forests tend to respawn, sometimes rather quickly without you even walking off screen, but the boss encounters are delightful. The base enemies feel overpowered at first, but by the end of your experience, you’ll be easily making your way through them with no problems at all. Things can feel a bit too authentic to the retro experience, both in terms of enemy placement and collision. Without some of the unlockable powers, there are enemies that you just can’t hit and create a frustrating experience. Similarly, some of the collision is a bit wonky, but nothing too severe. Bosses require you to memorize patterns and use basic environmental puzzle-solving to defeat them. For example, there is a massive poisonous frog that can blow bubbles at you until you realize you must freeze them by changing the season to winter, and redirecting them towards the boss.
Fox n Forests is an authentic retro-inspired love letter to 16-bit era platformers, and I dig that. The game does include some modern touches, and a bit of Metroidvania style progression, but the look and feel is straight out of the SNES. I didn’t quite enjoy having to replay levels to collect the magic seeds to proceed as it creates an artificial progression barrier. You also won’t be able to replay boss encounters, which is some of the best moments in the game.Note: Fox n Forests was reviewed on Xbox One. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.