QCF: Fox 'N Forests

hen people think about video game nostalgia, their minds immediately fix upon images of pixelated sprites, alongside beats of synthesized chiptune sounds, and other trademarks from the early years of the medium. With so many throwbacks, and love letters out on the market these days, developers are now more pressed to celebrate the past in a way that’s more innovative than a majority of the retro-inspired titles that are currently flooding storefronts; callbacks are now starting to pull from some of the more nuanced moments of gaming history.

Which brings us to Bonus Level Entertainment’s Fox ‘N Forests, a 2D action-platforming side-scroller that was Kickstarted back in 2016 in an effort to deliver a very specific kind of nostalgia—the kind that’s reserved for a majority of the early SNES titles that defined the system before fighting games swept the scene. While there’s plenty of fan service to indulge upon and enjoy in this self-aware romp, a majority of Fox ‘N Forest’s charm is fleeting at best, and largely obnoxious the rest of the time, or worse—all too forgettable.

Giving credit where credit’s due, Fox ‘N Forests knows exactly what kind of game it is, as it makes it a point to pay reverence to Nintendo’s 16-bit machine with every chance that it gets, taking a bit too much pride in being a nostalgia act in the process. Everything in the aesthetic of the indie platformer just screams Super Nintendo, from the parallax scrolling, to the eerily accurate recreation of the console’s S-SMP sound chip production, complete with the faux surround sound effects, and Korg-fueled percussion that permeates the game’s audio. Presentation aside, Bonus Level Entertainment made sure to drive home the theme even further with some of the SNES games that it draws inspiration from.

Taking cues from cult-classic SNES gems like Act Raiser and Skyblazer, Fox ‘N Forests is action-RPG platforming hybrid that throws players into an assortment of heavy-handed levels that are crafted with punishing design, and tedious length. The starting screen opens up with the titular fox himself, Rick, a hungry miscreant who gets roped into saving forest after wizened old magical tree promises him a good reward if he plays along. The tree gifts him with the biggest gimmick in the game, a magical crossbow that grants him “control” over the seasons and the weather and environment that accompany them, and believeme when I say that those are some heavy quotes that I put on the word “control.” The hook behind shifting the seasons is how they affect the arrangement of the level, marginally alternating the stage so that certain obstacles are removed, or adding new routes that weren’t previously accessible. In the winter, for instance, Rick is able to cross a lake because of the cold season freezing it solid, or giant autumn leaves that float through the air as makeshift platforms to hop across when the season of Fall is triggered.

While the feature sounds promising, its execution leaves a lot to be desired, as its far less than it initially suggests. Firstly, its utility is largely tied to the linearity of level progression itself, as there are very few optional routes to uncover by using the ability, and secondly, Rick will only have access to switching between two seasons that are already pre-set for that given stage at a time, with temporary access to the secondary season through timed activations, complete with an annoying cooldown and all. The novelty of the ability quickly dwindles away within the first few stages, and the remainder of the gameplay otherwise is honestly just uninspired.

One of the main elements of progression are the collectible coins that are scattered through each stage of the game. Coins are spent in a number of ways, like upgrades towards for Rick’s health, Season mana, and melee attacks or on one of the numerous checkpoints that’re managed by irritating NPC named “Badger” who charges a premium that climbs steadily higher in price the further in the level that you engage him in. If a player loses their life in the stage, they’re either sent back to the last checkpoint they purchased, or the beginning of the stage, with only the gold they arrived with at that spawn-point, making it all the more grueling for frugal players who don’t finance a timeshare at the Badger’s checkpoint. Here lies the difficulty of Fox ‘N Forests as the efficiency of a player’s pace in it all hinges on how much gold is earned at the end of each level. Any income that’s earned can be dashed away in seconds by  Fox ‘N Forests’ insistence with incorporating some particularly annoying aspects of older game design, like poor hit-detection, which often leads to the all-too obnoxious knockback from an injury that’s potent enough to send you careening into the nearest bottomless pit.

Just as the appeal of the season-changing dynamic was short-lived, so too is the endeavor to play as skillfully as you can within an outing that clumsily hearkens back to conventions that were better left in the past—the game unabashedly comes off like a counterfeit Shovel Knight at times.

While there were a few neat abilities that encouraged backtracking through older levels for item gathering and completion, and a handful of auto-scrolling shoot-em up levels that broke up the pace of the game’s long-winded platforming, I honestly just couldn’t be bothered to enjoy Fox 'N Forests as much as I actually wanted to. There’s a lot of potential here that’s held down by shortsighted execution, and a load of superficial pandering that borders on the level of an “only 90’s kids will remember” meme. Fox ‘N Forests does look, and play like a bonafide SNES title, but that certainly doesn’t make it a good game, remember that system is also home to such hits like Lester the Unlikely, and Mohawk & Headphone Jack—temper your expectations with this one if you decide to bite down on that twenty dollar price tag.

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