Joining the slowly growing ranks of games with playable foxes, with Starfox and Never Alone being two examples, Seasons After Fall is a truly beautiful game containing some interesting season-manipulation puzzles that manages to maintain interest despite the occasional niggle.
The first thing to hit you upon firing up the game is just how lovely a package it is. The hand-painted art style and the emotionally stirring score show what a labour of love Seasons After Fall must have been. At times it genuinely feels like playing a Studio Ghibli-esque cartoon, a feeling only deepened by the surprisingly well-acted characters.
You begin the game as a disembodied ball of light with little clear indication of what you should do. After a few moments of pushing up and collecting other balls of light, you break out into the beautifully rendered forest world in which the main game takes place. It isn’t long before you take over the aforementioned fox in a disarmingly cute depiction of bodily possession.
As the fox, you can initially only run and jump to navigate the fairly simplistic platforming, but you soon pick up the season manipulating abilities that are the game’s main mechanic. This is just as well, because although the fox generally controls well, there are occasional moments when the jump doesn’t seem as responsive as it should. I also found that I needed to restart the game after an hour or so of continuous play as it became laggy – this could easily be down to my less than cutting edge PC, so come the future console releases, it certainly won’t be an issue.
The initial quest to collect the elemental powers proceeds in a highly linear fashion, as each area can only be accessed with the skills collected previously. Whilst this sounds like a Metroidvania, in reality the exploration is far more limited with only a relatively small world to navigate. This is both a blessing and a curse, since you need to revisit these same areas multiple times to collect the various plot MacGuffins that are introduced. In this respect, Seasons After Fall resembles some of the worst excesses of recent Zelda iterations.
The positive side of the small world is that it helps with the lack of an in game map, which, combined with the enigmatically teasing hints of where to go next, can easily lead to feeling lost. I managed to locate the last of the game’s altars before finding the others which lead to some confusing dialogue. This sequence break wasn’t too serious but is symptomatic of the vagueness of signposting in general.
Not surprisingly, there are four main areas to traverse, although they do not map exactly onto the seasons and each contain routes that require all four seasons to be employed. The range of effects from the seasonal abilities is refreshingly varied. In general, winter allows you to run and jump across frozen water, spring and summer produce different foliage to climb or bounce on, whilst autumn (or fall for our transatlantic readers) causes leaves to lift in the wind and fungi to flourish.
It is when Seasons After Fall requires you to use a combination of seasons that it really shines, however. Causing a spout of water to shrink and grow so that it can be frozen in order to grant access to platforms, or bouncing from autumn mushroom to summer vines. These kinds of combinations provide the kind of satisfaction that good puzzles should. In these instances, the whole landscape becomes a puzzle designed to test your use of the seasons. Less successful, however, are the occasional riddles in which you must place fireflies in specific patterns. These tend to be either obvious or wilfully obtuse. One area in particular gives little clear indication of where the patterns need to be placed.
It bears repeating just how beautiful Seasons After Fall is both visually and musically. When paired with the interesting season manipulation mechanic, the result is a highly enjoyable puzzle-platformer that actually requires both physical and mental dexterity to complete. It is not flawless, but the occasional niggles are outweighed by the gorgeous aesthetics and the moments of puzzle solving satisfaction.