Review – Ary and the Secret of the Seasons
Modus Games is quickly becoming one of my favorite indie publishers. With games like Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break, Skully, and Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince, they’re making a name for themselves as publishers of fun, quirky, and unique games. They might not all be the biggest powerhouses with regards to graphics and budgets, but each of their titles offer an enjoyable and entertaining experience. Their newest title, Ary and the Secret of the Seasons, is no exception.
Ary and the Secret of the Seasons takes place in the mythical land of Valdi. A land that is separated into four different regions, each governed by a specific season. Our protagonist, Aryelle (Ary for short), is the daughter of Gwenn, the Guardian of Winter, and lives in the town of Yule to the north. Her brother Flynn went missing a while back while training as an apprentice Guardian and is believed to be dead. Lost to his grief, Gwenn can’t perform his duties as the Guardian of Winter, so Ary takes up the mantle for herself.
One day, mysterious red crystals fall from the sky and strike Yule, changing the snowy weather into a balmy summerscape. While on her way to a meeting of the Guardians, Yule is attacked by hyenas, one of whom is wielding Flynn’s sword. Determined to gain answers about her brother and the strange red crystals, Ary ventures forth into the magical and diverse world of Valdi.
While the premise of Ary and the Secret of the Seasons might not seem entirely original at first, the way the lands are affected by this new threat quickly sets itself apart from other games. It reminds me a lot of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, in that each region has its own distinct look, feel, and culture, that are all suddenly thrown out of balance once Ganondorf takes the Triforce of Power. While it’s unclear for a while what’s behind the red crystal’s sudden appearance, the effects of their presence are felt by Valdi’s inhabitants immediately. The winter town of Yule becomes hot and summery, while the beachside summer town of Lammestide is overtaken by a blizzard. The other two towns are affected in the same manner, with their seasons being switched as well.
This is the central gimmick of Ary and the Secret of the Seasons: gaining the four Seasonal Stones and using them to manipulate the environment around you. It’s a clever mechanism and it’s utilized well throughout the game. Ary will need to use the stones in a variety of ways. If she needs to get across a chasm or lake, she can try using her Stone of Winter to reveal hidden platforms of ice. Maybe she needs help from one of the now freezing citizens of Lammestide, but he’s too cold to talk. She can pull out her Stone of Summer and create a warm environment to entice him to help her.
However, these powers only work in a small globular area around Ary and they’re not permanent. She can only have one of each type of element active at the same time and they can’t overlap. This means that you’ll have to be strategic about where you place them and which element you use. Don’t worry though, this game isn’t terribly hard and makes it pretty clear which element you’ll need by color coding most switches.
The combat in here is your basic action/adventure fare: run, jump, dodge, attack, and parry. For anyone worried about dodging and parrying on par with Dark Souls, don’t be. This game was made with children in mind and enemies telegraph their attacks in a very obvious manner. My six year old had no problems kicking some hyena butt almost immediately. The combat is nothing spectacular, but it’s decent enough to get the job done. The real star of the show are the seasonal powers.
Ary will eventually explore a few temples and these are far and away the highlight of the game. These are very reminiscent of a Zelda game, requiring Ary to solve puzzles in order to get to the boss. The bosses are quite varied and a few really surprised me. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but let’s just say that there is a shocking level of depth and complexity to a few of the characters. I wasn’t expecting that from such an adorable children’s game.
The art style of Ary and the Secret of the Seasons is cute and cartoony, which fits the overall tone of the game perfectly. Each town has its own distinct look, which are wonderfully dynamic representations of the seasons. However, I am disappointed that there’s not a lot of creature diversity. There are humans, hyenas, red pandas, jumping mushrooms, and jelly blob things. Aside from the bosses, that’s about it as far as what you’ll see in the game. I wish they had taken more notes out of Zelda‘s pages and created a few different races. At least the people you’ll meet have tons of humorous dialogue and wacky personalities.
Unfortunately, Ary and the Secret of the Seasons is absolutely riddled with bugs and glitches. For the first couple hours, I experienced a bug where the water animations would be at the top of a waterfall instead of the bottom. Countless trees would be floating for no reason either. Not only that, but it suffers from horrendous framerate issues, insane pop-ins, and some of the worst draw distance I’ve seen. I know this game runs on the Unity engine, but it looks like someone’s passion project in Dreams. Hopefully there will be a patch released soon to fix those issues.
None of that is game breaking, but I did run into one bug that drove me insane for a couple hours. At about the halfway point, there’s a big “reveal” followed by a cutscene. This triggers the next mission of the game. I didn’t realize that the second half of the cutscene didn’t activate in my game for some reason, so I had no active quests and all of my gear was gone. I was so confused as to what to do and where to go that I ran around aimlessly for two hours. Frustrated, I restarted from an earlier checkpoint and luckily everything was fine after that. Just be aware that this game is still unpolished in a lot of ways.
Thankfully, the sound design is a lot more refined. The soundtrack is equal parts beautiful and dramatic, although it can be a little too quiet at times. The voice acting is really well done throughout. The performances are hilariously over-the-top and often ridiculous, but that’s what they were going for. It fits the whole tone and feel of the game perfectly. In many ways, this game feels like and old school Rare or Double Fine game thanks to its quirky humor and outrageous characters.
Ary and the Secret of the Seasons pleasantly surprised me. It’s by no means a perfect game, as it’s rife with bugs, glitches, and graphical issues, but it’s so charming that you won’t care about that before long. It has an engaging story, interesting characters, dynamic environments, and a unique gameplay system with the Seasonal Stones. You can tell that the developers were truly passionate about making this game. Despite its shortcomings, Ary and the Secret of the Seasons is still an absolute blast to play.
The art design is cute and cartoony, which fits the game well. However, even with using the Unity engine, it still looks like something a novice might make in Dreams. It’s rife with bugs and glitches everywhere and has horrible a framerate.
Your basic action adventure game with simplistic combat mechanics: run, jump, attack, and counter. Using seasonal powers to affect the environment and get past obstacles is clever and well implemented.
The voice acting is delightfully enthusiastic and zany, a perfect fit for the tone of the game. The musical score is well done, although a bit too subtle at times.
Despite its numerous issues with bugs, glitches, and framerate, it’s incredibly fun. I haven’t seen an indie adventure game this engaging, unique, and charming in a long time.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Ary and the Secret of the Seasons is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
A copy of Ary and the Secret of the Seasons was provided by the publisher.