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Seasons After Fall

Score: 60%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Swing Swing Submarine
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer (2D)/ Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

Seasons After Fall is one of those games that has everything going for it except for that which matters the most. Its watercolor visuals look absolutely beautiful and its naturalistic sound design is incredibly soothing. However, the gameplay canít decide whether it wants to be dull or frustrating, and it never really wants to be more than either in the first place. There are good ideas languishing somewhere deep within Seasons After Fall, but theyíre hamstrung by poor design decisions and buried under hours of tedium.

Games that heavily romanticize the wonders of the natural world often have a keen sense of style and visuals that really pop. Seasons After Fall is one of those games. Itís a lovingly handcrafted watercolor world that shows off at every turn. As well it should; itís quite the looker. If you look closely, you can practically see brush strokes; watching them incorporate seamlessly into the animation work will leave you positively enchanted. Seasons After Fall features more than its share of visual charm, but there are also some threatening elements that help sell the fantasy. Given that this is a game about controlling the seasons, the act of doing so results in the right kind of visual feedback Ė and Iím not just talking about palette swaps.

In perfect harmony with the visuals is the work of a string quartet. It wouldnít do to include music that was rife with electronic artifice. Seasons After Fallís soundtrack is a pitch-perfect accompaniment to the visuals and action. It just soundsÖ natural. And thereís no mistaking that thatís what the developer is going for. It also helps in setting it apart from other games of this type. Voice work is ponderous and introspective, occasionally disappearing somewhere into some unseen void of pretention. Itís not bad, per se, but the writing is not as charming or smart as it thinks it is, which doesnít help things.


Gameplay:

In Seasons After Fall, you assume the role of a formless spirit known as a "Seed." You spring to life in a wooded glade, where youíre charged by an unseen entity with a mystical quest to bring about the Ritual of the Seasons. What is this ritual? And who is giving you these orders? On your own, the Seed canít do much, but when a curious little fox wanders into the clearing, it immediately takes possession of it and sets off to do the voiceís bidding. Creepy? Yes. Interesting? Sure. Coherent? Nope.

Seasons After Fall primarily operates as a two-dimensional platformer; simply moving left to right (or vice versa) is what youíll be doing more than anything else. And I really mean it. Youíll do a lot of running and jumping while pretty much nothing goes on either in the background or the foreground. Ultimately, it feels like a cheap way of padding the gameís length instead of giving you the feeling that youíre on an epic adventure that takes you to all corners of the realm.

Pacing is broken up by environmental puzzles. These puzzles are ostensibly simple, though some are maddeningly arcane. There arenít many mechanics in Seasons After Fall, so thereís not much room for experimentation. Usually by the time youíve exhausted your repertoire, the solution naturally presents itself. But sometimes, thatís just not the case.


Difficulty:

The absence of certain modern conventions renders Seasons After Fall a frequently obtuse, cryptic experience. Maps and waypoints would have fixed this, but for some reason, they were left out of the design process. This results in tedium, confusion, and boredom. As beautiful as Seasons After Fall can be, simply existing in its world is not enough. And the grand majority of the level design is made up of flat straightaways, moving platforms, and tree branches that act as switchbacks. All of it just comes across as incredibly disrespectful of the playerís time.

If youíre not a fan of games that are purposefully vague, Seasons After Fall will infuriate you. Itís almost forgivable, considering that itís a two-dimensional game that only really gives you two basic directions. However, there are a handful of branching paths that may or may not lead you where you actually need to be.

Puzzles are often simple enough, but a handful of mid-game objectives do an incredibly poor job of communicating to the player exactly what has to be done. And whatís worse, the solutions sometimes present themselves in arbitrary ways. Not in ways that encourage experimentation, but in ways that feel totally accidental and therefore unsatisfying.


Game Mechanics:

Seasons After Fall's signature mechanic is, as you might have guessed by the name of the game, changing the seasons at will. Environmental trauma and global repercussions aside, this is a neat idea. Each of the seasons has a certain series of identifying characteristics to them, and the possibilities that stem from this natural diversity could lend itself well to a platform/puzzler. But Seasons After Fall keeps it a bit too basic for it to really come into its own. Obvious color palette swaps aside, certain parts of the environment change or become interactive in some way, but the core gameplay is never, ever touched. Of all the missed opportunities in Seasons After Fall, this one hurts the most.

Save the elementary locomotion mechanics (which are fine, albeit stiff), the only other mechanic in Seasons After Fall is a bark. This is used to activate certain items and solve puzzles. Like most of the rest of the gameplay, it's extremely basic stuff.

Seasons After Fall is a case study in the dangers of style over substance as a game design philosophy. It looks and sounds amazing, but everything else feels like it's in service to its non-interactive elements. A good game is desperately trying to happen here, but its lack of signposting and tedious level design ensure that it wears out its welcome long before it should.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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