Visually stunning, but the gameplay is lacking
Disclosure: A PC (Steam) download code was provided by the publisher for this review
Seasons After Fall is a beautiful game. The painted art is stunning, the music fits the tone and style appropriately, and it is clear that significant work went into making the game look and sound fantastic. Unfortunately, the rest of the game doesn't reach that standard, and ultimately Seasons After Fall feels like a game of wasted potential.
Seasons After Fall is a 2D puzzle platformer, telling the story of the fox who obtains the ability to manipulate seasons. The story isn't especially noteworthy, though it is well told. The game's writing and narration voice acting leads the story to take on a children's storybook type of vibe, which match the artstyle well and makes for an interesting experience.
The gameplay in Seasons After Fall is rather basic, and that is where the game starts to come apart. By changing the season, the fox is able to reach new areas and explore deeper into the world by, for example, unfurling leaves as platforms or freezing water. Outside of the season manipulation, the platforming is extremely simple - the fox can run and jump, and that is about it. There are no enemies, no fall damage, no time-sensitive puzzles, and little in the way of threats at all. Early sections of the game pretty much boiled down to running in a specific direction and occasionally jumping, making it easy to tune out and stop paying attention. The first half of the game is spent gathering the season manipulation powers, and feels like an extended tutorial. More or less, the part of the game involves going in a set direction to reach the power, and then running all the way back to the centre of the world. This would have been fine as a tutorial, but this cycle then repeats three times to gather the rest of the powers. It isn't an engaging experience, and if not for the good looking artwork would be exceedingly boring.
The second half or so of the game does open up significantly, and allows the player to explore more freely. However, this sense of freedom is greatly diminished as the areas largely those already explored in the first half of the game. The new season manipulation powers grant access to some new areas, but I mostly felt that I wasn't seeing anything new. It doesn't help that this section of the game felt somewhat aimless - I was directed to find a certain rock formation in the world, but I had no idea where it was. Unless I overlooked them, there didn't appear to be any hints directing me towards it, and I felt like I was running around randomly hoping to stumble across it. The game would be hugely improved by adding a basic map, so that I could at least plan where I was going to explore and avoid repeating sections by mistake.
The simplistic platforming could perhaps be excused if the game's puzzles were interesting. Sadly, they, for the most part, aren't. Too many of them could be solved by simply finding the one thing to do in a specific environment, and doing that. To its credit, the puzzles in the latter half of the game significantly improve, and there are some interesting uses of combinations of seasons. By that point I had largely checked out of the game due to the lacklustre first half, and it was a big ask for the game to pull me back in at that point.
It didn't help that switching between seasons didn't feel like a smooth or quick process, meaning some of the latter puzzles felt clunky. It's perhaps unfortunate that I played Hue prior to this game, as they both use similar systems (move the right stick to pick a new environment) but only Hue got it exactly right. In Seasons After Fall, switching between seasons takes a few seconds, so jumping then switching seasons is impossible, meaning mis-timed jumps cannot be recovered. Not only that, but switching mid-jump kills the character's momentum, so I would frequently do so by mistake, fall through the gap, and end up having to start the section over.
I wish I wasn't so down on Seasons After Fall. It's a great looking game, and I really enjoyed being in that world. However, after about twenty minutes, that novelty starts to wear off and I found myself asking "What more is there to this?", to which the answer seems to be "not much". There are definitely worse platformers out there, and I certainly didn't hate my time playing it, but Seasons After Fall could, and should, have been so much more than what it is. The simplistic gameplay and mechanical stumbles slowly build up, and make the overall experience somewhat disappointing. With some mechanical improvements, such as adding a map or making switching seasons a smoother process, and some reworking of the first half of the game to reduce its repetitiveness, Seasons After Fall could be made into a much better game, but the released version is tough to recommend.