The Switch has truly become the “go-to” system for nostalgic trips. There are so many options across numerous genres for us gamers to play in order to scratch that vintage itch. It’s actually on the verge of, perhaps, becoming an embarrassment of riches for some, but there are a few titles that have managed to separate themselves from the horde, earning accolades that garner a dedicated spot in our hearts. Does the nostalgic adventure of Rick the Fox manage to stand with the likes of Shovel Knight, Aggelos, and other greats? Read on to find out!
Fox N Forests doesn’t break any artistic boundaries or produce cutting-edge animations, but it certainly does some things well. The forest environments are all beautifully colored. The bright visuals pop, and are especially vivid in handheld mode. Rick’s sprite is as adorable as can be, and enemy designs are fun and unique.
Fox N Forests really flexes its stylistic muscle during the essential season changes. Your eyes will truly pop the first time that you have Rick perched on a lush tree branch surrounded by foliage and, with a press of a button, find Rick suddenly surrounded by snow, spotting some treasure that was once covered by the foliage. This is the bread-and-butter gimmick of Fox N Forests, and it pulls through in so many aspects. Forests are lush and thriving in the summer, buzzing with new inhabitants and fruit during spring, autumn presents beautiful colors and lighting effects, and winter takes the leaves away in favor of snow and ice. All seasons can change the dynamics of a location, and how you should control Rick, with the press of a button.
The seasons have been thrown out of order, and balance must be restored! The mythical Tree of Seasons bestows the task of balancing the seasons and saving the wood to none other than Rick the Fox. It isn’t the most detailed of adventures, but I loved the fresh idea. No king, princess, or evil blight, but the task felt just as important nonetheless. Rick is tasked with finding five pieces of bark that will restore the tree, therefore allowing it (him?) to re-balance nature and seasons, all while discovering the truth of the mystical fifth season!
The adventure spans five extremely long levels with many twists and turns that can sometimes leave you confused as to how in the world to advance. Lovers of Metroidvanias will feel very at home in this sense, as branching paths are essential to Fox N Forests. Rick can visit locations again later after he’s progressed far enough along to use a new weapon or skill in order to reach areas that would’ve otherwise been inaccessible at the time.
The story is simple but it’s a very useful vessel for providing context to the adventure… even if the writing falls flat at times. I’m not sure if some dialogue was lost in translation (Fox N Forests was developed in Germany), but the jokes and points of story emphasis often left me with a “meh” reaction.
Indie developer Bonus Level cites many examples as influences for Fox N Forests, with the most obvious being Ghosts and Goblins. Rick’s early arsenal and skill set is reminiscent of the classic titles, as he begins with a magical crossbow and a dagger. His ability to use both early on is extremely hampered, unfortunately, which makes Fox N Forests a very uncomfortable grind in the beginning.
Enemy location is an important aspect of difficulty in an action platformer like this one, so it’s very frustrating early on that Rick can’t shoot on the go. He is also incapable of swinging his sword/dagger unless he’s in the crouching position. This is a serious pain in the neck when you have a strong enemy waiting for you on the next platform that is slightly above eye level. Fortunately, Fox N Forests has RPG elements that eventually pull Rick through the hard times. As you collect coins and advance the story, Rick can earn and purchase more skills and weapons. It’s obvious that this is the scenario that the developers intended, but it came at the regrettable expense of being able to enjoy the game’s beginning trials.
Once you’ve progressed far enough along to transform Rick into a furry, butt kicking machine, Fox n Forests hits its stride. The labyrinthine levels each have an alternative season that will usually help move Rick right along toward his ultimate goal. See a branch that is too far to jump to? Switch to spring and use the newly-grown fruit to create another platform point in order to reach it. Come along a river that is too wide to jump over? Switch to winter, transform it to ice and simply walk across. This gimmick never lost its intrigue to me. Each time felt like a brand new “ah-ha!” moment, and we all know how rewarding that can feel.
Speaking of rewards, the incredibly long levels in Fox N Forests do NOT offer any checkpoints…unless you purchase them. It’s a very risk-vs-reward function that is especially important in later levels when they are at their longest and enemies are at their strongest. It becomes imperative to carefully consider the allocation of coins, as a well placed checkpoint can save you a mountain of frustration.
I could easily see how someone would be willing to give up on Fox N Forests during its early stages. Rick is so painfully limited that it creates way too much unnecessary frustration. It’s a double-edged sword however, as it makes for very rewarding RPG elements that turn Fox N Forests into a largely enjoyable experience. Intelligent level design and the season changing mechanics create some very enjoyable platforming dynamics that really hooked me into the title. Each level is long and offers a myriad of secrets to discover, adding even more to the game’s replay factor. Rick may stumble out of the gate early on, but the unique attributes give Fox N Forests an identity of its own, allowing Bonus Level’s debut to stand toe-to-toe with its nostalgic contemporaries.