Ary and the Secret of Seasons Hands-On – A girl for all seasons

Posted on August 9, 2020

Ary and the Secret of Seasons is an enjoyable game, full of colour and fun. Ary is Exiin’s first game, and it shows. It has an unpolished charm that can only come from a fledgling studio. And the same can be said for its creative spark. If nothing else, Ary and the Secret of Seasons is creative. There’s something so nostalgic about it.

Ary and the Secret of Seasons follows Ary; a young girl frustrated with her gender role and mourning her missing little brother. When presented with an opportunity to find her brother and save the world, she does the only thing she can. She takes her brother’s place as Guardian of Winter and set off on a grand adventure. I didn’t get to experience much of the story during my playtime. But what I did see was entertaining. The narrative feels like the lovechild of Mulan and the Last Airbender, which something I can definitely get behind.

The game plays like a love letter to the 3D platformers and action games of the late 90s to early 00s. the game world is laid out in sections, with each one jam-packed with nooks, crannies, and secrets to explore. I found myself just exploring what I could, jumping between rooftops, freezing waterfalls, and so on, all in an effort to find as many hidden gems as I could. Throw in an enjoyable soundtrack, and traversing the vibrant game world becomes a real delight.

Quests in Ary are obtained in a variety of different ways. Finding, undertaking, and competing quests feels very organic. Some I would stumble across, and others I would get from talking to villagers or reading signs. And the more I explored, the more I would find. It added into the sense of exploration the game fosters through its platforming. I remember completing some task that I thought I had just “discovered” only to find it was part of this quest I needed to progress later. All this makes the adventure feel organic.

Combat is a fairly straight forward affair. Like most modern games, it seems to be a mostly two-button situation. You find most encounters consist of parrying and then going in for the attack. Its as basic as combat nowadays gets. But with everything else the game has going for it, basic is not a bad thing. Things get a little more interesting when seasons start getting thrown around during battles. But overall, it’s solid yet bare-bones combat that serves the game well. The real interesting part is that the game actively encourages you to pick your battles; you’re told multiple times that some battles aren’t worth the risk. And it makes sense; for all her magic power, Ary is still a kid armed with a wooden sword. There’s no way she’s going to stand a chance against some massive hoard.

The season-based puzzles are the real star of the show. They’re where a lot of the creativity behind this title comes out to shine.  Strategic placement of element domes essential. Obstacles and traps are sometimes covered in a strange translucent shimmer effect, indicating they can be affected. But you can only have one to two domes active at a time. So, picking what to manipulate and when is key. More than once I found myself having to make some tricky decisions to bypass traps or obtain treasure.

In an industry where AAA publishers keep churning out the same game, it often falls to the indie scene to provide a palate cleanser. And that’s what Ary and the Secret of Seasons is. The game takes all that came before and builds upon it with clarity and purpose.  There’s just so much here that we don’t seem to get from most of the big names anymore. Bright visuals, a cartoonish art style, tight controls, and fun puzzle-solving; it all feels so fresh. And better yet, it’s fun.

This game, despite controlling somewhat jankily during certain moments, is a genuine blast to play. Smacking around enemies, blasting them with elements, solving puzzles, and platforming around areas is so enjoyable. But there are some things I hope they fix: The pixel mini-map is a fun idea but hard to navigate, and there were little glitches here and there that hindered a litter. Yet, even with those little hiccups in the preview version I played, so far this has been some of the most fun I’ve had all year. I look forward to seeing the final release come September 1st.