A Debut Indie With A Winning Formula

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A blueprint for success has emerged among 2022’s best indie games so far: you play as a fox. Tunic, Endling, and FixFox’s vulpine protagonists connect three excellent, but otherwise incomparable, experiences. This month, a fourth fox-helmed title arrived on PC, Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox, and given this common triumphant theme, it’s impossible to ignore its potential.

Trifox, an action-adventure with a twin-stick shooter mechanic, is the debut for Glowfish Interactive, a two-man Belgian studio that takes inspiration from classic platformers to “offer a unique and fun twist” through style and gameplay. Not that you’d quite identify that at first, because Trifox is a little slow to make its mark.

Patience is a virtue. While its campaign only clocks in at five or so hours, Trifox is a compelling game: a fresh but familiar action-heavy romp, combining interesting and varied abilities with ever more challenging environments. It’s a strong start for the boys from Belgium.

 

Trifox may hope to channel 90s platform games, but it largely settles on combining the colors, landscapes, wonky fonts, and character styles of Crash Bandicoot, albeit in a more open environment. It also adopts a strangely emotionless art style reminiscent of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” video, which doesn’t make the best first impression.

In these early moments, you’re introduced to our nameless hero: a fox that likes watching TV. Some baddies then steal his TV remote for no real reason. Our leading man does what you or I would: learn three types of superpowers, kill thousands of animals, and rescue the world from apparent destruction in order to save himself $10 on eBay and take back his beloved, one-button controller. Aside from vague, dialogue-free vignettes, plus the occasional weird new report from a news channel that looks like KCNA hosted by pandas, this is the extent of the story. It’s all the better for it–it’s just a means of getting to the meat on Trifox’s bones.

At first, you may be baffled by the generally inexplicable trio of classes that gives Trifox its name: you can combine the abilities of the melee-loving warrior, the magic-bound mage, and the tech-loving engineer. You unlock abilities with coins you collect, but explanations of what these powers do are limited to TV demonstrations that don’t fully explain them. It doesn’t really matter, though; while there’s a lot of creativity between them, you’ll likely focus on offensive capabilities.

It takes some time to get to grips with Trifox’s controls. Movement, especially jumping, is floaty and imprecise, but at least your position is indicated by a landing reticle. Dashing is simple and useful, though one version–the warrior’s–is by far the best, or at least the most predictable. Your weaponry is assigned to the shoulder buttons, which feels uncomfortable and odd at first, but as soon as you start treating it as the twin-stick shooter it is, Trifox makes perfect sense.

The three main worlds you explore offer all sorts of challenges, puzzles, collectibles, and baddies. A route-one approach offers plenty of action, but a wandering mind is regularly rewarded. Visually, Trifox holds a high frame rate; while the protagonist, enemies, and bosses appear permanently stoned throughout Trifox, it’s a colorful world with good attention to detail, and seemingly without glitches.

Baddies are unpredictable and pack a punch if you approach them in the wrong way. These are gradually introduced through ever-increasing waves–alongside tougher opponents with their own quirks–and they quickly catch you out. Health vials are readily to hand as soon as you dip below 75% health, but simply getting to them can be near-impossible if you choose the wrong strategy.

Meanwhile, platform sections, while complicated further by odd gravity, have a varied approach, complicated by timing, switches, hazards, and baddies. Trifox isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but it’s clearly focused on getting the most out of its inspirational predecessors, much like Lunistice.

Considering Trifox only has 13 levels, including four boss stages, what’s most impressive is the game’s ability to evolve and surprise you. While a lot of the action sees you in ever more difficult battles that you take on with your increasingly perfected, four-ability loadout, Trifox sprinkles a handful of new mechanics or gameplay styles–vehicle shooter, maze puzzler, or tower defense–to keep things exciting. It’s not perfectly paced, but it never feels dull.

If you’re looking to 100% the game, you’ll need to grind and have a particularly keen eye for very well-hidden gems. Admittedly, you might not feel compelled to do this once you clear the base story, but you’ll more than likely be satisfied by the time you dedicate to its main campaign. Trifox is full of twists and turns, the occasionally brutal battle or fight with a Big Bad (I’m looking at you, mage boss), and a whole lot of satisfaction from getting through an area that repeatedly killed you.

Trifox feels longer, plays better, and is more rewarding than you’ll expect. It’s far from perfect, but this nice little IP has the potential to get into the big leagues with a refined sequel, working out frustrating small kinks and tightening up its platforming sections. Despite Trifox’s paper-thin story, it’s clear that Glowfish isn’t short of ideas and inventiveness–it’s exciting to think what it has planned for the future.

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