Near the start of my playthrough, there was this magical moment where everything just clicked together. The tiny fox I was controlling began to run along a colourful cliffside, with the sound of the wind blowing and the waves crashing on the shore below. Suddenly the brilliantly emotive soundtrack started to play in an encouraging manner. Both violins were playfully taking control of the melody as the viola and cello propelled the high-speed tempo. It wanted me to run, to jump, to explore – and so I did. Removed from the real world, I had become the gallivanting animal, needlessly vaulting into the air and yapping away because it felt right. I was honestly enthralled by the beauty of the scene.
Then I entered some long grass and – if there was ever a time to use this term, it’s right now – I frolicked like there was no tomorrow.
That anecdote should make it clear that Seasons After Fall, a puzzle-platform title from indie studio Swing Swing Submarine, is an artistic triumph. Its visual aesthetic and animation style is reminiscent of UbiArt-powered games like Rayman Origins and Valiant Hearts, radiating charm with its handcrafted presentation. It does a grand job of complimenting the story, which follows a small fox on a journey to harness to power of the seasons. To go into any more detail would have me dancing dangerously close to spoiler territory, because Seasons After Fall is at its best when the player is exploring the magical forest, and discovering the story, for themselves. What I will say is that the interpretive aspects and traditional exposition help build a heart-warming experience.
What separates SAF from most platform games is that it contains no combat or wandering enemies whatever. This allows players to take a more leisurely approach instead of worrying about dying all the time, instead focusing on puzzle solving and the narrative (told through some superb voice acting performances) that initially guide the player. Because of this, the game comes off as incredibly linear to begin with, but it does open up as the fox gains new powers. As the main mechanic of SAF, its introduction is well paced as the player learns how to utilise Winter to freeze water, or Spring to make the flowers grow. It helps that the ripple effect from changing seasons looks gorgeous, too.
Unfortunately, the mechanic’s eventual assigning to a radial menu does highlight my greatest critique with SAF – the latency amplifying the slipperiness of the controls. I was often selecting a season and getting a different one, which could be rectified a second later but still proved frustrating. Likewise, the bounce to the fox’s movements would be absolutely fine were it not for the input latency. I often missed jumps simply because I forgot to press the button a split second earlier than I normally would have in other games. I will say that I adapted to it eventually, but considering how much traversal is needed in later levels I would have preferred more responsive controls.
This brings me to my next point – the expansive size of the forest in the second half of the game means there’s a lot of travelling to do, which some players may find initially overwhelming. While many of the locations are revisited, there is enough added both in terms of new puzzles and hidden paths that content never outstays its welcome. There were a few incidents where my lack of observation meant I was frantically searching for solutions for quite a while, but the answers were never too far away.
What I’m trying to say it that I need to develop some damn patience.
While I’ve already praised the art direction overall, I much give a special mention the sound design, which my ears absolutely delighted in. We’re not just talking about the reactive soundtrack here, with its string quartet pieces not only being varied in themes, melodies, and timbre (sorry, my inner musician needed to state that) or how the music responds to where the player is heading. No, it’s the attention and subtlety thrown into the little details. The pitter-patter of the fox’s paws as it runs across snow and ice, the crunch as it jumps upon leaves, and even the audible indicators for actions (I’ll even admit that I spent far too much time messing about with the menus because of the sound effects.) There’s a level of delicacy that, as an audiophile, I really appreciated.
I managed to complete the main portion of the game at around the six-hour mark, which puts the RRP of £12 in good stead. However, what surprised me was that there was still more to do. I had missed hidden markers that flesh out the story (as well as provide a “true” ending for finding them all, it seems.) While I am a little apprehensive about searching for these across the huge levels again, I’m determined to do so because of how invested I’ve become in the world. I want that closure, and if that isn’t a measure of how much I’ve enjoyed SAF then I don’t know what is.
- Stunning and delicate artistic design throughout.
- Emotive and well-told story.
- Challenging puzzles ensure the large forest stays interesting…
- … but the eventual size once it all opens up can be initially overwhelming.
- The latency to the bouncy controls could cause frustration.
- I now really want a copy of the soundtrack, and there isn’t one to buy. Sort it out, Focus. [UPDATE: It’s available to buy / download here. Huzzah![/one_half]
[one_half_last]The Short Version:
Seasons After Fall is a labour of love that is nothing short of an artistic triumph. While it does have control issues, it manages to rise above them to become an enthralling puzzle-platform experience.
Click here to learn about our review scores.[/one_half_last]
Platform: PC (Tested), Linux, Mac
Developer: Swing Swing Submarine
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive