If you were an innocent forest creature suddenly possessed by a spirit intent on jettisoning the cycle of seasons in favor of her own misguided ends, what might you be feeling?
And if that disembodied spirit looked down over your now lifeless body, would you wish for it back?
These are a few questions not exactly posed by Seasons After Fall, a 2D puzzle-platformer released by Swing Swing Submarine.
You play a curious fox whose curiosity doesn’t exactly kill the cat, but does end up leaving him possessed in a somewhat confusing battle between spirits and lazy guardian beasts. Having been possessed by a “seed,” the fox journeys to gain fragments of the seasons, bestowing upon our vulpan friend the power to switch between seasons at will. However, eventually everything goes wrong, and a less embodied fox ends up taking over, albeit with powers still intact.
It’s best to not dwell for too long on these things…
Seasons After Fall is a relatively straightforward puzzle-platformer as far as the basics of the genre are concerned; some light puzzles that provide access to different areas, some exploration of the world, etc.
However, what makes this title intriguing is the seasons change mechanic. About 1/3 of the way through the game you will have the power to switch between all four seasons as will, and each season interacts with the environment in different ways, forcing the player to choose what “season” to use to solve various puzzles along the way.
For example, there are these expectorating flowers that will spit different things during different seasons; during winter it spits a giant snowball that can break barriers or provide a platform to reach inaccessible areas, whereas in spring it spits out water which can be used to water a sapling that grows into a tree, providing branches for platforming. Winter will freeze water, spring can be used to flood certain areas which can then be frozen; the list goes on.
This mechanic also dynamically changes the aesthetics of the environment, which adds an additional level of immersion and gives each area new life with each change of season. Some look better than others in certain seasons, and so you might find yourself defaulting to certain seasons in certain areas. It also provides a nice visual break here and there which helps keep the game’s pace moving forward.
The controls are fairly simple. There is a “jump” button, a “bark”/interact button, and then a season cycle button which provides a radial menu of season switch commands. Unfortunately, the controls for the platforming aren’t as tight as they could be. I routinely found myself botching jumps as it felt like one needed a bit of a running jump for most jumps. And the arc of the jump sometimes didn’t feel quite as tight as it should have been, which also made the platforming a little tricky in some respects.
I also thought that in some ways the game sort of held your hand as well as hyped up encounters and situations that didn’t pan out at all. For example, in the initial portion of the game where you are collecting season fragments, the spirit seed keeps warning you about your forthcoming encounters with the Guardians, but then all you have to do is walk up to them and get the fragment. There’s no real danger and thus the dialogue often felt a little forced.
The visuals overall are simply wonderful. The hand-brushed strokes employed throughout the world create a visual feast that is continually replenished. The seasons change mechanic works really well here, both in the transition between seasons, and in the distinction throughout.
Winter is cold and snowy and overcast, with muted colors but vibrant highlights. Spring often has light showers with the subtle saturation of new life, often with pollen and particles floating around, as well as subtle light changes through newly grown leaves. Summer is often bright and colorful, with plenty of lush and verdant landscapes to beguile the eyes. And Fall of course is rich in strong oranges and deep yellows and bold reds, full of the grandeur of life in its final brilliant flashes of beauty.
The animation will certainly not win any awards (and there are definitely some weird motions going on), but on the whole it has a nice organic unity and flow throughout, fitting in well with the art style and the overall aesthetic dynamic. Some nice little details also help to bring the forest to life; in one of my first levels I was delighted to see my fox bounding through some overgrown grass, with some little clippings flipping up behind him as he passed through. Honestly, I felt the game could have used a bunch more little details like that, but the amount that is there was still gladly welcomed.
For a 2D platformer, there is a really nice use of parallax throughout which helps to give this world a stronger sense of depth. At times the foreground can actually get in the way, but it helped to fill out the levels and provide a nice sense of place and distance.
There’s obviously a lot of love that went into crafting the visuals for Seasons After Fall, and that comes through in every scene and location. Be sure to check out some of the timelapses below:
I confess to having mixed feelings about the audio. There is a string sextet which plays pieces from time to time that are quite lovely, but within a few seconds they fade out. “Plays” may be too generous a word; “intrudes” might serve a bit better, as the music seemed to only play when sections were introduced or when a specific action took place. It felt more like fits and starts than seamlessly integrated into the experience. What music is there fits nicely; sometimes it has an introspective feel, while at other times it feels a bit more whimsical. At any rate, I wanted more of it.
When the music isn’t playing, there is usually a light drone or pad of some kind of fill up the aural space, as well as ambient sound effects specific to both the location and the season. I found this kind of intriguing, as changing the seasons doesn’t just change the environment and the visuals, but also the ambient feel. The result is that shifting seasons can at times almost feel like you have stepped into another location or level, which is always a nice way to keep things fresh.
The voice acting was well-done, but I honestly felt that perhaps the story could have been better facilitated by text. It just seemed too “human” for a game that is dealing mostly with spirits, guardians and a fox.
The Emptiness Without
This ended up being a game that I really wanted to enjoy more than I did. However, there were a few missteps that caused it to fall short.
When you are first introduced to the seasons change mechanic (where you can change between fall and winter), there’s this really fun “that’s awesome!” moment, because the possibilities seem endless. You look forward to finding the other season fragments so you can start changing to their seasons as well.
However, it doesn’t take long to realize that much of this season change dynamic is largely superficial, and that holds true for most of this world. Granted, there is much to see (if not much to do) and it’s all gorgeous, but you get the sense that the bigness of the world hides an emptiness underneath.
For a platformer, there seem to be relatively few platforms, as well as relatively little to interact with. Instead, there ends up being a lot of running and bounding, which isn’t entirely unenjoyable, but it does begin to wear a little thin. This is compounded by the story requires a lot of backtracking. The season change mechanic works well, but the difficulty is that there isn’t enough of it. Actually, you soon realize that the season change doesn’t change things enough.
Although there is a substantial visual change from season to season, the season change doesn’t really interact with the environment as much as one might wish. In fact, there ends up being only about 3-4 things within the environment that are actually changed by each season, which I found unfortunate. Once you figure out which items are changed by which season and how (which happens pretty quickly), the puzzles become largely straightforward and feel the same throughout. There are a few spots where things get changed up a bit, but those are few and far between.
It’s a shame, because the season change mechanic is a really cool one, and is something that is pregnant with possibility. Unfortunately it ends up feeling more like a superficial gloss on the world, rather than something which deeply affects it. For example, for most puzzles you will end up using only about one or two seasons to solve them, and these are usually pretty obvious. I would have liked to see a deeper interaction with the environment so that the season changes made more profound impacts on everything that weren’t always straightforward. Perhaps some puzzles where you had to figure out a more complex use of seasons in a particular order to get past it.
It just felt like a lot of potential for a very cool mechanic went unfulfilled, which ultimately marred the overall experience of the game.
The story also doesn’t really have much emotional draw to it. As you get near the end and unlock the optional wind stones you get some of the backstory to the Seed’s existential crisis, but there is little resolution to this at the end.
One thing that really pulled me out of it is that about one-third to halfway through the game the spirit Seed is severed from the fox’s body, and his lifeless corpse is just left to rot on the ground for the remainder of the game while you control a spectral fox. This was a bit jarring simply because of that fact, but I also enjoyed the visuals of the fox better than that of the spectral fox (which is blueish and more indistinct in features), but you end up having to play most of the game with the spectral fox. It just ends up feeling like there’s this big plot point that no one’s talking about or willing to acknowledge, which makes the story feel a little off.
Seasons After Fall is a gorgeous, intriguing title that has a lot of great ideas which unfortunately falls a little flat in its execution. That being said, the visuals are top-notch and the gameplay has just enough legs to make a playthrough largely worth the effort. This is a great title to pick up on sale if possible.