A promising Zelda-like that struggles on Switch.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons is a game that promises a lot in its Zelda: Oracle-influenced season manipulation. On many platforms I suspect it is largely equipped to deliver on those concepts. Unfortunately, the Nintendo Switch struggles severely making its highs middling and its lows craterous.
Ary is the daughter of one of the four guardians of the seasons. When her brother goes missing and her father falls into grief, Ary must take up the torch of being a guardian herself. The world has fallen into chaos the seasonally locked areas of the land have had their seasons all mixed up. Desert beaches are covered in snow, and the mountains of Ary’s home bake under a hot sun. As the guardian of winter Ary can create spheres of winter around her. As she progresses she gains the ability to manipulate the other seasons as well. The story of Ary and the Secret of Seasons is told through excellently animated cutscenes and fun, self-aware dialogue. Likewise the soundtrack by Marcus Hedges is wonderful.
Gameplay follows a fairly straight forward 3D Zelda structure. Ary traverses the world which, while fairly open, is separated into multiple zones that load in separately. Along her travels she’ll encounter towns, sidequests, and dungeons. She’ll gain new abilities and can upgrade her combat strengths using gold she finds in hidden treasure chests throughout the world. The world is littered with enemies as well but as killing them doesn’t give you anything it's hard to justify fighting them rather than walking around them. Especially since walking around them is so easy thanks to the huge world map. Combat in general is a weak point as the parry system is extremely easy to exploit. There is no cooldown on the parry ability meaning that for the vast majority of enemies, you can simply stand around mashing the parry button until they attack and then get in a powerful attack while they’re stunned.
You’ll rarely hear me say this but the world of Ary and the Secret of Seasons is just too big. Whether exploring the overworld or in a dungeon, there is an incredible amount of empty space between points of interest. Normally I’d be in support of this as I feel it adds scale. Unfortunately there just isn’t much to do or find. Given the combat is largely optional with no real reward and sidequests focus mostly on running around within towns, exploration winds up feeling boring. It doesn’t help that the Switch version greatly reduces the draw distance on environments meaning you’re always just wandering through a fog with no real sense of place.
Ary’s season changing abilities are without a doubt Ary and the Secret of Season’s strongest quality. Each one affects not only the environment but enemies and friendly characters as well. For example early on you’ll use the winter ability to freeze a waterfall in order to gain entry to a dungeon. Inversely, the summer ability can melt ice and thaw lakes. Weirdly the spring ability can actually completely remove water. I’m not sure why but it makes for a very interesting water dungeon. These abilities are legitimately fun to use and are employed in a large variety of interesting puzzles and scenarios. Unfortunately they also highlight major performance issues in the Switch version.
When playing docked Ary and the Secret of Seasons is a consistently choppy experience. Get some season swapping going on and the whole game just falls to pieces. Whether that’s frame drops or the game just struggling to understand what season it's in, playing Ary and the Secret of Seasons on your TV is oftentimes infuriating. This is particularly true of most boss fights which can cause some very real frustration. But that is not to say it is impossible to play on Switch. When playing handheld Ary and the Secret of Seasons actually runs fairly well. There is still slowdown and some glitches remain, but it is playable. The only obvious change I see between the two modes is a drop in resolution which makes me wonder if changing the resolution of the docked mode might make a significant difference. Regardless of how you play you’ll still be dealing with glitches and some very long load times, but the difference is between a rough experience and an unplayable one.
Ary and the Secret of Seasons is a flawed game in any form, but the Switch version’s particular failings will likely push it over the edge for many. There is a fascinating and fun concept at its core that is executed well, however its surrounding elements just aren’t all there. The world isn’t fun to explore and large gaps of emptiness can be found throughout. Glitches and performance problems abound, especially when playing docked. All that being said, I can’t completely write it off in general. There are the bones of a fun and inventive game here. I had a blast playing an earlier demo on PC but the Switch just isn’t able to deliver that. While I can’t recommend the Switch version, this may still be worth checking out in some other form.