As I write this review I am listening to the soundtrack for Seasons After Fall. I can safely say that this is a rarity. However, such is its beauty it just felt right to do so. Composed by Yann Van Der Cruyssen it is a masterful use of the strings. So intrinsically linked with the game itself, you can almost recount the whole story just by listening. It’s an ongoing discussion in the gaming world as to whether games could be considered art. After sitting down and playing Seasons After Fall I will nail my colours to the mast. I will say, with personal assurity, that they are. As not only is the soundtrack a wonderous journey all by itself the game it accompanies is equally as beautiful.
In the beginning, you are a seed or “little seed” as our mysterious narrator dubs us. I wasn’t overly fond of that name so, after possessing an unfortunately curious fox, I dubbed our furry hero Gavin. To begin with, our mysterious narrator told us that we needed to collect each of the four seasons from their respective guardians. Once all four were in our possession we could perform a special ritual that would set her free. Not one to argue with an incorporeal voice from afar, Gavin and I set about our journey. As I traversed each of the four zones of the forest I was struck by just how beautiful this game is. The environments, no matter the season, are wonderfully drawn each bringing their own colour palette to the fore. Autumn being a particular favourite mostly down to the wonderful mix of colours.
From One Season To The Next
Controlling Gavin was straightforward and for the most part, they were pretty responsive. Using the left thumbstick for movement and ‘A’ to jump traversing obstacles were a breeze. I did occasionally struggle to make the odd jump and some leaps took a bit more finesse than I would have thought needed. As you gain access to each season you can then change things via the right thumbstick. The transition animation is wonderful as the colours of the current season dissolve gracefully into the next. Once I had, under my control, all the seasons I spent a good five minutes changing between each one. Each time marvelling at simple beauty of the transition. It may sound silly but I defy anyone not to be impressed at just how well it is done. The seasons aren’t just for marvelling at, however, as each one makes the surroundings act differently.
This is where the puzzle element of Seasons After Fall comes into play. Depending on which season you’ve chosen some parts of the forest become available, others disappear. For example, to get to a raised platform I needed to use Spring, and the April showers that come with it, to enable giant mushroom-like plants. Once they were full of water a switch to Summer allowed me to make this mushroom deposit the water below raising the water level. Finally, a quick blast of Winter froze the water and this platform was just an easy jump away. Changing seasons can also make murals and other environmental elements change giving clues on how to solve the riddles at hand. The puzzles can be challenging but never to the point of outright frustration. Especially knowing that, generally, a quick cycle through the seasons will quickly reveal the right way.
Rinse & Repeat
As you progress through the game’s story, which is wonderfully narrated by two very talented voice actors, I started to notice that things were starting to repeat. Puzzles used earlier on return, slightly bigger, but the same nonetheless. Moreover, having completed each of the four zones, you are sent back in more than once to each. While appreciating that our adventure takes place in a forest, re-treading our steps multiple times meant we went back over the same puzzles. Some new elements were introduced each time but this isn’t enough in my opinion. It diminishes their impact making the latter stages feel simple where things should be getting to their most challenging.
There is a distinct lack of direction and while, as mentioned, clues are generally only a season change away this hands-off approach can be to the game’s detriment. At one point, I thought I was on the home stretch with only one more action to go before completion. It was not to be but then I had no clue on what I was supposed to do next. Whereas to begin with our mysterious narrator was more than happy to offer direction she was now silent with no-one else to fill the void. It was only because of the repetitive nature of Seasons After Fall that I decided to revisit one of the zones. I soon discovered that I would have to revisit each of the zones for a final time.
The soundtrack draws to its melancholic close and I’m starting to realise that it audibly describes the game itself. Seasons After Fall is beautiful and it rightly deserves all the plaudits for both how it looks and for how it sounds. As for how it plays, perhaps one of the key elements for any game, and it falters. Not by much, but enough that it falls short of being something truly amazing. It left me wanting more, more challenging puzzles and more ways to use the seasons to solve them. In essence, I wanted more to do. I imagine that the limited locations and puzzle variants were a deliberate design decision, perhaps made to tell a tight and focused story. It is a story that could be completed in one sitting but it is because of its limited range that I found myself playing in short stints. I grew tired of going back to the same old places to complete a new task which, once completed, then required me to re-do all the same puzzles to the next zone.
When all is said and done Seasons After Fall is a wonderful game and if you are at all interested in artistic games then it is a must play. So much craft has gone into it, it’s a shame that despite this (or maybe because of it) the overall package falls short of where it could be. If there was just a little bit more variation plus some extra places to visit we could be looking at one of the hidden gems of the year so far. As it is, however, what we have is a very competent platformer that happens to look and sound excellent.