Outfoxing the competition.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to control the seasons? When winter is so cold your driveway is covered with snow, wouldn’t it be handy to snap your fingers and make it summer? When the autumn starts and the cinemas are filled with mediocre Adam Sandler comedies, wouldn’t you like to turn the clock back to the superhero blockbusters of the spring? Seasons After Fall lets you select whichever quarter of a year you fancy. Changing the seasons is also the core mechanic of the game. I couldn’t help but wonder if Seasons After Fall would turn-turn-turn this interesting premise into quality entertainment.
Seasons After Fall has you playing as a magical floating spirit which magically possesses an adorable fox. Your goal is to bring together the spirit of every season by guiding the fox to meet with the various seasonal guardians. You’re helped along by your seed-spirit guide who chirpily intones how once you get your paws on the powers of the guardians and perform the ritual of the seasons, everything will be better and all your dreams will come true. Not to spoil anything, but suffice to say: this sets up a mid-game plot twist that would make Ken Levine proud. Though the plot may be a little telegraphed, the details are kept understated in keeping with the focus on the mysterious forces of nature.
As soon as I took control of my vulpine host for the first time; hearing its little paws padding on the wind-tiled grass; the waves crashing in the background like a moving watercolour painting – I was taken aback by the beauty of it all. The way the colourful surroundings shift so starkly with each season just enhances this contrasting portrait of nature: muddy puddles turning to smooth icy surfaces in winter; giant mushrooms blossoming in autumn; vines uncurling into full verdancy in summer. You’ll seldom see such a earnestly crafted vision of the natural world.
The game is a simple 2D platformer at its heart. You’ll get around by running and jumping over the grassy hills and pine-laden forests. The rapidly building complexity lies in your ability to switch seasons at will, and change the landscape around you. You can change the season to sweep a giant leaf into the air on autumnal winds – letting you use it as a makeshift platform to jump to higher ground. A switch to spring will raise a waterspout to its highest point as the ground gets sodden with rain. You can then freeze the water solid in the coldness of winter, providing an icy tower for you to leap onto. The challenges are simple at first, but the difficulty spikes up during the midgame once you’re familiarized with your seasonal scenery-shifting powers.
Puzzling isn’t always terribly intuitive, but that’s part of the charm. Your guide tells you early on: “When I’m here, you’ll never get lost again!” but this turns out to be a pretty optimistic promise! A lot of times, you’re given no direction on what to do. I quite enjoyed figuring out my way through some of the less obvious puzzles, making my fox experimentally bark at unassuming bits of the scenery, or changing the seasons to see if it effected the landscape in any way. One trial involved leading some fireflies to link with these magical stones – creating a colourful tapestry. I had to switch seasons to make different patterns appear, and explore every which way to find the shapes I needed to recreate. It was oddly refreshing being expected to work out these new systems myself after I’ve become so used to having everything spelled out to me by step-by-step tutorials.
I can’t pretend I always enjoyed the opaque nature of Seasons After Fall though, as sometimes I outright had no idea where to go! A seasonal guardian would give me vague instructions to go and find a magical stone wrapped in some barbs, but I had no idea where it was. I eventually found it, but doing so required a good 5-10 minutes of backtracking through areas I’d already explored. The puzzle which followed was equally unintuitive. Apparently, I needed to find some glowing jellyfish creatures to turn a puddle of water into a teleporter. If you think this bizarre solution is even hinted at by your guide, think again!
Whether you’ll enjoy Seasons After Fall will depend on whether or not you’d enjoyed classic adventure titles like Myst: where you’re doing a lot of wandering around with only a general sense of what you’re doing – with the functionality of various objects you encounter being alien to you. The sense of wonder at this strange world sometimes comes at the cost of you feeling lost.
Seasons After Fall is an elegantly organic experience. Leaping around its dreamy landscape of rich watercolours is a joy for how natural it feels: no cumbersome HUD, no nagging hints – just a fox alone in nature. It can be ponderous, and outright baffling at times, but then again: if you don’t want to be puzzled, why play a puzzle game?
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) Publisher: Focus Home Interactive ; Developer: Swing Swing Submarine ; Players: 1 ; Released: September 2nd, 2016
Full disclosure: This review is based on review copy given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.