Disclaimer: The writer has friendly ties with one of the developers of Ary and the Secret of Seasons.
When I think of an exciting thing to do with video games, taking part in an alpha or beta testing is very high on the list. For this and several other reasons, I was humbled and honored when one of the developers at eXiin reached out to me and told me I had the team’s permission to see its game in the very early stages. Earlier at Gamescom 2017, the game won the award for “best Unity game,” even though it hasn’t even entered into open alpha. So I opened up the demo of Ary and the Secret of Seasons to see what all the fuss was about. Since it is so difficult to really gather my thoughts on a product that was never intended for reflection, I will instead attempt to walk you through my experience.
The demo starts up, and you enter the world as a yet nameless figure in red. From experience, I know this to be Ary, the girl who holds the power to control the four seasons. For right now, she holds the power of the wooden sword, which is completely ineffectual. You first encounter several goblins out in a field, and the demo tells you you’re no match for them. Not wanting to prove it right, I cast the power of winter to create a localized field of cold and snow to annoy my enemies and then smack them over the head. This tactic would work fine if they weren’t wearing their adorable hooded jackets. Instead, they sometimes shrug off my hits to return the favor, and I soon find out the tech demo was right. Score one for it.
The very first room in which you begin the journey resembles a ruined temple and is an interior you’ll be familiar with very soon. First you loot the amulet that allows you to store your seasonal powers, and then you receive the boon of winter. With it, you solve a simple door puzzle and enter the plains. Right away, I feel my exploration senses itch and twitch, and I jump into the water to test out my snow-globe powers. As it turns out, water turns into ice during the winter, and so it does in the demo. For right now, Ary appears to hold magical powers secondary to the ones over the seasons where she can run on ice and never slip or slide around. Perhaps in all her years of experience, she learned to control the viscosity in the icy surface or develop a grip with her toes. Either way, I leave the pond satisfied in knowing my powers are very real and that I would forego the use of the word “quenched” in my review.
“But if water freezes in winter,” I think, "then surely the grass must turn to snow.” Again my suspicions prove correct, and I now run circles in my own snow biome to see if the snow reacts to my movement, which it very much does. Already I’m impressed by these simple facts in the demo, not even a later release. The game oozes atmosphere, and the seasonal interaction is fine tuned to work brilliantly on several levels. Freezing water and creating snow are two simple examples of these levels. On the practical side, freezing surfaces allow one to traverse the landscape to reach points of interest. In the demo, already you can loot several treasure chests and jump on floating blocks of ice to ultimately progress. Elsewhere, freezing a waterfall or larger plain area to rummage through snow serves no practical purpose, but does serve to satisfy your childlike want to do either of these things.
The stronger element that overarches both of these, however, is the simple fact that you want to do both of these things. You want to see what would happen if a goblin steps into the biome; you want to see the snow part as you move through it at different angles; you want to see what half of the waterfall will do if you freeze the other half. Though the game prompts you at certain points, it doesn’t obtrusively guide your path with an ant trial or prompts on the mini map, two things I hope never make it to the final release. One of the main objectives in the demo is to climb a broken tower using your winter power. This, too, is something you want to do. You want to freeze the air around you to create surfaces and run up icy stairs all the way to the top. Reaching the pinnacle and getting the camera to sweep all around the tower as a larger area is suddenly covered in winter is the reward in itself, though you now get to move into the final area and briefly experiment with the power of autumn. This sweeping camera motion, as a few other segments in the demo, did incur an awful amount of lag as I was playing through the demo. After contacting the development team, however, I learnt that they had spent an inordinate amount of time optimizing the demo to be as playable as possible. I agreed to replay the demo on a newer, more powerful rig, and was happy to find that my first experience was tainted by the limitations of my own outdated PC.
Ultimately, I finished the demo with mixed feelings. The final temple opens up to you and you find the power of autumn, which reveals bodies of water that otherwise remain unseen. So you enter a room with a low volume of water and raise it all the way to the top before the demo ends. My glee and awe turned into disappointment immediately. What do you mean, the demo is over? Still, I accepted my fate and quit to desktop.
Here, too, the demo shows great promise. Before I started, I was told the demo would only last about half an hour or so. At every development, I’d expect the demo to boot me to the main menu, signaling the end of the current build. Despite this, I somehow imagined I could cheat reality and keep playing. Even though I knew the demo would be over soon, I still figured no end was in sight; that acquiring autumn was in no way the beginning of the end, which it afterwards turned out to be. I was wrapped up completely in the idea of joining Ary on her still unset adventure and using her great powers. In short, I was sold.