Inspired heavily by the golden age of 2D platformers, German developer Bonus Level is bringing Fox n Forests, its gorgeous, season-changing action game to Nintendo Switch after a successful Kickstarter campaign way back in August 2016. It's already made a name for itself on Steam, so with a Switch launch window pencilled in for Spring 2018, we caught up with game director Rupert Ochsner on throwing back to the 16-bit era, building gameplay around seasons and much more. Enjoy!
Nintendo Life: Could you introduce yourself?
Rupert Ochsner: Hi everyone, my name is Rupert Ochsner and I am the Game Director of FOX n FORESTS here at Bonus Level Entertainment.
Congratulations on bringing Fox N Forests to Switch!
Thank you! The whole team is super excited about the upcoming Switch release, made possible due to our partnership with EuroVideo / Wild River. However, without our loyal and supportive backers we would have never made it this far.
This is your first game - could you tell us a little about the team's background?
This is a fun story. My first job in the industry was doing animation and level design at Independent Arts Software, one of Germany’s most experienced developers that has been around for over 25 years. Already back then we were joking about making our 16-bit dream game one day. I then joined Deep Silver and someday felt that the time has come to finally make this dream come true! Therefore, I founded Bonus Level Entertainment together with Independent Arts Software’s CEO Holger Kuchling and got the whole gang back together. FOX n FORESTS is a co-development between these two companies.
Was it always the team’s intention to make a retro inspired game/platformer?
Yes, definitely! For example, the day me and my brother imported the Super Famicom from Japan in the early '90s developing such games became my number one goal. Basically, every team member has similar stories or feelings towards this golden age of gaming, resulting in a desire to take all the elements we loved and combining them with modern game design in order to create something nostalgic and fresh with entertaining 16-bit references.
It looks like you're going the extra mile to replicate an authentic 16-bit art style. How important is the retro aesthetic to the game?
This is a very important aspect to us as we want that older gamers will remember the good old times when they were playing games all day and younger gamers will get a chance to have a modern, 16-bit style experience to see where it is all coming from.
So, why foxes?
Bipedal animal characters have a long history in gaming, such as Sonic, Yoshi, Fox McCloud, Jazz Jackrabbit, Conker and so on. We were actually close to making a wolf the main character of the game, but then went for a fox as many positive and fun characteristics came to our mind such as clever, crafty, cheeky and cunning. Expect Rick the Fox to rather be some cool anti-hero.
What's the games story?
Something went terribly wrong in the forests of the once almighty Season Tree. An evil force is trying to implement some mysterious 5th time of a year and even worse, the seasons themselves got stuck! Thus, he sends out his adjutant, the smart-ass bird Patty the Partridge to search for help.
Soon Patty meets Rick the Fox and asks for his assistance. Being a Fox, he is actually more interested in having grilled partridge for lunch and in the treasure, Patty is promising him in reward for his help. However, Rick is now caught in the middle of an epic adventure and it remains to be seen what the morale of this fable will be…
You had already stated that you planned to bring the game to the (then unannounced) NX, how do you feel about it now that it's become Nintendo Switch and been so successful?
From a personal point of view and being a huge Nintendo fan myself, I am very happy that I am now able to play all these amazing games at home and on the go. From an industry point of view, every successful game system is a welcome enrichment for the market with new, exciting opportunities for developers.
Are you making any adjustments or adding anything to utilize the specific features of the console?
We are integrating HD Rumble and support all common play modes.
What's the balance of action and puzzle elements?
At its core FOX n FORESTS is an action platformer. On top of that it features RPG and puzzle elements to deepen the experience. The balance between these two aspects is probably two thirds action platforming and one third RPG and puzzle elements.
There are some RPG elements, too?
Yes! Every defeated enemy drops bronze, silver or gold coins and you can spend your hard earned money in Forest Plaza, our HUB area. We have an upgrade booth for extending your hearts or mana bar, an armory for sharpening your bayonet or learning new moves and a magic shop for buying different types of magic attack potions, but you will need to find an empty bottle first.
Bottles can be re-used and are well hidden within treasure chests. Next to gold we have other resources as well. And not to forget the magic seeds! Fife are hidden in every level and it will not be an easy task to find every single one of them. But no worries, to progress it will be enough to collect approximately three magic seeds per level.
How does the gameplay change between seasons?
In order to maintain a quick and fluid gameplay we decided during pre-production that players can switch between two pre-defined seasons per level. This A/B switch mechanic allows for many creative ideas. In our first level Revolving River you can switch between spring and winter: the river will freeze and Rick can now cross it. And of course, you can lure enemies onto the ice as well, switch back and make them drown that way. On the other hand, giant vines will lose their leaves in winter and cannot be used as platforms any more.
In another level, Windy Windmills, you will need to ascend a tall tower with useful but dangerous mechanics such as moving elevators, conveyor belts or spiky cogs. Switch from fall to summer and the wind will stop, resulting in a windmill standing still. In Foggy Fable, on the other hand, you can make fog disappear and in the shoot ‘em up level Tricky Treetops - where naughty Rick will fly on poor Patty’s back - a season switch results in rain coming up, distinguishing the fire that is eventually blocking the path. But watch out, once peaceful clouds will now transform into electrifying thunder enemies.
Is the season changing mechanic a moment to moment situation or does it affect the overall story/ gameplay?
As described above it is an entertaining, quick moment to moment experience that varies per level.
The game seems very organic in nature, did the idea for the game change much from its inception?
I had a clear vision from the beginning on and thanks to the talented, hardworking team this could not only be reached but exceeded. I am very proud of them and what we have achieved.
What has your relationship with Nintendo been like?
Nintendo is supportive and fast in their response, it has been a great experience so far.
On your Kickstarter page, it states that you have collaborated with artists and contributors from all over the world. How were the logistics of dealing with the development process?
Thanks to working with professional freelancers this process was rather comfortable and efficient.
What are the aesthetic and mechanical influences of the game?
Aesthetic influences are especially the beautiful games from Japanese Super Nintendo developers/publishers such as Capcom, Enix, Square or Konami. The season switch idea is originally inspired by, believe it or not, the amazing shoot ’em up Ikaruga.
What Nintendo games did you play growing up?
If you mean games on the Super Nintendo then obviously Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts. But I also love ActRaiser 2, Magical Quest, Mega Man X, Demon’s Crest, Contra 3, Axelay, R-Type 3, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. My favorite games from Nintendo are Super Mario World 4, Super Metroid and The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past. Be prepared to find some references to these and other 16-bit games in FOX n FORESTS!
We would like to thank Rupert for his time. FOX n FORESTS will release on Nintendo Switch and other platforms in Spring 2018.