Imagine attending an art gallery and staring at a beautiful painting that changes scenery, color and movement based upon your whims. However, in order to look at this painting you must also run on a treadmill while answering questions on subjects you know little about. The treadmill requirement might make some sense, but the pop quiz question obligation would feel a little odd. One or the other will soon tire you and cause you to question the effort even if the reward is quite lovely. In a way, that is how playing Seasons After Fall feels. It is stunning both visually and melodiously, but at some point you will question whether the effort exceeds the desire to see more.
The game has been out on Steam since 2016, but only recently released for XBOX and PS4. We got our hands on a PS4 copy. You play as a sentient seed that, upon instruction from a mysterious voice, possesses a wild fox in order to explore a mystical forest. For reasons you do not know, this voice has tasked you with locating several Guardians living within the caverns, trees, hills, and other locations in order to acquire fragments of the seasons. Apparently, the weather in the area has grown stagnant and the seasons no longer change. Why the seasons no longer revolve is a mystery one must discover with progress, but the fox, when in possession of his own mind, makes it quite clear that an unreliable narrator is likely guiding your journey.
This sense of dark mystery is what developer Swing Swing Submarine gets right in both Seasons After Fall’s visuals and music style. Both are what shine brightest in this tale of enchanted climate control. In certain places within the spring and summer sections in particular, the music can crescendo into a sprightly tune worthy of the warm sun and vibrant foliage. Other times, however, the ambiance changes into something more frightful. We hear what sounds like wolves howling against an otherwise silent setting. The shadows of the deep forest and cool colors of winter are highlighted by a stark and sudden drumbeat, or the softer and sometimes almost sinister sound of woodwinds.
Even the Guardians themselves exude an ancient mix of both the unpredictability of nature and its beauty. Strangely, despite the fact the game never presents any form of combat and death is likely never to occur, I never failed to feel a slight sense of unease when confronted with a new Guardian. Perhaps this was a combination of atmosphere, the verbal buildup given by the mysterious voice, and the fact I had already been clued in that something was very wrong here.
Given the strong and clear direction the game displays with both it’s visual and musical style, it is unfortunate the gameplay does not quite match up. The game trains you as you progress to use the different abilities the seasons offer. Each has particular environmental effects such as freezing over a lake so you can run across, raising the spray height of a geyser, bringing rain that can then be used to grow a tree, or causing a mushroom to gush water and thus raise lake levels. Other aspects of puzzles involve activating parts of the environment using the Fox’s bark. Unfortunately, though these mechanics are interesting and even fun to use once you get the hang of it, the puzzles often feel too simple and too sparse.
To be fair, the difficulty does increase as the player acquires more seasons, but I never felt that the game became particularly challenging. Whenever it did, it was because the game presented me with a puzzle that used mechanics that were only utilized in one place, therefore leaving me with no prior knowledge off of which to work. In one such case, I was forced to wander about for a while using everything in my arsenal at random until I happened upon the correct combination of season, movement, and bark use. I am all for making the player think, but when the rest of the game is set up to train the player to reason in a certain way, throwing in two or three puzzles that then expect you to think outside the box that the developer has built can cause unnecessary confusion.
Finally, I think the jump mechanic deserves at least a short mention. Scouring through Steam discussions I saw several complaints about the jump having lag. I can affirm that the jump mechanic suffers from lag on the PS4 version as well. Given the fact that it is now often standard for the jump timing to match very closely to button activation, it is understandable that this can be a source of frustration. However, platforming is a game of skill that relies heavily on a player’s ability to time jumps. This was something all gamers had to learn to do when playing the original Mario, or Mega Man. While, yes, that was largely due to the tech at the time, I can see an argument for keeping jump lag in order to increase difficulty. For this reason, I actually do notn’t see the jump mechanic as a negative. It is a fair addition to difficulty that can be overcome, and one this game needs given the softer overall difficulty of the puzzles.
If Seasons After Fall had a strong story element, then the above critiques might be more easily overlooked. Regrettably, the same sparseness that creates a feeling of mystery within the game’s ambiance does not play well with the story. You learn very little about the voice’s motivation or your role in it as you search for the seasons. If the game had ended there, however, with a bold revelation, the time spent getting to the end might feel more justified. However, Seasons After Fall expects the player to remain motivated for an hour or so more after strung along on a very thin narrative.
In the end, I think your expectations going into Seasons After Fall will play a huge role in how you receive it. The game shows potential, but fails to reach it overall. If the story had been more concise or more fleshed out during the course of the game, then the journey might not have felt so overstretched. The visuals and tone, however, were clearly well thought out and reflect a greater mystery that I cannot help but feel I was not made privy to within the game. Overall, the game is beautiful and if you go in for the music and the mystique without expecting a difficult challenge, then Seasons After Fall might deliver well for you. However, if you go in expecting an engaging puzzle/platformer as well, you will likely walk away disappointed.
Seasons After Fall is now available on PS4 and XBOX One.
- The scenery and sound are beautiful, pulling the player in to a mysterious realm that never feels quite safe but one you’d still love to explore.
- The season changing puzzle mechanics are interesting and easy to learn.
- You get to play as an adorable fox.
- Puzzles remain overly simple, rarely exceeding medium difficulty for most players.
- The storyline is thin and fails to serve as a strong motivator to complete the game when paired with the overall gameplay.
- For a game advertised as a puzzle/platformer, the low difficulty conjoined with a storyline that takes too long to flesh out ends up making the gameplay elements appear lacking and offering too little to keep the player engaged. In this case, the beauty, however stunning, is not enough to overcome the other imperfections.