In 2014, Child of Light amazed and entranced us. In 2015, we were enamored by Ori and the Blind Forest. Then, in 2016, Unravel filled our hearts with joy. Now, in 2017, Seasons After Fall continues the annual trend of stunning and artsy platformers that drip with charm and tug at the heartstrings.
French developer, Swing Swing Submarine, brings life to a small fox wandering a hand-painted forest. You start the game as a bodiless essence that uses said fox as a vessel, trying to find the forest’s guardians so you can learn to harness the power of the four seasons and solve the problems plaguing the forest. There’s a bit more going on than meets the eye, but we’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say, this random fox goes through some pretty harsh trials and tribulations that it didn’t ask for, and you’ll feel many emotions for it throughout the game.
The power of the seasons – Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall – brings a fresh new dynamic to the standard platforming genre, as your surroundings alter depending on the weather each season brings. Water geysers that are light and small during Fall will shoot higher during the rainy Summer, then you can jump to Winter to freeze the geyser and jump on it to a previously out-of-reach area. Likewise there are plants scattered throughout that only bloom in certain seasons (again acting as platforms), and will collapse if you don’t have the proper season active.
Not only do the puzzles rely on specific seasonal manipulation, but getting to see the entire forest in four different settings is an absolute treat. The reds and oranges of Fall bring warm and fuzzy feelings, while the frozen lakes and snow-capped hills of Winter will make you shiver. One could look at the different seasons as simple color-palette swaps, but the way the tones blend and certain shades pop is masterfully done, so that every season looks individually lovely.
It’s a good thing the landscapes look so pretty, too, because you’ll be running back and forth through each area of Seasons After Fall several times. It’s not a particularly long game; you can beat it at a leisurely pace in 5 hours or so. But in that time you’ll explore the half a dozen or so areas quite thoroughly, and if you miss a piece of the puzzle, you’ll be left shifting through the seasons every few steps just to see if something new activates. It’s nice that the game doesn’t hold your hand, but sometimes it gets pretty frustrating trying to find that one thing you overlooked that can only be activated in Spring in order to proceed.
The problem isn’t with the difficulty; it’s with pinpointing which season you must use to activate which part of the puzzle. At the beginning it’s all pretty obvious; you unlock the power of a new season, and the next area demands a lot of swapping between that and the previous one. However, once you’ve got access to all four seasons, all bets are off. You might go straight through without missing a beat, but more likely you’ll end up back-tracking way more than you’d like in order to solve that puzzle you missed one step in.
On top of that, if you’re hopping back and forth between two maps you’ll quickly notice the painful load times. It doesn’t matter whether you’re entering a new map for the first time or returning for the fifth while trying to solve a puzzle; every time will take somewhere between 10 and 20 seconds to load. The size of each area is substantial enough that it isn’t a huge issue, but you’ll be going back and forth between areas frequently enough that it is more than noticeable, and more than a little annoying.
If you can handle waiting through the loading screens and working through a few tedious puzzles, you are rewarded in spades with a touching story with unexpected turns and an extremely subtle soundtrack. You might not even notice that the melody has changed from the normal, easy-going forest stroll pace to an energetic dash until you’re already mid-run in a particularly challenging platforming puzzle or dramatic moment in the plot, as the auditory transitions are seamless.