Ary and the Secret of Seasons Preview — Classic 3D Platforming Reborn
The colorful and charming platformer Ary and the Secret of Seasons calls back to classics of the '90s with fun and rewarding gameplay.
The success of titles like A Hat in Time shows how much players treasure games that invoke the bright and playful atmosphere of 3D platformers from the 90s. And from what I’ve seen so far, Ary and the Secret of Seasons is a title that encapsulates the vibrations of the 3D platformer era near perfectly. The synopsis is simple: you play as a ten year old named Aryelle (or Ary for short) who recently lost her brother — he disappeared and is currently presumed dead. Her father has fallen into depressed and both parents have become very protective.
Meanwhile, Ary’s homeland, normally a place of eternal winter, has become one of spring. So she sets out on a journey to speak to one of the Guardians of Seasons and get to the bottom of these strange happenings. This eventually gives way to the meat of the plot, which is that Ary is recruited as a Guardian of Winter to defeat the evil forces that are changing seasons throughout Valdi.
Although I watched as a developer played through an alpha build of the first hub world (there are four in total), he was thorough in showcasing how flexible and open both combat and the physics engine in general was. The main and most important mechanic of the game are season spells. These essential spells create a bubble that houses one of the four seasons, as well as a special effect derives from that season. For instance, winter freezes any body of water and even some projectiles, which is useful for creating platforms to walk on or for knocking a frozen enemy’s attack back at them.
Seasons are cast by using a slingshot to fling the corresponding season pebble and special floating stones, called Monoliths, to greatly extend the range of the season. While all four seasons can be active at once, no season bubble can touch or interact with another.
Combat itself is done in real time and Ary can target enemies one at a time using her physical sword attack or a magic spell. These are also impacted by the season bubble she’s currently within as some enemies can only be defeated within certain seasons. For example, during a battle I saw a plant enemy had to be felled by using winter to freeze its projectile seeds before the player could knock them back at the enemy with their sword. Conversely, a certain hyena enemy type denoted with a winter coat gains a shield during winter and is nearly impossible to beat unless you dispel the effect.
Along with regular enemies, there are multiple sub-bosses in each hub world and one major boss that must be defeated in order to revert that place back to normal. I was able to witness one sub-boss in action, a giant hyena, and it looked to offer a decent challenge — at the very least the developer died once while fighting it, then came back and finished it off.
One of the most standout parts of the demo was witnessing the physics engine at work as there are many creative ways to tackle a single puzzle’s solution. One part of a dungeon the developer traversed featured a block and chain puzzle which required moving said block on top of large switches to open the way. One solution is to simply push the block to the switch, either manually or by using a skill that creates a glowing rope. The third solution, and my favorite, was watching as the dev used a season bubble to summon water to float the block to the switches. For fun, we also witnessed another application of the water bubble: to cushion Ary’s fall from a great height as she normally takes fall damage.
The graphics, levels, and character designs carry an air of whimsy and cartoonish charm straight from the 90s, with bold bright colors that stand out from the more subdued palettes of many modern games. What really drives Ary and the Secret of Seasons beyond its inspiration is the sheer scale and potential of the gameplay mechanics, which are enhanced by the flexibility of the Unity engine.
Imagine playing a classic PS1 or N64 style 3D platformer like the original Spyro the Dragon trilogy or Rayman 2, but without the graphical and hardware limits of those systems. For instance, the snow bubbles felt like a true wintry landscape complete with pillowy soft snow that seemed to absorb the very sound from the area. The bodies of water were clear, clean, dynamic, and oddly refreshing looking (and you can dive in without worrying about cheap deaths due to air supply limitations).
The only thing that was missing was character voicework, but I was assured that the completed game would have fully voiced cutscenes. Even without hearing the voice acting, having that amount of freedom alone to try new tactics, puzzle solutions, or just goof around is refreshing and sure to be a treat for fans. I’ll definitely be awaiting this game, which is set to be a fun romp down memory lane, with some new twists and turns to keep me on my toes.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons will be coming to PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Steam later this year.