Indies and 2D platforming go hand in hand like a very happy couple, and in fact indie games seem to love harking back to 'the good old days' of gaming, where things were simpler and you only needed to navigate two dimensions. Bonus Level Entertainment's Fox n Forests is another game looking to give us a throwback experience, except rather than simply reproducing what's been done before and soaking in it like a warm bath, it adds something new to spice things up.
The central mechanic of the game is a crossbow that controls the season, and it's only by changing the season that you can navigate certain environments and solve challenges. How do you get across a lake when you're a fox that hates water? Why turn things to winter and freeze it of course. But then how do you climb the tree on the other side of the lake? Turn things back to summer and climb the luscious leaves that have sprouted from its branches.
This is also how the completionists among you will need to think in order to get all the collectables because tucked away in secret rooms and tricky passages are the select number of items you need to collect for that precious 100% completion figure. It's only by using the changing levels and the seasons in intuitive ways that you can make sure you find all of these, so thinking outside the box is definitely encouraged.
We've gone this far without mentioning the premise, which is very simple. You are a fox called Rick, but when you sneak up on Patty the partridge with the intention of having a little snack, Patty makes him an offer he can't refuse. If there's one thing capitalist foxes love more than food it's profit, and so when Rick is offered a chance to defeat the evil green-eyed horde in return for treasure, he takes the mantle and the magical crossbow from the Season Tree for his quest. As you might have guessed though, this isn't a game about story, and all you need to know is that you have to go from left to right and work some stuff out. It's a platformer after all.
The game is structured in such a way that there are set levels to complete, so it's not a Metroidvania affair, although the levels are rather meaty. Meaty enough, in fact, to have little checkpoints peppered throughout, although there's a catch; much like Moneybags the Bear in Spyro, these are guarded by a greedy badger who charges you for the privilege of using them, and there's an increasing cost. It's all about weighing up your options and prioritising what you need most: checkpoints or money.
As you've gathered, currency and financial gain are a pretty big part of this game, especially since the gold you collect within the levels from killing monsters and looting can be used when you return to the starting area. Here Patty has a number of upgrades to sell, which is all as you'd expect, including more health and better abilities. As you progress you get more powerful, and as you do this you find yourself more prepared for the bigger challenges, like the bosses.
These bosses are rather creative in design, but aren't particularly revolutionary, although they do make use of the same season-changing mechanics. In fact, the combat itself isn't particularly stunning, being comprised mostly of slashes and crossbow shots, and sometimes it even bordered on frustrating as we often found that Rick just didn't react when we were pressing down and attack for a ground swipe, for example.
Visually, you can imagine what we're talking about when we describe it as a throwback platformer, as of course, this comes with 16-bit graphics, colourful and varied worlds, and a host of fun enemies to tussle with. It's basic, and while other games like Shovel Knight have carved out their own identity in the genre despite clearly being reminiscent of older games, Fox n Forests felt a little lacking in this respect, despite the humour attempted between the characters.
If you want a platformer that's straightforward but still offers challenges both in terms of combat and puzzles, Fox n Forests is good fun, especially on the go whether you're on a train or waiting for a bus (we played it on Switch). The season-changing mechanic really helps separate it from other games in the platform genre (apart from Seasons After Fall, which we probably should have mentioned earlier), but even that mechanic isn't enough to make this feel like a completely fresh experience. It's not a classic of the genre by any means, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth your time.