If Bonus Level Entertainment’s excellent Fox n Forests was released on a cartridge for the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis back in the mid-90’s before both consoles were phased out in favor of newer systems, it would probably be a Game of the Year contender. Hell, it would even be a fine enough essential 2D platformer/RPG hybrid on the Saturn or PlayStation. Well, it’s out today and it’s a total blast from the past with excellent visuals, music and sound effects, replay value galore, and the perfect length (for those who know, most platform games weren’t over five or six so hours). The crowdfunded game arrives today on PC (Windows, Linux, Mac) and consoles (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch) and yes, is a must buy if you’re big on the retrogaming stuff (or just want a game that’s going to make you work hard in order to see everything).
It’s not a speedrunner at all (thankfully for us old and slow players!), so forget about direct comparisons to Sonic, Mario or other swifter mascot characters. The game combines its platforming with exploration elements out of the Legend of Zelda or Castlevania, but fans of classics such as the Wonder Boy games, Super Ghouls and Ghosts and Actraiser 2 will also see a few influences here. The Fox (i)n those Forests is named Rick and he’s conned into helping out the wise old sentient tree by a partridge named Patty he was planning to eat. Of course, that batty bird just so happens to own all the shops in the game, so guess who needs to spend his hard-earned gold coins at them?
While the well designed levels are presented in a linear manner, you won’t see every nook and cranny without effort. Backtracking for secrets and those needed gold coins is absolutely necessary to not only upgrade Rick’s gear, but to net him extra hearts and mana. While boosting health just requires enough gold, increasing that mana bar requires finding mana crystals that can extend Rick’s season-changing powers gifted to him by that talking tree. Those powers add a cool twist to the game by altering the environment in different ways depending on the level. There’s a short series of tutorials in the first stage that cover the basics, but the game doesn’t hold your hand outside of this. You’ll need a good memory for where hidden areas are and will need to hoof it back to these locations once you’re armed with the proper upgrades.
The game is decidedly old school in its difficulty with clever enemy placement, instant death pitfalls and other hazards to take careless players down for the count. Bosses are all large and fierce pattern happy pains that can be taken down in a snappy manner if you know what to do, but you won’t the first time you face them. Changing the season comes into play, but you’ll also want to have a spell potion or two handy as well as try not to get hit too much. The game offers up tips if Rick expires during a boss fight, but of course, there’s a Trophy for not using any hints (oops), as well as ones for using no magic potions (oops), surviving a level and not killing a single enemy (oops!). Hmmm, based on those and a few other Trophies I didn’t yet nab because they’re more skills based, it seems I’ll be using that third save file at some point to fire up a new game and go for that Platinum.
The game also tosses a brief nod to arcade shooters with Rick flying on Patty’s back as he tries to avoid death from pretty much everything. Swapping seasons helps out a lot as Patty is a poor substitute for a Vic Viper and only has a single heart. It’s pretty easy to get shot down or knocked out of action unless you’re so zoned in that you ace these segments as quickly as possible. As far as length goes, this is one of those games where skill determines that factor. I’d say skilled players can clear this in about six hours IF they know where everything is and can farm up gold in one of the bonus stages and any items needed to max out Rick’s upgrades, health and mana. My old fart status had me taking longer, but as the game isn’t timed, I wasn’t worried about how long it was at all because I was having a total blast playing at my own pace.
There are a few quirks here, however. I know I need a new Dual Shock 4, but I did notice once in a while some of Rick’s attacks or jumps didn’t register, which lead to him taking a hit or dying from a missed jump or fall into a bottomless pit. I’ll also bet some younger players or those with a lousy sense of direction may get frustrated that the game isn’t going to given them maps or even clue them in to where some of the harder to locate secrets lie (although there are clues in certain spots if you look closely for them). All I’ll say otherwise is try not to spoil the game completely by looking up 100% walkthrough videos because half of the fun is discovering the trickier to find goodies on your own.
So yes, go get this game, folks. It taps perfectly into that nostalgia a lot of us have for the classics while giving off those wonderful feelings of fun, exploration and yes, even a bit of frustration when there’s a missed jump or enemies coming at you from three sides of the screen (cheap!). Is there a sequel planned? I’ve no clue other than to bet if this one sells well across the board, that’s a possibility provided Bonus Level has more tricks up their sleeve. Hey, I’d take a Wonder Boy meets Golvellius-style followup with multiple season swapping in a level, but we’ll see what happens as the sales figures roll in, right?
Score: B+ (85%)
Review code provided by the publisher