The story goes a little something like this: A feisty little girl named Ary lives in a world called Valdi with her mother, father, and her big brother. Valdi is separated into four regions with each region representing a season. Ary’s homeland is supposed to be winter but something has sent the world into chaos. Summer is winter and winter is summer and all hell is breaking loose. This sounds like a job for the Guardian of Winter. Unfortunately, Ary’s father is the Guardian of Winter and when we meet him, he is inconsolable after an accident that has him in a wheelchair and his son/apprentice missing. When we meet Ary, like Arya Stark from Game of Thrones, she is desperate to be taken seriously as a girl in a man’s world. Unlike the Girl With No Name, our Ary is not a stealthy killing machine born in the fiery pits of revenge, but an adorable young girl who is both brave and resilient. After Ary finds her brother’s wooden sword, she cuts her hair, steals her missing brother’s clothes, and sets off to save the world.
Most of the dialogue is written out on the screen and accompanied by grunts and moans that serve as an indicator of the speaker’s mood and intent. But there is over an hour of animated cutscenes with full voice acting that really shine in showing just how adorable but tough Ary really is. This is one of many examples of how Developer eXiin, and Fishing Cactus managed to raise the bar on what to expect from an “indie” game in this genre.
As I mentioned, Ary and the Secret of Seasons is an action-adventure platformer that bears a strong resemblance to many of your favorite games from the late ’90s. You’ll find or purchase weapons along the way and find plenty of treasure chest full of booty. You’ll need to acquire several special gadgets to open up new areas like boots that allow double jumps, a magic ring – or Link (wink) as it’s called – that allows you to drag certain items around. The one aspect of the game that sets it apart is Ary’s ability to harness the seasons. Early on, you’ll be able to create a small bit of winter around you. This feels like you’re in a snowglobe and it is quite cool. Eventually, you’ll be able to wield all four seasons and you’ll need to do this in battles and to solve puzzles. Need to freeze a river that you cant cross due to its strong current? Freeze it. Or maybe you need to thaw a giant wall of ice? There is an app for that too. It’s a unique mechanic that takes some practice but is pretty cool when you get the hang of it.
The world of Valdi is larger than I expected and diverse. It’s full of environmental puzzles and genuinely rewards treasure hunters. The platforming is solid and mainly feels fluid. With jumping, double jumping, and dodge/rolls, you’ll feel in control of Ary when bouncing around the world. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the combat. You’ll use various swords and maces throughout the game, and I purchased a slingshot at the outset. This slingshot was little more than a nuisance to the enemies early on, but what can I say, I like to have a ranged weapon. It probably stems from my desire to avoid confrontation. But anyway, the slingshot is equipped at all times, so it was a good way to start a fight and get a few blows in before we clashed swords. Sadly, the combat never came together for me. There is a parry button that was way too inconsistent to use, as simply jumping or rolling away worked better. Also, you can’t do two things at once, which always rubs me the wrong way. I mean when you jump, you can’t swing your weapon until you land. It’s not the only game that does this, but it feels like a cut corner. Swing, swing, roll and repeat until all of the enemies are dispatched. The bosses require a little more strategy, but it’s still missing something.
Besides the combat, the menu system doesn’t feel quite done yet, either. You can equip different weapons but there is no way of knowing which one is better. Does this mace do one point more damage than this sword I just found? I need to know! You can purchase upgrades to your weapon skills, combat agility, and your ability to control the seasons but no numbers to fully explain the improvements. My slingshot went from doing nearly zero damage to killing many enemies in one hit with zero changes from me. I still have no idea why this happened.
In addition, the map and the minimap are both completely necessary to completing the game and constant pain in the butt to use. You can’t set a destination, or marker, on the map, and the marker that is highlighted is still more difficult to find than it should be. And the button you use to pan the camera around the map in every other game on the planet will instead select the next section of the menu. I would screw this up at least half of the time. That is mostly my fault, obviously, but it’s my review and I’ll complain about whatever I want. But seriously, the menu system is ugly, cumbersome, and devoid of some important information.
The good news is the gameplay, aside from average combat mechanics, is fun to play and rewarding to experience. Ary is so adorable and wholesome, that you can’t help but root for her. The story is full of the kind of lore classic adventure and RPG games are known for. Which is to say predictable and satisfying at the same time.
For a retail price of only $39.99, this “indie” game offers a grand adventure with a sweet hero that the whole family can enjoy.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons PS4 Review
Ary and the Secret of Seasons is a family-friendly adventure that is meant to remind you of some of the classic action-adventure platformer games from the ’90s. It succeeds despite some clunky menu screens and repetitive combat due in part to the delightful main character. Plus, for the gamer-friendly price of $40 bucks, there is a full-size adventure to be had here.
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Reviewed using PS4 Slim.