Review: SEASON: A Letter to the Future - A mindfulness exercise I can get behind
Prefer to watch the review? Click here to watch it on YouTube.
Last year a trailer for an indie video game premiered and it caught my attention. In a traffic of trailers that ebbed and flowed through my social media awareness, SEASON: A letter to the future stood out from the rest. It oozed with a kind of vibe that drew me in with its stillness— it’s colors rich with earth tones, painting scenes of far off places begging to be visited. “That looks like a game me and my girlfriend would like.” I thought to myself.
Just over a year later, SEASON: A letter to the future has officially released and I got a chance to dive into the world Scavenger Studios spent years crafting—by the way, thank you, Scavenger Studios and Evolve PR for the review key.
When I received the review code for this game, I was ready to write about all the things I usually look for in a review—how are the graphics, the gameplay, the loop, yadda yadda—but upon playing, none of my notes are about that. The typical talking points aren't as important here. Instead, I want to talk about if the developers did what they set out to do.
SEASON’s writer and creative director, Kevin Sullivan, shared a note saying, quote “We’re dizzily excited to share the world of Season with the real world. Just as the character in the game makes a cultural collection, the game itself has been that for us. It has absorbed our worries about the state of the planet, our joy at living on it, things we’ve seen, people we’ve loved and lost, all tied together into something, hopefully, beautiful and strange.”
Let’s talk about it.
The game thrusts you into a World that you’re invited to explore, document, and record your experience. You won’t find any quick time events, flashy cut-scenes, or even a villain bearing down on you. Instead, you’ve got a bicycle, a camera, audio recorder, dialogue choices, and a pendent full of memories entrusted to you by a family member. You quickly, or slowly make your way through town in the early morning hours learning through context what is happening with this World. You manage all of this information with a scrapbook you carry around. Through interactions with the environment and the aforementioned camera and recorder, you learn that this season is ending. Typically this type of world shattering event fuels a sense of urgency. But in SEASONS, I found myself lingering in each region far longer than I thought I’d would’ve. I also couldn’t help but feel like I was moving through an art piece that used swatches from Zelda: Breath of the Wild mixed with Simon Stålenhag‘s book, The Electric State.
In my time playing, I realize that a lot of the things I enjoy doing in my personal life—bicycling, photography, and ruminating on philosophy and the poetry of the world are all beautifully infused and present in this game. It wasn’t until I watched my partner’s playthrough that it became apparent how thoughtful the developers were when creating the environments. Points of interest were peppered in with subtle but eye-drawing elements that neither of us could help but navigate towards. To my delight, it reminded me of going on hikes, urban or otherwise, where something in the distance tugs enough at my curiosity that before I know it, I’m standing before the thing that drew me close.
But it’s not just the environments that piqued my interest, throughout the game you encounter a small host of characters that enrich your understanding of the World. Each one of them is beautifully written and voice acted. Much like in real life, you tend to notice the strange things about these people first but as you listen to them and try to understand the circumstances that shaped them, you come to appreciate these quirks and behaviors. One such character whom you meet a couple of hours in, shares with you where they were born and it really sparked my imagination. I couldn’t help but wonder if this time period existed in a parallel timeline or perhaps, many centuries removed from our own.
It all might seem like a lot to take in given that you’re thrust into a World that feels both so alien and familiar spinning intervals between each other like bicycle spokes, but don’t worry, it all gets recorded in your journal which acts like scrapbook occasionally updating as you pedal along from region to region. As someone who enjoys doodling, and filling blank pages with shapes, art, ideas and images of interest, the journalling portion was a place of comfort where I could design with non-destructive tools. And while options on how to place keepsakes (think sketches, stamps, dried flowers, notes and quotes) are limited, ultimately I felt satisfied with what I made and looked forward to filling more pages.
What’s exciting to me is knowing that no two players will have their journals alike. That players from all around the world will bring in their own aesthetic and sentiments to their journal pages. And in case you were wondering, yes, you are able to collect the photos you’ve taken in-game long after you’re done playing. I’ll leave that in the description below.
With any adventure, it’s likely you’ll run into a few hitches. And in SEASON, I couldn’t help but note a couple of moments that were annoying but thankfully, not game-breaking. Occasionally while on the bike, Estelle would get stuck in terrain requiring me to dismount and re-orient. Thankfully the game balances nuisances like this with really neat features like the ability to summon your bike to you if you somehow lost track of where you parked it.
There’d also be times when I’d rather use a different picture in select portions of the journal and had no ability to replace what the game originally accepted. Other times I’d enter a room only to go back the other way because I was holding down a specific direction and the inputs had reversed when the camera flipped. Minor annoyances like these crop up but I find them easy to forgive given how delightful the rest of the game is.
So how close did Kevin Sullivan’s message hit the mark?
I feel ‘beautiful, and strange’ marry well together in this story. That the efforts of everyone involved, from the art direction to the sound design—which I would like to highlight, does a splendid job carrying your interest and energy throughout, serving as another meal for the senses—but I digress. SEASON unravels a wonderfully woven collection of themes on memory, legacy, love, loss, and longing that feel both personal and universal in equal measure. And while the game can be completed in about six hours, you’re invited to pedal longer through the fields of green and gold, or attune yourself with the frequency of the lake and distant cicadas in chorus, or immerse yourself for hours organizing your journal in ways that brings you joy.
In a world where doing mindfulness exercises feel too much like a chore, it’s nice to find a game that is mindful not to impede in your life but adds to it a different kind of richness.
More bike games please.
Release Date: January 31st, 2023
Developer: Scavengers Based in Montreal, Canada
Founding date: September 10, 2015
Platforms: PC / PlayStation 4 & 5