Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
September 1, 2020
eXiin, Fishing cactus
When I first watch the trailer for Ary and the Secret of the Seasons my first reaction was that the game looked hella cute. A small girl named Ary taking over her father’s place as the Guardian of Winter and in doing so, totally sticking it to patriarchal traditions? Hell yeah, count me in!
This action-adventure 3D platformer is set in the land of Valdi and is sectioned off into four towns that each represent the four seasons. Each world has a slightly different feel to the next, but reminds me a lot of ancient cities such as Japan (Winter), Greece (Summer) and Venice (the Prince’s castle) which gives the game a lovely old-worldy charm to it. You start your adventure in the world of Winter, Ary’s home, where you find that her brother, Flynn, has gone missing. Her father, who is the Guardian of Winter, is in a deep depression due to this loss. Ary and her mother go along their daily routine until Ary gets into a fight with a bunch of wild and wacky hyenas, and one of them just happens to have Flynn’s sword…
Ary, being the headstrong badass she is, insists that she go along to the Guardian of the Seasons meeting her father will be missing due to his present state of mind. Though her mother insists she will do no such thing, seeing as the position of Guardian is reserved for men. Ary obviously doesn’t listen and pulls a Mulan: She chops off her long locks, puts on her brother’s clothes, and heads off to find her brother. She also takes along her father’s “borrowed” winter stone and her brother’s sword to aid her. On her journey, she finds that the seasons have gone all haywire, with the regions experiencing weather they never have before. So not only are you tasked with finding your big bro, but you also now need to find the secret behind these strange seasonal changes.
You start off with only winter at your fingertips, but as the game progresses, you will also get the power of summer, autumn and spring. The seasons let you change the environment into the season of your choice. For example, melting ice with the power of summer to access hidden passages and creating floating icicles that can be jumped on to reach higher platforms. These seasonal abilities are super cool and are a puzzle in themselves. I kept on wandering around experimenting to see how Ary’s seasonal powers could aid me in my journey. You can cast all the seasons at once, which is nifty for puzzle dungeons.
These dungeons were super fun and challenging. They are filled with puzzles that need Ary’s seasonal powers to be solved. For example, you can use the season of winter to flood a certain area, which will let her swim to higher platforms. If there are ruins around, you can activate a season within them and the seasonal powers reach will become greater. What’s tricky about these puzzles however is that there are no instructions on how to use the seasons or objects around you to better aid Ary. It meant I was stuck on puzzles for a lot longer than I should have been. I would also receive objects and have no idea what they were to be used for, such as a weird jet pack looking thing. It was only later on that I found it was a key to a boss battle room. The game’s lack of instructions made my experience with it a tad frustrating and more than once I found myself muttering “what the hell am I supposed to do with this?!”
I also found myself saying, “where the hell am I supposed to go next?!” as the objectives never tell you exactly where you should be headed. Open up the regional map does reveal waypoints, but its flat pixelated form makes it hard to know exactly which way is the correct way to go. I found myself running around in circles quite a bit.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward. The “double jump” feature is especially cool and gets you to super hard to reach places. Combat is easy, with two to three whacks of your sword being enough to fell most baddies. There’s also a cool counterattack move that leaves enemies stunned so you can do extra damage. What I wasn’t a fan of is that when you entered the same area, the exact same enemies respawned in the exact same locations. This became tiresome and not at all fun, so I sprinted through them to get to where I was going to avoid repetitive gameplay.
Other objects that are scattered around, such as chests, were fun to discover. They always hold coins of different amounts depending on how hard it is to find them. I saved up my hard-earned coins to get a weapon I really wanted, the slingshot. However, when I purchased it, the game didn’t tell me how to use it. I eventually found out how, but its mechanics were lacklustre. The stones, even with the upgrade of “extra slingshot projection” would land helplessly near my feet.
Upgrades and cosmetics can be purchased from vendors that you find along your journey. They include stronger combat, health and agility which can be purchased with your coins. You can also buy Ary new tunics, and wait for it… colourful wigs! Those wigs though must be made of the finest Valdi horsehair, as they were pricey! Plus, why would you invest in something like that when Ary’s haircut is so symbolic of how she’s smashing the patriarchy? I didn’t find that my combat improved any with these upgrades though, so like Uncle Scrooge McDuck, I hoarded my money as I didn’t find anything else worthwhile to spend it on.
The story and characters is where this game shines. Ary’s personality and her commitment to protecting her world are super-duper adorable. The Guardians of the Seasons, who you meet mid-game, are an eccentric bunch of men who love to get their drink and boogie on. It was sweet and funny to see that these men of wisdom didn’t take things too seriously and were up for a laugh.
“Ary’s personality and her
commitment to protecting her
world is super duper adorable.”
The cut scenes made me feel like I was a kid, watching my favourite Saturday morning cartoon shows. They’re bright, funny and full of heart. In contrast, the conversation with NPCs fell flat due to the use of textbox conversations and emotive expressions. I had one conversation with a fisherman who just kept on yelping loudly, which was jarring and didn’t fit into the chill and whimsical feel of the game. NPCs across the board were pretty underwhelming. They either stood around in clusters, saying and doing nothing or repeated the same things that another NPC had just said. This made the game feel a little unfinished.
It wasn’t just the lack of life of the NPCs that sometimes made it feel like I was playing a BETA copy of the game, but also the world itself. Some stretches of land have nothing of interest around, or, where there were beautiful temples, doorways, rooftops, they were sometimes entirely void of life and goodies. It made the world feel a tad empty.
Unfortunately, I also ran into quite a few glitches. Some NPCs had chat options available but I couldn’t talk to them, a pond had no water animation, and I became stuck in certain areas and had to reboot the game. All these little annoying moments took away from the soothing and fun experience I’m sure the devs were aiming for.
Though the game was enjoyable and extremely cute and had some really touching moments, the negatives really did impact on my ability to truly fall in love with this game.
- Ary is a strong, take no prisoners, female protagonist
- Playing around with seasons adds depth to gameplay
- Cutscenes burst with colour and heart
- Feels unfinished in some places
- Game mechanics can be glitchy
- Some lifeless NPCs
Ary and the Secret of the Seasons is a game that had a lot of potential. The premise of a young girl having the seasons literally at her fingertips and using its powers to bring peace to her world is creative and fun. It does achieve a lot – it is whimsical and beautiful and Ary is such a joy to play as. It was just the glitches and sometimes empty nature of the world, the repetitive gameplay and the lack of direction that made me not enjoy the experience as much as I thought I would.
I think the game needed a bit more time in development to truly shine; erase the above issues and it would have been one of my favourite games of 2020 so far due to its magical storyline and Ary’s strength. A bit more time for the devs to fill up the world with more life, make the NPCs less like cardboard cut-outs and give players a bit more direction would make this game really shine.