by Camrin Santchi
previewed on PC
A change of climate
Nature is a lovely, if finicky, thing that can easily be thrown out of whack. Ary and the Secret of the Seasons takes place in a fascinating world where the seasons are split between regions. Mysteriously, the seasons are being thrown into chaos, causing the main character Aryelle to spring into action before the world falls into even more chaos. Particularly as the Elemental Crystals of Spring and Fall are stolen, leaving only Ary’s Winter Crystal and the Summer Crystal free from the control of a mysterious villain.
The preview version I received allowed me to play two different sections of the game, one at the start and one near the end. The start of the game takes place in the ‘Winter Area’ called Yule, where Ary and her family live. Her father is the most recent Guardian of Winter, but has lapsed into a depressed state after the disappearance of Ary’s brother Flynn. When the other Seasonal Guardians call for a meeting due to the seasons falling into chaos (For example, Summer Crystals crashing down onto Yule and forcibly changing the winter season to summer, causing ice to melt and people to react to unfrozen lakes for the first time), Ary knows that her father is in no condition to take the hike to the meeting place, so takes her brother’s clothes, and her Father’s Winter Crystal, and decides to go in his stead.
Heroine of the Seasons
This opening segment introduces our protagonist with a rather charming cutscene of her reading an old legend of a Legendary Hero and inserting herself into it, allowing gamers to get a feel for the way that Ary moves. She is very much a skilled jumper and a decent swords-woman as well, fighting off bipedal Hyena monsters when they crash through Yule’s market. But once the Winter Crystal is acquired, gamers can see for themselves what mechanics make this puzzle platformer special. The Crystal allows Ary to create a ‘Seasonal Sphere’, where the chosen season overrides the current one due to magic, for example creating a frozen area atop a lake, or causing piles of snow to appear to allow Ary to reach otherwise inaccessible locations. The sphere of influence is small, meaning that players need to be creative about where they use it in order to interact the best with the world, although there are areas within the world that contain magical stones, when a Seasonal Sphere is created it will allow the Sphere to surround a MUCH wider area, including one such stone attached to a windmill that demonstrates that sometimes Ary will need to time things properly in order to take advantage of her power over the seasons. This opening also shows that the game offers side quests, from talking to townsfolk, to playing hide and seek to hunting down wigs stolen by Hyena-Monsters. These side-quests generally provide currency, which can be used to purchase upgrades or cosmetic items from shops, although sometimes cosmetic items are given as rewards as well.
A moment that had me chuckling no small amount came at the end of the opening sequence, where an old man rambles about feeling like a side character in a video game, which is a shame because no one ever really cares about side quests. It was a genuinely amusing fourth wall break, and also a playful poke at some of the more monotonous side-quests that exist within games. This is a perfect time to see the charm in this world, the lovely way things work and look and the way that the game is clearly aware of itself and the tropes that people often recognize within large RPGs. But honestly the moment I knew this game was made by people that love gaming has to be when I saw the mini-map, which has a resemblance to the classic ‘world maps’ of games like the early Dragon Quests, a pixelated version of the main character traipsing across a map of the environment around them. Unfortunately, this charming design choice does come at the cost of the mini-map being exactly detailed. This means that gamers may occasionally have some issue figuring out where they are in regards to other environmental issues.
Master of all four elements
The latter section of the game that I got to play takes once Ary has acquired the Crystals of Spring and Fall as well, and is one of the large ‘dungeons’ of the game, the Winter Temple, where Ary must make use of several tricks to make her way through and finally end up confronting a boss, a Winter Golem, with the end goal to restore balance to the Seasons. With this gameplay, players can see that Ary has upgraded her abilities, causing her Seasonal Spheres to be larger than they were in the original starting area, and even acquires the ability to make use of her slingshot to fire her Crystal, meaning she can solve these puzzles from a further distance, add to that a double jump mechanic and a very useful slowdown when Ary wields her slingshot in the air, and gamers have an amazing dungeon experience where they not only solve puzzles, but watch the lovely visuals shift with each season. This is because although the Winter Temple only really needs the Winter Crystal for most of it, gamers can make use of Spring and Fall whenever they please to see what visual differences are formed and what different uses they may have. Making use of Fall seems to be accompanied by a storm, if the sounds of rain are anything to go by, while Spring seems to hold wind within it, though I’m sure the full game will show plenty of wonderful ways to bend the seasons in order to balance them.
All in all, Ary and the Secret of Seasons is an amazing looking and feeling game with tons of heart behind it, and anyone with a love of platforming or quirky games should definitely consider picking it up!