Spoiler: It’s Winter
HIGH The lovely hand-painted visuals.
LOW Nearly every plot McGuffin being a floating orb of light.
WTF It’s the rare game that acknowledges the impossibility of jumping out of water.
Seasons After Fall is a walking simulator. The genre has produced enough worthwhile content at this point that the once-derogatory term remains, largely, because we haven’t come up with a better name. In this case, though, it’s meant to be dismissive. Seasons After Fall is one those purely narrative-driven titles whose ideas outreach its scope. All it manages is to shuffle us through pretty environments and assure us that what we’re doing is very important, presumably in whatever parallel plane all the off-screen characters are hiding.
I’m establishing this because Seasons After Fall has the controls and outward appearance of a 2D platformer, yet it doesn’t seem interested in challenging reflexes or intellect. It fulfills the most basic requirement of being a platformer – there’s a lot of jumping involved – yet I can’t recall a single obstacle that served as more than a slight inconvenience.
This lack of challenge isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it means that Seasons After Fall needs to find strength in other areas, and it doesn’t. Not even its gorgeous hand-painted visual style can mask the sterility of this world for more than a few minutes.
The game puts the player into the role of a bodysnatcher – a nondescript ball of light who must possess an unwilling fox in order to carry out deeds. These tasks are assigned by an unseen woman with a suspiciously cheery voice. I envision her having the words “ulterior motives” written on her forehead.
Our initial task is visit four Guardians and master their control over the seasons. Doing so grants the power to change the weather at will, with various environmental effects happening. After this, a couple of off-screen characters get into a tussle, our allegiances shift and the game’s habit of telling rather than showing becomes increasingly tiresome.
Being able to switch between all four seasons on the fly is obviously intended to be Seasons After Fall’s hook (it’s right there in the title, after all) yet it’s one of the most criminally underexplored mechanics in recent memory. It rarely amounts to more than moving platforms about – certain plants only grow under specific conditions, geysers freeze in winter, and so forth. Things almost never get more cerebral than confronting us with an object and asking us to identify the season that will nudge said object a few feet in a certain direction.
The game is devoid of stakes, as well. There’s no combat, nor does there need to be, but there’s also no fail state of any kind, which makes Seasons After Fall inconsequential most of the time. When it tries to play up the tension, it’s borderline silly. In an early sequence, as I was approaching one of the Guardians, it was said that this guy does not like visitors, and that I’ve got to be very careful while treading through his territory. Then the scene ends without incident, because what else would happen? We can’t die. There are no consequences. Even missed jumps rarely take more than a second or two to recover from.
As Seasons After Fall continues, it becomes increasingly reliant on backtracking, which is made disorienting by the lack of both a map and any distinctive geography. As pretty as the game is, the endless streams of floating platforms suspended against a backdrop of spiraling vines start to blend together quickly. I assume the art team was hampered by having to draw each environment four times (once for each season) and while I appreciate the effort, in practice, the world lacks distinctive locations.
And what’s all of this in service of? Running errands for two narrators caught in some petty squabble, apparently. For a game so singularly focused on world-building, it’s light on details and the means to convey them. As I ran around this forest performing repetitive fetch quests for much longer than I wanted to, I felt an awful lot like the fox I was possessing – a tool in a conflict I have no stake in, when all I wanted to do was look at the pretty scenery.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Swing Swing Submarine and published by Focus Home Interactive. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately five hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: As of press time, this game has not been rated by the ESRB. It contains no mature content whatsoever and is perfectly kid-friendly.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialog is subtitled, and I don’t recall any points in which sound plays a crucial role in the game.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
He was born and raised in Amish country and has yet to escape, despite a brief stint in Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University. He took a one-credit course there called "Career Opportunities for English Majors," which painted a bleak picture for prospective writers. Mike remains steadfast in his ongoing role as a video game critic, however, and has recently written for GamesRadar. Most of his work can be found on HonestGamers, where he has contributed over 200 reviews to date.
When not playing games or writing about them, Mike is a rabid indie music fan and ardent concertgoer. He doesn't read as much as he probably should, but his current favorite author is Alastair Reynolds.