Mascot platformers were such a huge thing back in the 90s, and then one day they all just vanished. All those cute little animal protagonists were taken behind the proverbial shed and never seen again.
This generation has seen somewhat of a resurgence, with the classics getting a new coat of paint or a new game, and whole new heroes are coming out of the woodwork.
One such hero is Trifox…
Many thanks to PR Pirate for the review code.
ENTER THE TRIFOX
The titular Trifox is a big fan of television (those still exist, kids!), so he’s frankly quite livid when his TV remote gets stolen by a group of ruffians. Rather than making a new one (after all, our furry protagonist is an inventor), or perhaps even buying a new one, instead he opts to go on a killing spree wiping out the cartoonish villains so that he can watch Love Island again in peace.
It’s a simple setup, and that really is about as deep as the plot goes, but no doubt that description will get fans of Gex excited by pangs of nostalgia at the similarities. Unlike that long-forgotten ‘classic’, the story here gets abandoned almost as quickly as it gets started: there’s no sense of progression, no television themed tropes, no gags that will be out of date by the game’s release – instead, you just follow our fella along as he traverses each of the three worlds until the game eventually just comes to a close.
There’s no need to lament this lack of narrative, as you’ll soon forget it even exists once you take control of our heroic(?) fox. What the game lacks in story, it more than makes up for in charm, with its colourful visuals and level design that bring back memories of Crash Bandicoot and Ratchet and Clank (heck, there’s even a stage selection that is more than similar to those found in Crash), the game’s presentation is near flawless, barring some framerate hiccups in the later stages. The visuals are no match for the audio, however, as the soundtrack is easily up there with the best of the genre. It’s not quite as good as Grant Kirkhope’s work, but it’s also not that far off.
FOR FOX SAKE
At its heart, Trifox is a twin-stick action platformer. It works pretty much exactly as you’d imagine, with the right stick aiming where you want to fire and the left controlling your movement. The difference here is that the attack button depends on which action you wish to perform. You see, the game has a unique customisation system that allows you to purchase moves from one of three classes; there’s a warrior class that focuses on smashing things, a mage that focuses on distance attacks, and an engineer that constructs stuff to help them out. Each has their own ability unlock tree, and you can assign up to four moves to whichever of the four action buttons you wish, but you’re not tied down to a single one – allowing you to mix and match as you see fit.
And you will want to do that too, as different enemies are weak to different things. After opting for the mage’s magical homing shot, I realised that ranged foes took an awfully long time to take down. That’s because they require melee attacks to take down with greater ease. Considering the homing attack doesn’t take its job very seriously, and has all the homing properties of a one-legged donkey, you’ll want to play around with purchased abilities to find out what works best for you.
It’s a great idea in principle, even if the combat isn’t immensely satisfying. There’s very little feedback from enemies as you dole out damage, leaving you to just watch as their health slowly drains. Considering you’ll often be up against hordes of enemies, it becomes a bit of a slog most of the time as you whittle down their health. Eventually I started trying to avoid fights by running past them and trying to solve the puzzles whilst avoiding attacks, simply because fighting seemed a bit of a hassle and took far too long. There also isn’t a huge variety in enemies either, meaning that you’ll typically be seeing hordes of the same foes again and again. Whilst it is fun to pop down a turret or three to help burn your foes to a crisp, it also loses its charm surprisingly fast – especially in areas where you have to fight off countless enemies. They’re rarely challenging, but it can make these sections feel like a bit of a slog.
Platforming and puzzles make up the rest of the core gameplay, and unfortunately that too is also a bit of a mixed bag. Puzzles tend to be of the ‘pick up highlighted object here and place there’ variety and never pose too much of a challenge, whereas the platforming would be solid if it wasn’t for some questionable design decisions. The platforming itself is mostly fine, if a little generic, but the game has a weird approach to the jumping mechanics that makes it far more annoying than it should be. In most games, you would use your shadow to help you determine where you’re going to land. In this game, your shadow is not the marker you are supposed to use (and if you do so, you’ll likely fail); instead, there’s a light circle that appears underneath you as you jump. Not only is this a strange system, but it can be quite hard to see at times and caused me to fail more often than I should have done. It also doesn’t help that the controller mapping is weirdly non-standard, and all of the various control schemes you can pick from are all bizarre: you can pick a control scheme that seems to flip movement and aiming direction, but you can’t select one that actually has the jump assigned to the B button. Considering your attacks are all manually mapped, it would have been nice to tweak the other action buttons too to suit your preferences.
Where the gameplay does shine is with its set-pieces. Even though the core gameplay tends to be passable, the game shows off moments of brilliance when it decides to be creative. The first example of this is earlier on when you find yourself on a machine-gun mounted minecart. It goes pretty fast, and you need to use the front-mounted shields to block incoming attacks whilst shooting both foes and obstacles. With the option to switch lanes for alternate pathways, it’s a thrilling end to an otherwise lacklustre level. Bosses are also other great moments too, with the final boss for each area being particularly noteworthy. They have moments of jankiness, for sure, but they also demonstrate how good the combat can be when used well. These moments show off the capability of the developers, and makes made me sad that the rest of the game didn’t live up to these moments of greatness.
Trifox absolutely nails its presentation, with cutesy mascot platforming visuals and an excellent soundtrack that really pulls on those nostalgic strings. It’s a shame then that neither the platforming nor the action are strong enough to hold everything together. It’s definitely a very promising first entry from the developers though, and certainly gives a good indication of what they may be capable of in the future!