Fox n Forests

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Bonus Level Entertainment for PC, Mac, Linux, Switch, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2018.
Fox n Forests is a platformer starring a Rick, a fox who is granted the power to change the seasons. While this premise may sound suspiciously similar to that of Seasons After Fall – which also starred a season-changing fox – the games are quite different. Where Seasons After Fall was a metroidvania focusing on puzzle-platforming, Fox n Forests is a more straightforward level-based platformer with light puzzle elements and short branching paths. Here, players must face off against a variety of enemies using a crossbow and bayonet, with new attacks purchased along the way.

The opening cutscene reveals Rick sneaking up on a singing partridge in hopes of making the bird his dinner. The text states that Rick is going to “commit a little crime”, although given the anthropomorphized characters, it seems like his intended crime is murder. The partridge – named Patty – manages to convince Rick that she tastes terrible, and then proceeds to inform her would-be killer that she would like his help to fight off a bunch of bad guys in exchange for copious amounts of treasure. The plan works, and Rick agrees to take on the quest while still hoping to kill and eat Patty later.

Patty introduces Rick to a wizened old tree outside the village, called the Season Tree. The Season Tree informs Rick that he needs to collect pieces of bark to restore the tree’s power and prevent the coming of a devastating fifth season. He gives the fox a magical crossbow that lets him kill enemies, and which also allows him to change seasons at will. The dialogue exchange between Rick, Patty, and the Season Tree is a bit ridiculous, and the overall narrative is filled with this sort of silliness, particularly in pre-fight dialogue exchanges with bosses, which tend to be filled with puns.

Rick begins the game with a 1.5x nonvariable jump and a double jump, along with the ability to duck. He can also fire off bolts from his crossbow, but he can only do so while standing still; it is not possible to use the weapon while running or jumping. To balance this, Rick has several melee attacks, which include a short-range slash while ducking, a medium-range slash when pressing UP and attacking, and a spinning slash while jumping… but this spinning slash does not work when double jumping. Later in the game, the player can purchase a wider-range attack that can be executed while double jumping, although the regular spin attack is still used when performing a normal jump.

This somewhat convoluted combat systems makes dealing with certain enemies overly difficult. For instance, there are popup tree stumps that fire off projectiles when you stand in front of them, but they are otherwise invincible. In most games with these kinds of enemies (e.g., mets from the Mega Man series), you would lure the enemy to fire at you and then jump to avoid its attacks while firing off a few bullets of your own. Here, you can’t fire while jumping, and if you perform a double jump to avoid the incoming projectiles, then you can’t perform a melee strike on your way back down, and standing still to fire your crossbow or to duck and slash opens you up to taking damage. These stationary enemies don’t pose much of a threat, but their design showcases the inflexibility of the combat system.

The game is made up of four areas, with two levels and a boss encounter in each, and these areas are each themed after one of the four seasons. While the fox has the power to change seasons at will, he does not cycle through them; instead, at the press of a button, a preset alternate season is overlaid onto the playfield. Alternating seasons allows the player to overcome obstacles and defeat certain enemies. For instance, changing to the winter season causes beehives to freeze over and become harmless, turns standing water into frozen walkways, and causes jumping electric eels to smash themselves to death on the ice below. Switching to the fall season causes heavy foliage to disappear, revealing platforms that were otherwise obscured by the leaves, or causes large leaves to fall which may then be used as platforms.

In some cases, swapping between states doesn’t alter the seasons per se... One level sees the player climbing a tower, where alternating the state swaps between a new and aged version of the environment. In the alternate “season”, elevators, conveyor belts, and spinning knife blades are stopped in time, but enemies continue to move about.

Moving into the alternate season slowly drains your mana bar, and when it is depleted, the season switches back. The meter recharges slowly over time – and there is a threshold that must be crossed before seasons can be changed again – and blue gems may be picked up in the environment to restore the meter more quickly. In addition, as you upgrade your crossbow, each of the new bolt types drains the meter slightly when fired… and depleting the meter temporarily prevents you from firing (although you can switch back to your weaker default bolts).

The default wooden crossbow bolts may be fired without impacting your mana meter, and up to three can be onscreen at a time. After defeating the first boss, a 3-way shot is unlocked, allowing bolts to fire straight forward and upward at angles (but no downward angle). The 3-way shot is more powerful – particularly at close range, as multiple bolts can make contact with an enemy – but its firing rate is slower. Next up is a rapid fire shot that is essentially an improved version of the default bolts; it fires three shots at a time and has a moderate firing rate. Finally, there is a boomerang shot that is very powerful but uses up mana much more quickly.

Each of these three weapons is color-coded and corresponds to archery targets spread around the levels. The 3-way shot is green, rapid fire is red, and the boomerang shot is blue. By shooting targets with the associated bolt type, small floating platforms appear in the air, allowing you to reach side paths or shortcuts. You encounter archery targets of varying colors before you gain the corresponding bolt upgrades, so you need to bear these in mind for return trips to the levels. Side paths often lead to seeds, which are required in order to make overall progress in the game.

Each level contains five magic seeds, which are always placed off the beaten path. By planting these seeds in special pots in the village, additional routes are opened. At the start of the game, the player can access a single branch on the world map, which consists of two levels and a boss encounter. There are three additional routes to be opened by collecting enough seeds in each level, as well as special bonus levels that are unlocked after collecting all 10 seeds along a particular route.

The first new route only requires four seeds, but the second requires 12, and the third requires 24. This means that you’ll be doing a lot of backtracking as you replay levels to acquire all of the necessary seeds to move forward, and the levels are very large compared to those found in other platformers. Furthermore, since new bolt types aren’t unlocked until you defeat bosses, some levels will need to be revisited several times in order to reach all of the available seeds, which means a lot of repeated gameplay.

Some side paths do not lead to seeds, but rather to whetstones, crystals, or glass vials… and some just lead to treasure chests containing money (which is otherwise readily available), or worse, to trapped treasure chests containing ghost enemies that attack you when the chests are opened. These false secrets mislead the player into expending effort for no gain, thus leading to disappointment.

Whetstones are needed to increase the power of your melee attacks, crystals are needed to increase your mana bar, and glass vials are used to store single-use magic potions that act as special attacks when you’re in a pinch. Four glass vials can be found across the game world, and each can store one of six potions that may be purchased from a shop in town for a nominal fee. Additional upgrades may be purchased with coins, which are found by killing enemies, opening chests, and smashing objects. These upgrades include new types of melee attacks and a longer health meter, which begins with five hearts and can be upgraded to 10.

Since the player must pass through levels multiple times, he amasses a large number of coins. However, collected coins, seeds, and other items are lost upon death, unless the player pays to use a checkpoint. Checkpoints are managed by a badger named Retro, who has a very limited number of quips about other video games. At first, the cost to use a checkpoint is quite low, but the price increases for checkpoints further into the level, and later levels have higher price thresholds.

Checkpoints appear at a moderate rate, with the player encountering about five in any given level. Unless players are really sure of their skills or are in desperate need to build up money, checkpoints are always worth the cash. There are numerous instances throughout the game where players can be killed instantly, and there are also some blind jumps that may send the player into dangerous enemies or instant death. Also, while weaker enemies reduce the player’s health meter by only half a heart, there are some tougher foes that can do significantly more damage, making it possible to die in just a few hits.

The game’s bosses are visually impressive but functionally very basic. Players can only damage bosses in very specific ways, requiring them to wait out the bosses’ attack patterns and then change seasons to open up the ability to cause damage. Otherwise, bosses remain invincible until the pattern is repeated, and there are no possible alternate tactics. When the player is killed, he is offered a popup tip that tells him exactly which steps are needed to defeat the boss.

Gameplay is changed up from time to time with level-specific challenges, such as foggy areas that become clear when swapping seasons, a boss comprised entirely of a vertical chase sequence, and a couple of shmup-style levels. These shmup levels don’t offer as many opportunities to get coins, but they go by quickly and have seeds that are easier to find. Unfortunately, the level that takes place in a cave does a poor job of communicating which elements are part of the foreground, midground, and background, making it very likely that the player will fly face-first into a solid object and die, and some objects are obscured by foreground elements.

Fox n Forests was developed by Bonus Level Entertainment, based in Munich, Germany, in conjunction with Independent Arts Software. Music for the game was composed by Filippo Beck Peccoz. The game was funded in part by a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The game was published by EuroVideo (EuroVideo Medien GmbH) which previously published The Dwarves, Shock Tactics, Expeditions: Viking, Everspace, and Ostwind. The game was published under the studio’s Wild River label.