Seasons After Fall

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Swing Swing Submarine for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2016.
Seasons After Fall is the tale of a fox - or at least a spirit which has possessed a fox - who must journey through an unknown land, using the power of the seasons to alter the environment. The spirit is brought forth knowing nothing about the world around it, and guided only by a disembodied voice who asks that the spirit seek out four guardians spread across the land, each of which controls one of the four seasons.

Prior to its emergence, the spirit is merely floating in a sea of darkness, passing between wrapped vines and being pushed along by air currents. Upon awakening and listening to the words of the disembodied voice, a fox wanders into the glade, and the voice asks the spirit to lure the fox over to a set of jutting stones. A ritual is performed and the spirit is merged with the fox, allowing the spirit to possess it and take control over its body.

From here, the player is urged to head east and seek out the Guardian of Winter to retrieve some unspecified object, and control of the fox is handed over to the player. The fox has roughly the same abilities as a regular fox: it can run, walk (with a cute trotting animation), bark, jump quite high, and it can scramble up ledges (with a similarly cute animation). The game is a puzzle-platformer with metroidvania elements, but unlike other metroidvania titles, the fox’s movement abilities do not change over the course of the game; instead, gaining power over the seasons allows the fox to change the world around him and open up new avenues for exploration.

What is perhaps most striking about the game is that there are no enemies to fight. While the world is filled with plant life, there is little else beyond the occasional scuttling insect (and there is a narrative explanation for the lack of fauna). This design decision places the environment at the forefront, focusing the player’s quest on environmental navigation rather than destroying the hordes of enemies typically found in action games.

This focus on the environment is enhanced by the game’s hand-painted visuals, which offer a vibrant and colorful world filled with hanging moss, wide pools of water, a variety of mysterious plants, and peculiar shelled insects, all of which are enhanced by colored lighting of various temperatures, depending on the location and the season.

Supporting these visuals is a generally relaxing atmospheric soundtrack performed by a string quartet, although the player is often left with just the ambient sounds of the environment. The sound design offers distinct effects for walking through the grass versus rustling though dry autumn leaves, as well as the satisfying crunch of snow underfoot and the clinking of paws across frozen lakes.

Aside from the occasional appearance of some ancient stone structures, level designs are entirely organic, with players running across tree branches, scrambling up cliff edges, swimming across pools of water, and hopping onto the tops of giant mushrooms, and each of these environments reacts to changes in the season.

When the game begins, it is summertime, and the surrounding area is lush and green. Occasionally, the fox encounters curled up vines which unravel when he barks, allowing him to use them as platforms, and small plant bulbs can be used as trampolines. Very early into the experience, the player encounters the Guardian of Winter, a great slumbering bear who lives in a cave surrounded by totems that chirp and light up as the fox passes.

Several of these totems are placed in the environment leading up to the bear as well, adding a bit of mystery to the experience. The bear releases the power of winter as you approach and quickly falls back to sleep. The fox chases the ephemeral fragment of winter back through the same area he just passed, only now he has the ability to switch between summer and winter by barking twice.

Changing from summer to winter removes the warm yellow and green tones of the forest, and replaces them with cool blues and purples. The forest floor becomes immediately covered in a thick blanket of snow and snowflakes float gently downward. In this winter season, the player can make use of giant bulbous plants that were otherwise inactive in the summer.

These plants breathe in great draughts of air, and a magical blue light travels through their roots, leading to an emerging plant bulb. By jumping on this bulb, the plant emits a gigantic snowball, which the player may then climb to reach higher platforms. The player must also occasionally switch back to summertime in order to bounce on puffy trampoline bulbs (which are deflated in winter) and to extend the curled vines.

The winter fragment guides the player back through the area, eventually returning him to the glade, where the path behind him suddenly becomes blocked by growing vines. The fox is thanked for bringing the winter fragment, and the disembodied voice unites the fragment with the fox. Since the player has only one season under his control, the world remains in winter as the fox heads west to seek out another fragment.

The body of water that formerly blocked the fox's path is now frozen, allowing him to cross safely and continue on his mission. There is another branch in the path here that is inaccessible in the winter season, and the voice explicitly states that the fox has gone off track if he attempts to explore this area. The player is also free to backtrack as he likes, but he is cut off from other areas until new seasonal fragments are obtained.

The next guardian grants the fox the power of autumn, giving him the ability to alternate between autumn and winter by barking twice, and again the fox chases the fragment back on his return trip to the glade. This area is filled with geysers that blast water into the air during the autumn and which may be frozen and used as platforms in the winter.

Here, the player can chase around insects that latch on to certain objects, such as tree stumps or frozen geysers, and when the fox barks, the insects explode, allowing the fox to pass into new areas. In autumn, gusts of wind push leaves upward, allowing players to use them as platforms, and allowing them to hop onto tree branches that were otherwise sagging in winter. Similarly, giant mushrooms are only open in autumn and closed in winter.

When the fox returns to the glade, the power of autumn is also merged with it, allowing the player to select between autumn and winter at will from a selection ring that pops up with the press of a button. From here, the player moves to the third area where he chases insects until they burrow into the ground, revealing mushroom sprouts that can be grown and ridden upward by changing to the autumn season. The player can also freeze bugs in the surfaces of lakes, exploding them to break the ice and open up paths below.

As you continue to gain access to new seasonal powers, you will find that some plants work differently depending on the season. The bulbous plants that belch out snowballs in the winter will belch out water in the spring, allowing trees to grow. Some cool-looking water plants can be drained of water in the spring, raising the water level across the area, which may then be frozen and traversed to reach higher areas… and the plants will suck up water in the summer, lowering the water levels and allowing travel downward.

Acquiring power over the four seasons happens fairly early in the experience, comprising only the first one-third of the game. Once this is done, some of the game’s (minimal) narrative is revealed and the world opens up, allowing the player travel freely to each of the four regions – and discover some new areas – now armed with power over all of the seasons. From this point, the challenge increases somewhat and becomes more puzzle-centric, but solutions can generally be found by simply exhausting all of the interactibles in the vicinity and cycling through the seasons.

This part of the game also features numerous tendrils of light that become activated by interacting with stone monoliths, and these are used to travel quickly from one area to another, generally across otherwise untraversable terrain. Unfortunately, these tendrils appear outside of the player’s field of view, and the camera does not pan between the fox’s position and that of the tendrils, leaving the player guessing as to where they have appeared. This issue permeates the game, with numerous instances where the player is shown a target location with no context as to where it is relative to his own position, and most areas are not distinct enough to tell one section from another.

There are also a number of instances where the player must complete a set of seasonal changes in order to reach a higher platform, and where missing a jump causes the player to fall back down, requiring that he perform these seasonal changes again. For instance, a high-shooting geyser can be lowered by changing the season to autumn, then frozen in winter to be used as a platform, and then extended in spring and re-frozen to reach an even higher platform. If the player missteps, he must cycle through four season changes in order to retrace his steps. Additionally, the fox is somewhat unresponsive compared to other platforming heroes, particularly when attempting to initiate a jump immediately upon landing.

Spread throughout the environment are beds of colored flowers that bloom as the fox runs across them. Enterprising players may seek out these flowers to open up a small number of bonus extras, including a screenshot of the original 2009 prototype version of the game (back when it was just called Seasons) and the 2010 version with a very different art style from the final product.

Seasons After Fall was developed by Swing Swing Submarine, a studio based in France and founded in 2009 by William David and Guillaume Martin. The game was developed by programmers Guillaume Martin and Benoit Fouletier, artist Géraud Soulié, level designer William David, composer Yann van der Cruyssen, and 2D animator Simon Troussellier. The game’s long and storied development originally began in 2009, but development was placed on hold for three years starting in 2011 due to financial issues, during which time the studio released the puzzle-platformer Blocks That Matter and its follow-up, Tetrobot and Co.

The game was published by Focus Home Interactive, publisher of a wide variety of games.