In Ary and the Secret of Seasons, the seasonally-segregated world of Valdi is in trouble and it’s up to you to save it from some rather extreme climate change. You play as Ary, the daughter of the Winter Guardian, who cuts her hair and dons the sword and clothes of her maybe-dead-but-maybe-just-missing brother in order to attend the annual gathering of the Guardians of Seasons. Her dad can’t go, because he’s in mourning over his son’s disappearance, and girls aren’t allowed, hence the cunning disguise. A disguise that works for all of two seconds. Luckily, nobody actually cares that she’s a girl (patriarchy defeated, mini-game over) and it’s onward to save the world.
The core gameplay mechanic of Ary and the Secret of Seasons involves using “Seasonal Spheres” to change the season in your immediate surroundings to Winter, Summer, Autumn, or Spring in order to solve a variety of 3D platformeing puzzles. The Winter sphere, for instance, conjures up ice ledges to help you reach previously unreachable places, while the Summer sphere melts ice to reveal hidden pathways, that kind of thing. You’re given the Winter sphere at the start and then you set out on an adventure to seek out the rest. You’d be forgiven for thinking that’s what the game is about, but once you’ve found the Summer Sphere, you’re suddenly given the Autumn and Spring ones, without much fanfare, and the narrative takes a turn. It’s as if the developers got bored and wanted to do something else. Which is a bit of a theme for Ary and the Secret of Spheres (which I’m not abbreviating to ASS, because I’m classy like that).
I was fine with this being a children’s game – the Zelda-esque world is bright and cartoony, you never actually die (the screen just goes black and then you’re popped back into the game, confused about what just happened), and everyone is having a jolly good time, except when they’re being held captive as child slaves in a royal mining operation (told you it took a turn). But Ary and the Secret of Seasons suffers from a number of issues and design flaws that suggest it launched a little too early.
For starters, you’re barely given any guidance as to how to play beyond the basics of combat and using the spheres. I stumbled upon the existence of the inventory while checking to see if there was a bigger map and only learned you could purchase skill upgrades after happening upon a particular type of merchant. The various map icons are also never explained. Then, once you get to the dungeon sections, there’s nothing to guide you, because you’re meant to figure out the puzzles in order to progress. Which is fine, it’s a puzzle game. Except, after one particularly annoying boss fight, I got stuck with no clear way to progress and the game crashed whenever I tried to leave via the only door I had access to.
Which is the opposite of fun.
On top of all that, there are numerous graphics and physics glitches, including things like incomplete grass textures, weird camera angles that render you invisible, and a situation where Ary’s hair grew back during cut-scenes. Which is a shame, because Ary and the Secret of the Seasons has a lot of potential to be genuinely entertaining, and not just for children. The puzzles are tricky enough that you feel a sense of accomplishment for figuring them out, manipulating the seasons is a genuinely interesting mechanic, and the voice acting is pretty decent (Summer Guardian Dagdann especially has some chuckle-worthy, fourth wall-breaking lines). It’s also made by a tiny indie studio, so I’d rather they succeed. It just needs a little more time.
Ary and the Secret of the Seasons
Ary and the Secret of Seasons has its charms and will probably be quite fun when it's finished, but everything interesting about it is lost in a muddle of glitches, bugs, and narrative problems. Maybe wait for the patch.