Aritana and the Harpy's Feather

Right after looking at a set of pictures, I just knew Aritana and the Harpy’s Feather was going to be a good pick. This game has all that makes platformer videogames great: a casual approach to challenge with enough versatility for players to reach their goal by experimenting with as many acrobatics as they please. Remember Super Mario World’s later levels with huge chasms that gave you a few floating enemies to step on? This game recaptures that experience and for that, I’m endlessly grateful.

Set in an indigenous tribe, Aritana and the Harpy’s Feather presents a rather light-hearted story about the titular protagonist setting off on a quest to find the Harpy's feather. The village’s chieftain has fallen ill and a forest spirit is the culprit. The village’s wise-man has been unable to exorcise the dear leader and only the sacred amulet, which is missing a Harpy’s Feather, can purge the curse. Despite Aritana's young age, takes matter into his own hands, determined to save the chieftain and, by extension, the tribe. After taking a magic staff and setting out towards the mountains, where the harpy is said to dwell, the adventure starts.

Beautiful scenery and jolly music reminiscent of my favorite Super Nintendo titles fill the game world. I’m not sure if that was intentional, but I’m certain about liking it. Visuals and sound fuse together to deliver a great experience as you thread through dark forests, delve into perilous caves and move into the deadly mountain ascent in the quest to find the harpy. But not all is pretty and flowers despite the theme. You will have to deal with evil spirits that threaten anybody who approach them, and only your magic staff will let you inflict any kind of damage. These spirits take the form of common animals and objects, impeding your progress and contributing to the main source of damage you will incur if not careful. But fear not, for the game continuously grants you an increasing number of combos and new techniques.

This game deals with character progression in a way I absolutely love. Scattered throughout levels are totems that, once activated, bestow Aritana’s staff with new abilities. One of the first power ups is the ability to change your stance at the press of a button. This is your main and most precious skill, as changing stances modifies Aritana’s speed, agility, jump power and the ability to see enemy weak spots. Combining your Power and Agility stances in order to solve the simple yet challenging platforming puzzles is your bread and butter. To add even more enjoyment, some totems unlock combos that are performed by executing a string of blows that depend on your position and what button you press. These combos reward you with guaranás, health and even extra lives, so it’s good to practice since enemies respawn shortly after being defeated.

The gameplay reminds me a ton of Crash Bandicoot, if it had been a side-scroller. Even if you do have some room for mistakes (a health bar represented by leaves that go away when hit), the way you dispatch enemies (bouncing on and melee’ing them) and the fruit collection is a great reference I enjoyed. Get 100 guaranás and enjoy an extra life and you can find extra lives scattered across the level too! Your health is upgraded by beating boss encounters and completing bonus stages. Exploring to get items isn’t a chore at all though, and secrets are accessible to everyone, even those just breezing through the level. It’s very important to pick up the green leaf stones, as beating a level with five or more will activate a bonus stage that can reward you with many goodies, including half a health-container at the cost of those stones. Unfortunately, just like in the old Sonic games, bonus stages aren’t replayable immediately if you fail to meet the objective (navigate the spherical maze to find the half health-container), so fair warning: there is no backtracking!

I love the game's pacing even if it is linear and the formula never changes (i.e.: Clear three stages, go to boss, rinse and repeat three times); even the boss is always the same, only with added attacks, and its weakness changes to suit your most recently earned offensive skill; but I believe this kind of pacing fits a simple platformer just fine. You can breeze through the game with any level of skill in my opinion, but I do believe even the more hardcore gamers will appreciate the near seamless mechanics that let you solve jumping puzzles at your own leisure and with your own style. I say "near seamless" because I did encounter a few hiccups, namely the tracking on Aritana’s attacks. Sometimes when you’re above the enemy and go for a downwards strike, Aritana’s trajectory will auto-correct from free fall to “inching-towards” the enemy, which can make you miss your intended mark when multiple enemies are around, or even cause Aritana to clumsily plummet to his death. Even if this is more hilarious than annoying, it still was something to take note of, as I don’t appreciate having to retry the more hellish areas more than 5 times due to something that’s out of my control.

Aritana and the Harpy’s Feather offers the right amount of challenge and enjoyment with many throwbacks to our favorite platformers, as well as its own brand of passable mechanics. The art style is unique and, for a cast of mute yet endearing characters, the old picture book-like scenes manage to convey the story’s message. I would play it again just to see if I can keep bouncing myself in the air for a whole minute!