by September 1, 2020 @ 9:40 am
Reviewed on PlayStation 4
It’s been a busy few weeks for fans of Zelda-like titles. Near the end of August, Phoenotopia: Awakening brought back fond memories of Zelda 2 while providing a well-received adventure of its own. Just last week, Windbound channeled its inner Wind Waker and Breath of the Wild, delivering a survival experience with some fun sailing mechanics. And now we have Ary and the Secret of Seasons from eXiin and Fishing Cactus. Clearly inspired by Zelda, Ary and the Secret of Seasons features fun puzzles and exploration, though it’s a bit rough around the edges.
You play as the titular Ary, a young girl whose brother has gone missing. With her parents distraught, Ary sets out to look for her brother, who she believes is alive after finding his old sword. While apprehensive at first, Ary’s mom decides to let her go on her journey. It isn’t long before Ary is wrapped up in a more sinister scheme after she discovers that the land’s leaders have lost their magical season-based gems.
The story of Ary and the Secret of Seasons isn’t bad. In fact, it’s a solid setup for the adventure. There’s a slight Pixar-esque charm to some of the cutscenes and character dialogue. That said, it’s not without a few cringey moments. Also, some of those character designs are kind of ugly. In any case, the plot works well enough — it’s not overly imposing, and it establishes Ary and the world around her.
Speaking of which, exploring that world is a lot of fun. Using the powers of the seasons that you obtain along the way, you’ll be able to solve puzzles to advance in your environments. These puzzles are never overly difficult, but they do a great job of encouraging you to interact with the game world. You’ll summon platforms that allow you to reach hidden areas. You’ll turn enemies into blocks you can push over switches to trigger doors. You’ll uncover hidden treasure chests. Experimenting with your abilities is a great deal of fun thanks to how intuitive it is.
A lot of the game’s puzzles are designed to help you progress in pretty straightforward fashion. That said, there are reasons to explore outside the main quest line. You’ll meet a few NPCs along the way that enlist your services. These side quests usually involve moving around the map and retrieving a lost item, but despite their simplicity, these optional objectives are enjoyable.
While solving puzzles and moving through the game’s dungeon-like locales, I got early-era 3D Zelda vibes from Ary and the Secret of Seasons. Using a simplified version of the Zelda series’ format, the game is able to provide worthwhile and satisfying objectives.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons utilizes platforming mechanics much more than the Zelda series ever has, and these moments are quite delightful. Admittedly, controlling Ary could have felt a bit better. She’s a little slippery, and her jumps are floaty. The controls aren’t necessarily unwieldy, but they do feel a bit under-polished.
That’s sort of a problem when playing Ary and the Secret of Seasons. There’s an undeniable quality and charm to the gameplay, but parts of it feel incomplete. I never experienced any bugs while playing, but I did deal with stiff character animations and a less-than-stellar camera. Thankfully, these issues aren’t game-breaking, but they can affect your engagement with the game.
Like the puzzles, combat is simple. Similar to Windbound, the action mechanics of Ary and the Secret of Seasons are a throwback to old school Zelda titles. Combat works well enough, allowing you to lock on, dodge roll, and counterattack enemy offense. Aside from a few snazzy moves, though, it can still feel pretty mindless. Combat sequences are decent, and they can even be fun, but I almost wish these action mechanics would’ve been stripped out of the game entirely as they hardly enhance the overall experience.
A Solid Adventure with a Lack of Polish
While the gameplay of Ary and the Secret of Seasons is solid, if a bit rough, the lack of polish is more present in the presentation. The colorful settings are okay, but there’s no way to get past the fact that the game looks like a weaker early PS3 or Xbox 360 game.
Aside from the low-quality graphics, the technical presentation suffers, too. You’ll see a lot of screen-tearing, choppy animations, and weird pop-in textures and objects. In addition, the game does this weird thing after cutscenes where you’ll see an image — usually a shot of the angle you had the camera in before the cutscene — flash on the screen for a split-second. It’s jarring, and it sticks out because it happens after most cutscenes.
A lot of the game’s menus and user interface are kind of bad, and they give the impression that Ary and the Secret of Seasons was rushed. Accessing your inventory should be a simple, one-button affair, but you’ll need to pause the game, scroll down to the inventory option, and select it there. In 2020, this lack of a quick-access inventory menu feels lazy. In addition, the way your objectives are listed on the screen in small generic text feels like something that you’d see in a beta build.
It’s a bummer that Ary and the Secret of Seasons suffers from some pretty noticeable technical issues. As it is, this is a good game — a very good game — but it could’ve been a great game. Solving puzzles and exploring the world make for some really enjoyable moments. There’s also a nice level of charm to the game and its world. It’s certainly worth checking out, especially if you’re in need of a Zelda-styled fix, but go in knowing that, in its current state, Ary and the Secret of Seasons is both entertaining and rough.
Score: 7.5 out of 10
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