There’s hardly been a better time for fans of 3D platformers since the late 90s, especially with indie titles. Despite the good place the genre is in at the moment, Ary and The Secret of Seasons tries and falls short of expectations.
Ary and The Secret of Seasons feels like an attempt to follow in the footsteps of A Hat In Time and recapture that kind of gameplay. What has the potential to be a fantastic game is buried under a veritable mountain of issues.
Ary and The Secret of Seasons
Developer: eXiin, Fishing Cactus
Publisher: Modus Games
Platforms: Windows PC (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: September 1st, 2020
Despite all of its flaws, the story behind Ary and The Secret of Seasons is at least enough to grab attention, at first. The game is very much a fairytale kind of fantasy and that’s how it opens, with Ary reading a story to her stuffed animal. Long ago, an evil wizard threw the world into chaos and the Legendary Warrior managed to stop him.
This is the same situation Ary finds herself in. Red crystals have been falling from the sky and throwing the seasons into disorder. The Guardians of the Seasons call for a meeting, but Ary’s father- the Guardian of Winter- is grieving the loss of his son and apprentice Flynn. He went missing and is presumed dead.
With her father refusing and brother missing, Ary cuts her hair and borrows his clothes in a failed attempt to pretend to disguise herself. From there, Ary takes her father’s season orb, meets the other guardians, and is sent on a quest to retrieve the other orbs after they were stolen by a masked man intent on reviving the evil mage who had been sealed away.
It’s a very campy story and a lot of fun for those who like that sort of thing, which I do. But (while remaining spoiler free) the plot takes a hard turn near the end. It leaves more questions than answers (while possibly setting up for a sequel), but unfortunately these twists left me wondering why the events of the game even had to take place to begin with.
A throwback to 3D action platformers, players take on the role of the titular Ary as she jumps and swordfights her way through an fantastical adventure in the world of Valdi. Along the way she meets a colorful cast of characters including Prince Crocus, the Guardian of Summer Dagdann, and others.
Graphically, Ary and The Secret of Seasons manages to be bad and good at the same time. An impressive amount of detail went into Ary’s animations, especially the way she pulls levers, or widens her stance when balancing on a shaky platform.
In contrast, the NPCs are flat and stiff, the lip-syncing in voiced dialogue is completely off, and most NPCs don’t have an idle animation asides from blinking every couple seconds. Ary is an animated character surrounded by mere props.
The scenery and stage designs are creative, and the unique aesthetic for each seasonal region makes it easy to remember where you are. The detail that NPCs lack seems to have been placed in world design; ground clutter, wall textures, and fancy debris make the world feel alive.
Enemies and bosses also have good animations, but nonetheless a lot of the time spent in the first half of the game (roughly before you get the Spring and Autumn stones) is spent talking to NPCs.
On the topic of the first half of the game, the level design and pacing take a drastic turn. Once you begin exploring the seasonal temples, you can almost forget the slog of delivery and fetch quests that made up the early game.
Like most adventure games, early on the tutorial phase of things introduces mechanics with only some combat early on. Players spend a lot of time in Ary’s village running around, finding out how to interact with things, and eventually playing with your first season orb, Winter.
The game was announced during Gamescom 2018, however it’s difficult to tell what’s been going on since those two years. Ary and The Secret of Seasons suffers from constant bugs and issues that cheapen the gameplay experience.
Running around Ary’s village quickly shows many of the underlying problems that will be present throughout the game. Ary has inconsistent momentum on slopes, when going up a hill or stairs, and it’s faster to jump as her running speed slows down considerably.
Climbing is painfully slow, so slow that I assume it’s unintended. Sometimes it can literally take a whole minute to traverse a wall of vines. When swimming (before unlocking diving), Ary can only dog paddle on the surface, and the ability to jump out of the water is inconsistent. Sometimes the game won’t allow you to jump out unless you get just the right camera angle.
Moving onto the camera, when played with a mouse and keyboard, the mouse sensitivity is incredibly low. There is also no in-game option to up the camera sensitivity (I had to put my mouse up to 7300 DPI when playing this game). The camera will also misbehave by shaking violently when using some powers that create terrain, and when opening some chests.
Finally, the controls are just awful. The platforming isn’t tight, and the stage design isn’t consistent on what can and cannot be interacted with or how.
Sometimes, you’ll be able to stand on thin air because the space between the wooden beams of a roof still has collision, while other times you’ll fall through the floor because that missing brick on the bridge is actually missing. The inconsistencies are ironically one of the most consistent things.
But, these are easy problems to get used to. However, they’re another one of the little things that makes Ary and The Secret of Seasons feel cheap.
There are much larger bugs standing in the way of Ary and The Secret of Seasons. It’s worth noting that some of these are already going to be addressed by the developers, as reported previously.
I was able to buy the Pegasus Boots and wooden slingshot at a merchant when I was supposed to get them at the end of dungeons. I got soft-locked when fighting the Winter Golem as its animation glitched out and decided to just walk around the arena and was invulnerable. I tried killing myself with fall damage, but was ultimately forced to reload an older save.
Near the end I repeatedly found myself turning invisible, an issue which has been noted by the devs. I was actually able to fix this without restarting the game or dying by aiming down with the slingshot and shooting a season orb.
The music and sound design are also rough around the edges. As far as composition goes, each song is great. Most notably, the final boss fight and the fight with the Winter Golem have great tracks.
But the good news ends with the actual composition and sounds used, as the way they’re implemented is a mess. When dragging a piston for a puzzle, the game assaults your ears with the dragging squeak played simultaneously for what sounds like each pixel you move it.
Fight music for mobs starts and ends abruptly rather than fading properly. When trying to ignore enemies and focus on platforming you’ll be forced to hear the first couple of notes for the fight music repeatedly until you either force your way through that puzzle, or give up and decide to kill the annoying mushroom mobs that don’t even need to be there.
Ultimately, Ary and The Secret of Seasons is a tragically rushed title. I honestly wanted to like this game; I like the genre, the aesthetics, and the characters that are actually voiced. It’s a lighthearted action platformer with a unique plot, big adventure, and interesting bosses.
But this is a great game that’s collapsed under the weight of its own issues. Given another year or more of polishing the game; Ary and The Secret of Seasons could have stood up with other indie greats. It’s a painful amount of wasted potential.
Maybe many patches in the future Ary and The Secret of Seasons will be the great game it has the potential to be, but right now it feels like an unfinished product.
Ary and The Secret of Seasons was reviewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by Modus Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.