We remember when we first played Swing Swing Submarine's fox-centric platformer, Seasons After Fall - it was about 37 C outside, in the baking Cologne summer heat, and we were mid-way through our annual gamescom stint. As we left the conference centre, we couldn't help but wish we had the season-changing skills of the game's protagonist fox - what we wouldn't have given for a bit of winter to counter the sizzling German sun. In fact, aside from causing chaos to every other living thing out there, being able to change seasons at will wouldn't half be handy - no more would a family barbecue get rained off, and imagine the money you could save on your winter heating bill! As of yet, though, the only real way to tinker with the weather is by putting your best paw forward by playing Seasons After Fall, a clever little platformer that's finally come out on consoles.
Starring a cute little fox (for the most part), Seasons After Fall drops you off in a lavishly hand-painted forest - although due to reasons that are as yet unclear, the forest appears to be in trouble. The seasons have stopped changing, and the Guardians that watch over everything have fallen asleep. You, as a glowing 'seed' decide to take things into your own hands, possessing a passing fox as you set about borrowing the powers of the four seasons to restore the forest to its former glory, all while a narrator waxes poetically about life, the universe and everything in the background. At best, the story is a bit hard to follow - at worst, you have no idea what the narrator is wittering on about, but really it serves as little more than a backdrop to the whimsical and colourful platformer that is Seasons After Fall.
The hook of Seasons After Fall is that you're not just any old fox - but a fox with the unique ability to chop and change seasons at will. Unlocked gradually as you visit each of the forest's seasonal Guardians in turn, each new season brings a whole load of new abilities to the table, letting you explore the farthest reaches of the forest, and unravel the mysteries within. By switching between spring, summer, autumn and winter, the scenery around you will change, from the reds and oranges of autumn to the falling snow of winter and the lush green landscapes of spring and summer, each opening up new paths through the forest. It's this seasonal manipulating that's perhaps the cleverest part of Seasons After Fall, working its way into many a puzzle as you make your way backwards and forwards through the forest.
Take the humble geyser for example - an upwards jet of water that will form the backbone of your adventures. In summer, it flows freely, yet in winter, it's frozen solid, creating the perfect makeshift platform for your little fox. Changing over to the wet and rainy season of spring actually gives you the tallest geyser going, as the geyser draws on the ample moisture to reach new heights, while autumn - or 'fall' as the game insists on calling it - gives you a good mid-size geyser, somewhere in between spring and summer. By chopping and changing between the warmer seasons and winter, you can create geysers of varying heights, then freeze them into platforms at different levels to get you to new, harder to reach areas. Of course, geysers aren't the only obstacles you'll come across in the forest, but they're perhaps the best illustration of what the four seasons can do, all in one object. As you explore the forest, you'll come across many a plant that works in different ways depending on the current season; mushrooms that only pop open in the autumn, vines that won't uncurl for anything but the summer's heat, and plants that spit out huge balls of snow in the winter that you can use to get a makeshift leg up, to name but a few. Only by experimenting with the seasons and combining abilities will you be able to traverse the rest of the forest, uncovering its mysteries in the process.
Some puzzles require a bit more input than just changing the seasons, too, and your fox has one more ability besides at his disposal - a cute little bark. Fairly early on in the game, when you have but two seasons in your arsenal, you come across a high up cliff next to our old friend the geyser. Unfortunately, simply switching from fall to winter, the geyser is still too high to work as a platform, which means you'll need a slightly different approach. During your time in the forest you'll come across a few different creatures, one of which is a little beetle-like thing with a bit of an explosive personality. By chasing said beetle through a puddle of water, he'll soak up some liquid and expand, like a sponge - chase him into the flowing geyser and then freeze it, and you'll trap him high up in the frozen block of ice. All it takes then is a little yap, and the poor little beetle explodes, taking out the top part of the frozen geyser in the process, leaving you with a perfectly-sized step up onto the cliff above.
It may all start out innocently enough though, as you pay a visit to each region of the map to earn the corresponding season in turn - but once you have all four seasons at your disposal, knowing where to head next and what to do can be a bit trickier. Puzzles that require you to interact with a number of objects in turn stretch farther than you would generally assume, leading you to turn back before you get to them as you assume you're going the wrong way. With no map to speak of, it can also be tricky to tell what path leads where, particularly as they all intertwine along the way, making backtracking more than a little frustrating at times - particularly in the latter half of the game, which asks you to head back and release a series of 'enchanted' stones in each of the four Guardians' lairs.
On the whole, Seasons After Fall is a nice enough game - it's very pretty, not too difficult and has some clever puzzles to solve along the way - but it doesn't quite do enough to be a must buy. The game itself is fairly short, and there's a lot of backtracking involved during the course of its wishy-washy story, whether intentionally, or because you simply can't remember the way back. As it is, it's a nice, relaxing way to wile away a few hours, leaping through the undergrowth as a weather-manipulating fox. And who doesn't like foxes?