Developer: Swing Swing Submarine
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Mark of the Ninja, Invisible, Inc., Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan—I am not ashamed to admit being a sucker for games with hand-drawn assets. When Seasons after Fall appeared in my Steam queue, I was immediately struck with wistfulness. This was not of the nostalgic type, but the kind that makes me long for Disney that is not in CGI. Of course, this film must be free from the chicanery that was The Princess and the Frog, where Tiana is as much a star in her film as Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, or the despondency of The Fox and the Hound. Until that happens, with gratitude, I will continue to entertain the efforts of indie studios…
…especially those such as Swing Swing Submarine, when they are floundering indie companies. Seasons after Fall may very well be Swing Swing Submarine’s swan song. Here is hoping that it will be a cacophony rather than deafaning hush.
Only the most reactionary of audiences will find offense in a game ostensibly designed for all audiences. The playable fox, in order to be playable at all, is lured from its thicket to be possessed by a forest spirit for the purpose of accomplishing its mission. At a turning point in the game, a “Ritual of the Seasons” will result in the fox taking on an ethereal form.
To get the obvious out of the way, yes, Seasons after Fall is gorgeous. I am not going to devote a lot of writing space in tautology concerning how the game looks. After all, a launch trailer and animated .gifs have been provided for everyone’s viewing pleasure. The game’s indisputable beauty is matched by only a handful of games. I should at least note that there is some craftiness afoot, but first, a traditional exposition into the story is necessary.
Seasons after Fall begins with what appears to be the awakening of a forest sprite arranged by a greater forest spirit. The budding “seed” has no voice, for it is the player. A young yet matronly voice playfully guides the orb into taking possession of a fox. This voice goads the fox-spirit into four sectors in the forest, each one hosting a slumbering Guardian who serves as keeper of a respective season. The fox-spirit appears to extract some power from each Guardian, granting it command over the seasons to change them at will. Once the fox-spirit collects all four seasons, the voice guides it toward a sacred grove where it will perform the Ritual of Seasons. Something happens, but it is not the sprite’s desired result.
The remainder of the game is reminiscent of a metroidvania; some areas that were previously inaccessible can now be conquered through clever cycling through the seasons. Indeed, Seasons after Fall‘s signature mechanic is the ability to change the seasons as easily as the tap of a button, and this shift manipulates the environment. Water that must be waded through freezes and can be walked upon during the winter; fungi fully bloom exclusively during autumn, creating platforms that can be lept upon, and so on.
Though Seasons after Fall lacks enemies, it does not fail to entertain as its puzzle-platform phases provide adequate amusement. To reiterate the point, it is refreshing to play a game where there are no foes to defeat or bosses to best; this is a game that revolves around the brain. Memory is one such cognitive attribute that will be tested. A lack of map is bizarre, but other astute design choices compensate for its absence, such as the first quarter of the game guiding the player toward a favorable direction through the banter of the encouraging sprite. When all seasons are acquired, the player will have to backtrack through previously-traveled areas while unveiling and accessing new routes. The first phase of the game behaving as a tutorial without explicitly stating its properties as such could be why the start of the game feels sluggish in a way that did not bore me to sleep so much as I was lulled into a tranquil torpor. Once I acquired all four seasons, the game began to live(n) up to its name as a lovely adventure full of discovery, with only one outrageous exception (below).
The music featured in Seasons after Fall is appropriately as whimsical as a forest frolic can be harmoniously communicated when it plays, but that is far too infrequent. While silence is common in games such as pre-2013 Tomb Raider during a puzzle room, the music in this game is apparently only interested in entertaining as long as the player continuously finds solutions as if omniscient. Additionally, the game inexplicably drops in frames on occasion, ruining the mirage that the game is not a feature film after all. The controls are serviceable enough for a platform game, though a slight delay when changing directions is noticeable, especially if one tries to zigzag jump up elevation, a relatively common technique for games in its genre.
While not flawless, Seasons after Fall is an otherwise pleasurable experience. In the very least, gamers and other developers alike should play it to experience how creative developers do more with less. The craftiness that I refer to earlier pertains to how Swing Swing Submarine was able to convey four distinguished seasons: a palette filter. To the inattentive eye, each season is 100% unique. On the contrary, the foreground merely changes colors, possibly accompanied with rain, snow, or wind to enhance the effect, but nothing else really changes. Meanwhile, one may notice that the double-layered background does transform, but it is significantly less detailed. I applaud this optical illusion because I find it both creative and effective, while certainly saving money during development. Here is hoping that Swing Swing Submarine’s latest creation will not be its last!
The Bottom Line
Seasons after Fall is a pleasurable exercise in aesthetic finesse, demonstrating how creative indie developers continue to do more with less.