[Editor’s Note: this game was played for review on an original PS4 using pre-release code provided by the publisher.]
If there’s any niche kind of game I’m an absolute sucker for, it’s the PS2-era character platformer. Growing up on the likes of Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank and just about any lower-budget titles I could grab from the video rental store shelf, I still can’t resist the pull of a game that looks like it’ll send me back to those days.
Aesthetically and functionally, Ary and the Secret of Seasons absolutely fits the bill. The world of Secret of the Seasons is divided into four distinct realms, each represented by the four seasons. Ary and her family reside in the Winter district, where the streets are lined with soft snow and frozen waterfalls line its borders.
We learn that her father was injured in the past, leaving him unable to walk or care for his family. To make matters worse, her older brother has gone mysteriously missing while on an adventure and is assumed dead.
Ary’s had to step up in their stead, and while she’s more than capable, as a young girl she’s not taken seriously by the patriarchal village. When the balance of the seasons is torn asunder by the return of an ancient mage, she must wield the power of the seasons and become to hero of her village.
Her journey takes us through four distinct biomes, each representing the four seasons – winter, spring, summer and autumn. As you progress, you’ll gain the ability to actually manipulate the seasons, casting orbs of seasonal energy which can affect the world around you in interesting ways.
In combat, some enemies may be protected by thorns which hurt Ary if she tries to attack them. Casting Winter will remove their thorny armour, but other enemies in the encounter may gain ice armour which protects them from her attacks. This makes for combat scenarios where you’ll need to juggle the different seasons on the fly in order to open her foes up to damage.
The game’s many puzzles are where the seasonal concept really comes into play in a meaningful way. Switches, levers and traps will need to be manipulated with the seasons and their properties, and figuring out exactly how to go about this can be quite satisfying.
There’s a Dreamworks-meets-Laika style to the character design, and that style shines during fully-animated cutscenes. Ary is gentle-natured but determined young girl, and that’s well-reflected in her expressive facial animations.
Unfortunately, that’s one of the few areas of presentation that truly stands out. It’s possible that future updates to the game will fix the more glaring visual and performance-related issues (and I did delay the publication of this review to give some time for that), but as it currently stands, Ary is a technical mess.
Within the first few minutes of gameplay, severe screen-tearing makes for a bit of a headache while we’re introduced to Ary and her family. Once you’ve stepped outside and embark on the game’s main quest, the screen-tearing mostly disappears – but there are many other visual issues to replace it.
The draw distance is bizarrely short, meaning you’ll often find everything shrouded in fog until you’re close. Because of this, it feels less like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and more like a cartoon Silent Hill, which is a shame – it’s difficult to appreciate the open-world when it’s so obscured in this way. I can only assume this was a measure taken to improve performance, but if that’s the case, it didn’t quite work.
Despite looking distinctly last-generation in graphical detail, it doesn’t run well either. Third-person combat and platforming typically excel when a game can deliver smooth performance, but unfortunately it struggles to hit a consistent 30fps and often drops far below in certain circumstances. It’s by no means unplayable, but I was surprised by how rough it felt to play while looking like a Switch game rather than a PS4 title.
I hate to spend so much time focusing on the negatives, but the negatives here really did hold back what could’ve been a fun little platformer. There are good ideas here, and I can tell from the writing and visual style that there are passionate people behind this game. It’s just held back by too many bugs, performance issues and poor presentation.
Ultimately, I find it hard to recommend Ary and the Secrets of Seasons right now. It has potential, and there’s clearly heart deep down, but as it stands it just really needs a lot of work to meet its potential. I do hope Exiin give this another try with a sequel or a similar new game, because what they were aiming for could be a great time if they’d hit all the right notes.