Seasons After Fall review impressions

I have often thought that the most important part of impressionism is not the subtle display of light that its most famous painters were known for, but instead the way motion rolls across the canvas. Looking at Cezanne or Van Gogh’s paintings, you see how something would move even if it is ostensibly motionless. Every element has a natural activity, a smoothness, that is obvious even in a static image.

I thought a lot about a few famous works of art while I was playing Seasons After Fall, a puzzle platformer from developer Swing Swing Submarine. In Seasons, you control a fox exploring a magical forest where something is a little bit off.

The game is animated in a very traditional fashion, with loving details in the fore and backgrounds. In contrast to the static, harsh realism or cold-colored stylistics that dominate so many games, there’s an almost impressionist smudginess to the forest of Seasons — and it feels alive because of it. Even when you’re just sitting for a moment admiring the view, it feels like everything is ready to leap into motion — frozen for just an instant.

As you explore the woods, you use magic that shifts the world instantly between the four seasons of the year. Beyond being pretty, each season’s quirks affect the environment.

In winter, frozen ponds allow you a solid surface to leap to higher banks. In spring, the growth of a tree gives you a platform where there wasn’t one. There are also magical plants and critters around the forest that do more standard platformer things in the right season: Bounce higher, cut down obstructions, or pile up snow as a new platform. You use this toolkit of interactions to overcome small puzzles and platforming challenges — there are no enemies — but none of it is ever very taxing or difficult. Every section of the game moves at such a brisk pace that it does a slight disservice to the color and beauty of the environment.

Playing the game is soothing and engaging, a rare combination that I last felt playing Journey. But it is not the gameplay that makes Seasons After Fall exceptional — it’s the game’s charm and beauty.

Accompanying the whole game are a number of string quartet pieces. Maybe it’s an overly artful touch, but they do feel like more than just a soundtrack. A swelling of violin will show up just as a new vista opens before you. A throaty cello will announce a large creature causing havoc in the environment around you. It’s truly an accompaniment to the game instead of just background or easy listening while you play. It’s the same kind of audio trickery that makes Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons an enduring classic: Matching event to sound, making both more effective by the synchronicity.

As you explore the woods you fall deeper into the mystery that quite literally entangles them. Something is afoot, and your fox must journey and visit each of the four seasonal guardians – literal animal personifications of the seasons. The characters are deeply anthropomorphized, archetypes each.

Each part of the woods, from cavern to old growth hollow, has a distinct art style and character to it. As you explore, you quickly realize that the story has another layer, a facile twist in direct service to the gameplay. Though I generally prefer a more developed narrative, I felt just fine ignoring that here in favor of the visual and auditory elements I was really here for.

As the story develops, you retread much of the already-familiar forest, but the environment changes as you go. Quite nicely, the game layers in secret twists that weren’t apparent before, giving meaning to seemingly whimsical sidebars, and introduces new areas where you least expected them.

I think one of the reasons I find myself comparing so much in Seasons to older or classical works is that it feels like a nostalgic game. Not nostalgic in methods or gameplay, no, but in its narrative sentiment. How it tells its stories.

It’s rooted in the kind of childhood fantasies that imagine the world to be a very human place. It lives in a place where the woods just beyond your home are full of mystery and adventure that changes with the seasons. It has an appreciation for sights and sounds that more games could use. Seasons After Fall is an imaginative adventure suitable for almost anyone, and I can’t help but recommend it highly.