Fox N Forests Nintendo Switch review

If you enjoyed Ghouls N Ghosts, then you may want to check out Fox N Forests. Here’s our review of the Nintendo Switch version...

Once a comparatively endangered species, the traditional side-scrolling platformer has enjoyed a huge revival over the past decade or so, with such indie classics as Braid, Super Meat Boy and Shovel Knight each reviving the genre for the modern era. Where major developers are largely avoiding the 2D platformer in favour of trendier types of videogame, indie developers have kept the genre going – which is roughly where Fox N Forests comes in.

Long before Street Fighter II became a phenomenon for Capcom, the Japanese developer terrorised arcades with Ghosts N Goblins and its sequel Ghouls N Ghosts – a pair of run-and-gun platformers that, with their armies of zombies and monsters and brave hero in shining armour, looked very different from most other games cluttering up arcades at the time.

Indeed, it was the visuals that softened what were and remain a pair of horrendously difficult games; that the central character was stripped down to a pair of white boxer shorts when he took a hit from an enemy made Capcom’s Ghosts games seem far more playful than they actually were. In reality, the franchise had murder in its eyes from the very beginning; zombies would spawn randomly from the ground, and the jumping mechanics meant that the player was unable to alter their trajectory in mid-air. As fun and well-designed as the games were, they were quite horrifyingly hard to master.

Fox N Forests is clearly inspired by Ghouls N Ghosts, and indeed, it’s one of the names invoked by developer Bonus Level Entertainment – and with its run-and-gun action and constant onslaught of enemies, it certainly feels a lot like Capcom’s classic, at least at first. But what’s immediately clear is that Bonus Level hasn’t replicated the difficulty curve of those old arcade games; it’s a far more approachable, friendly game than even something modern like Super Meat Boy, which, thanks to some engaging level design and mechanics, is by no means a bad thing.

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Playing as the title Fox (incidentally named Rick) it’s your job to save a series of forests from an evil entity of some sort; what it all boils down to is a fun romp through a string of colourful worlds loaded with enemies, platforms, mini puzzles and hidden items to collect. What separates Fox N Forests from the 80s and 90s games it emulates is its season mechanic; Rick the Fox is armed with an enchanted crossbow which, at the press of a shoulder button, shifts the environment from one time of year to another. 

Visually, this means you’ll be surrounded by blue skies and white clouds one minute, say, and snow drifts and ice the next. It’s a thoroughly pleasing effect, reminiscent of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, another throwback to an 80s videogame series.

Mechanically, the season switching creates new platforms and paths through each level; shifting from spring to autumn, for example, will cause leaves to fall from the trees, which Rick can use as jumping-off points to unreachable areas. Similarly, stretches of water in summer will freeze in winter, and vines that are bare in spring will produce fruit in the summer – which, again, can be used as platforms.

It’s not a massively original idea, and with each stage having only two season to switch between at any point, it’s kept relatively simple, but Bonus Level make wonderfully imaginative use of it from an art and animation standpoint – the 16-bit-style pixel graphics in Fox N Forests are lovely, and it’s often fun just to explore the levels and see how they react as you shift between seasons. 

The game’s also structured to give players a reason to visit each stage. There are hidden seeds that have to be collected in order to unlock new areas on the overworld map, which you’ll struggle to find on one pass through. Similarly, there are special archery boards that will have to be struck with a corresponding coloured arrow weapon in order to unlock their secrets. All of this means there’s a fair bit of going back and forth between stages, but the expansive of their layouts, with multiple paths to explore in either season, means it’s seldom as repetitive as this might sound.

Killing enemies and opening chests will also provide a wealth of other items, the most prevalent being coins – an in-game currency you can spend on upgrades (shields, extra health and weapons) or, during the levels, you can clever choose to spend some of them on unlocking checkpoints, which creates a neat little dilemma if you choose to engage with it – is it better to hoard up all your coins to spend in the shop, or should you save time by paying to unlock the checkpoints in case you die and end up back at the stage’s beginning? 

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By default, Rick’s an agile hero, and thankfully, he isn’t joined by the stiffness of movement that Ghouls N Ghosts’ protagonist was lumbered with – he can use melee attacks with a sword and fire at distant enemies with his crossbow, he can move around in the air when he jumps, and he can even acquire a jump-spin attack if he buys the right upgrade. There’s sometimes a little bit of a confusion as to when Rick will unleash a melee or a ranged attack (in our experience, the game doesn’t always detect whether an enemies close enough or not to trigger one or the other, which can be confusing) but the relative generosity of energy-boosting items and lack of one-hit kills mean this is rarely a major frustration.

With some jaunty chiptune themes and handsome designs – particularly the bosses, like a gigantic killer wasp – Fox N Forests has clearly been made with a lot of love, even if it doesn’t quite have the mechanical polish of Shovel Knight or the head-scratching depth of a platform-puzzler like Braid.

As a fast-paced and colourful homage to a bygone era of console gaming, though, Fox N Forests comes highly recommended as a refreshing nostalgia fix.

Fox N Forests is out now for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.


4 out of 5