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Review: Seasons After Fall is a beautifully rendered platformer that wants you to kick back rather than sweat over the sticks
It certainly is a sight to behold
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Swing Swing Submarine
Seasons After Fall may be one of the most relaxing games that I have played all year (and possibly ever). You take on the role of a Seed, whose abilities are more akin to that of a body-snatching spirit, and you take over the body of a wild Fox. You then venture forth using the Fox’s body to collect four distinct powers from four Guardians, with each one representing a different season. The overarching goal of the game is to perform this task to perform the Ritual of Seasons.
Unfortunately, your goals become somewhat convoluted after certain story events unfold, and the narrative devolves into a tale that feels like it is deeper than what developer Swing Swing Submarine actually gives you. More or less, you can boil down a description of the game to merely a set of fetch quests, but that feels like it would be selling Seasons After Fall short considering the kind of game it intends to be.
Seasons After Fall may share the same genre as games like Metroid and Ori and the Blind Forest, but it veers away from the challenge aspect that these games provide for a more “put your feet up” kind of experience. Which is fine, provided you are into that sort of thing.
With that said, here are the most important points you need to know about Seasons After Fall.
Seasons After Fall is a beautiful game, and it’s done so without a whole lot of heavy lifting.
Seasons After Fall is both very beautiful and distinctive. Its art style is the most literal version of the “hand drawn” variety that I have ever seen. The term “hand drawn” is one that is used all too often, and in many cases, improperly used. Animations on the Fox are elegant, and when the story segments play, the creature’s expressiveness is just so beautifully simple, relying on individual frames, rather than a string of them. Typically, this would be considered a limitation, but Swing Swing Submarine has figured out how to turn a restriction into a feature.
The environments are stocked full of little details that help sell the movement and the momentum of the Fox. Blades of grass fly up as you dash through the underbrush on a hill and flowers magically bloom at your feet in a small nod of inspiration towards the great Action/Adventure game, Okami.
Completing the trifecta of immersion is Seasons After Fall’s live string quartet that provides the entirety of the game’s soundtrack. Once again, the brilliant simplicity of the game’s experience shines through as the graceful movements of the fox are perfectly synced with that of the notes of the quartet. There are also parts of the game’s puzzles that tie into the music as well, so all things considered, Seasons After Fall nails its atmosphere.
The game clearly focuses on story and atmosphere. Unfortunately, it only does one of those well.
The story in Seasons After Fall makes you feel as if there is so much left untold; That you are an outsider looking inward at a conflict you just kind of showed up to. In a sense, this is a different approach to storytelling in video games, as most prefer to hump your leg showering you with praise about being the most important thing in the whole world.
I would like to think that gaming could nail down the whole outsider perspective in a way that is fun and engaging, but that is not what is happening here. Instead, the importance of the tasks you are set out to accomplish is lost on you, their true contexts of which are only ever known to the omnipotent voices that guide you from one destination to the next.
You can understand the idea that Seasons After Fall is trying to keep things simple, but in doing so, it doesn’t adequately convey everything it wants you to know. It thinks it does, and it tells you that certain things or events are important. But that’s precisely the problem; it tells but doesn’t show. For example, you know that the end goal is to be able to perform the Ritual of the Seasons, but you don’t know why that is important, it’s backstory or its effects. In the end, you are more or less, an errand runner.
Seasons After Fall feels good behind the controller, but it doesn’t offer quite enough to do.
Control over the Fox feels good. The way it leaps from one ledge to the next evokes that feeling of being an animal in the wild, which draws you into the experience. Unfortunately, none of the running and jumping equates to anything more than image.
As I’ve established, Seasons After Fall is simple; but in some ways, it’s almost too simple. The game is mostly comprised of five areas. Four of the areas represent the dwellings of each seasonal Guardian and then there’s the main sanctuary where the fruits of your labor come together to push the narrative forward. Once you acquire each power, you return to each area to perform a new set of tasks that the game gives you, but the powers have the ability to alter pathways, creating new areas to explore. For example, the Spring Rain can raise water levels; the Winter can freeze them over, creating a new path for you to jump to.
In theory, this works well from a game development perspective. As an indie developer, you have to find ways to reuse your limited resources to keep things interesting creatively, and it just seems like visually, there’s only so much you can do with a forest setting. And mechanically, you’re going to encounter the same mushrooms to grow (to create platforms), the same water levels to rise, and the same lakes to freeze. The powers never meaningfully evolve, but fortunately, the game is so short, that it doesn’t end up feeling like a grind.
At $14.99, Seasons After Fall is accurately priced. It’s a pretty short game (about six hours), and conveys itself as what it is; an experiential game rather than a skill-oriented one. If you are a fan of games like Journey or Abzu, Seasons After Fall is closer to something like that rather than Ori and the Blind Forest.
The game is pretty straightforward, and there’s no fail state, so that’s the thing you’ll have to weigh when looking at the game. That said, I found Seasons After Fall worth a playthrough, as I enjoy this type of game, so if you’re in between a game that’s just beaten your psyche silly, Seasons After Fall is an excellent way to decompress.
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