From the opening moments Ary and the Secret of Seasons presents itself as a game that you can’t help but like. It has beautiful cartoon-style animation, an adorable main character and cut scenes that are shockingly good in their presentation value. Unfortunately, the things it does well are offset by technical issues that make it hard to give the game a full recommendation at launch.
Starting with the good, it is truly incredible the small Belgian studio behind the game, eXiin, was able to get such impressive animation into the game. The art style is attractive in gameplay, but the cut scenes are worthy of a movie. The strong voice acting of the main character, Ary, gives extra life to those moments as well. The Shrek-like world is definitely in the family game category, and the colorful world complements that well.
The cut scenes are so good that it’s a shame there isn’t more voice acting and in-game dialogue. Much of the dialogue is presented in text, which is more standard for an indie game from a small studio.
Presentation aside, the game plays like an old-school game. It’s a third-person action-adventure game with platforming and puzzle elements as well. It could easily be a mascot game from the late 90s or early 2000s. There’s even an 8-bit minimap that drives that home.
The combat is mostly ordinary. There are a few interesting boss battles, but those are more puzzle-based than driven by combat. The platforming is fun enough, although it is somewhat imprecise. Puzzles and exploration drive the gameplay though.
Ary seeks out crystals that hold the power of each of the four seasons. That drives the puzzle elements of the gameplay. There are four cities that are permanently in one season. For example, using the winter crystal can reveal frozen platforms. Summer can melt ice if you need to get under water. Fall can give you vines to climb on if they are around.
By the second half of the game, the environmental puzzles became surprisingly complicated considering how straight forward the first few hours of the game were. I found some to be satisfyingly thoughtful while others were a bit frustrating.
This overall package comes together for an impressive 8-10 hour game, when it works properly. I ran into a number of issues in my playthrough on a launch PlayStation 4. The camera can be wonky at times. Sometimes I would get the prompt to initiate a conversation and nothing would happen. One time, the conversation would start properly, but the dialogue box would be empty. Even worse, Ary disappeared from the screen a few times so I had to reload the save. I also endured significant frame rate dips at specific moments in the last couple hours of the game.
The worst experience was when I nearly broke my save. Admittedly, this was mostly my fault because I thought I had what I needed from an area and fast traveled out of a temple. I then discovered I needed to do one more thing there and now couldn’t get back the way I came in. I was able to brute force my way back to the temple by awkwardly jumping along the side of a building that was not designed to be jumped on.
While the cut scenes and art style show eXiin punching way above its weight, the technical issues are not the biggest surprise for a somewhat ambitious game from a small studio. The game received a patch before launch and the developer told me another is pending review for consoles. It sounds like a chunk of the issues will be resolved over time so this might be a game to check out in a couple weeks or more.
Even if the technical issues get fixed, the generic combat keeps the game from being something special. There isn’t much of the combat so that’s not a major issue. A version of Ary and the Secret of Seasons that runs better is a good game, but not quite a great game.
It’s a tough game to recommend because it has enough issues that I was a little embarrassed for it. That sounds harsh, but I was picturing showing this game off to someone and constantly trying to explain away its little faults. If it gets patched up, it could be a good game to experience together as parent and child. However, unless you’re looking for this specific genre of child-friendly, cartoony Zelda clone, it’s not good enough to draw from outside its niche. If you saw the trailer and thought it was right up your alley, you’ll probably have a good time with it.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons is out now on Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
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