Season Is Too Short, And That’s No Bad Thing
I beat Season in about eight hours, but even though I knew it took 6-12 hours to beat, I was still surprised when I reached the ending. Season presents itself as a game about a journey – when you start the game you are preparing to travel afar, the core mechanic is tapping the triggers to ride your bike, and all of the promotional materials push exploration. However, what happens in reality is you wander your home town briefly, take a short and mostly uneventful path to the next town, and then spend the rest of the game in said town.
There’s a decent amount to do in this town (I did not sweep every area as completely as I could have), and Season is a game where you make your own enjoyment. You take pictures, fiddling with the filters, focus, and angle, before arranging them in a scrapbook. Sketches, sound recordings, and scribbled notes can also be added, and customising these pages for the most aesthetic composition has an endearing charm. I could have doubled my time with the game, if I had wanted to, by exploring absolutely everywhere and agonising over the scrapbook, but eight hours seemed just about right.
Underneath it all, Season is fine. It’s not this year’s big indie darling, it doesn’t have a story that elevates the medium and demands your attention, it’s not so compelling that you can’t bear to look away even for a moment. It’s just fine. And that’s fine. The problem is, even as we ask for shorter games that respect our time more, we tend to be a lot harsher on them.
Games that don’t last very long need to be perfect to earn our respect. They need to be A Short Hike or What Remains of Edith Finch levels of excellent, and Season is not. It’s okay. It’s a little clunky here, a little repetitive there. It tries to be profound but I think in trying it stops itself from getting there. It’s okay, and that’s okay.
Usually, I’m the last person to advocate for games getting ‘a pass’. I think critique across gaming media is slowly being eroded in favour of hype, transforming us from journalists who interrogate into fans who celebrate. But the reason I’m advocating for Season, a game I have no strong feelings for, is because we give the bloat a pass when it’s so much worse.
Only a few months ago, we were queuing around the block to score God of War Ragnarok with perfect tens, while writing (in reviews that promised no spoilers, because we’re such huge fans) that the game sagged in the middle with poor pacing and merely copied the original with extra, often unnecessary trimmings. Season is not a perfect ten, but the fact it gives you exactly what you need and then gets out of town should be considered a factor to its credit, not its detriment.
I know there are other factors here. It’s my job to keep on top of new games, and therefore I play more than the average player, and am under pressure to get through them faster. I don’t necessarily always get them free (or when I do, I distribute them out around the site), but I did get sent a Season code and therefore value for money is less important to me. But then it comes back to my point about how we talk about games.
As a critic, I don’t think price can be a major factor. Unless it’s for extra hardware, it’s not something I would ever mention in a review. But if you see yourself as being a fan trying to inform other fans, if you’re writing as a consumer, then price comes above everything else. I understand a player weighing up eight hours for £25 with Season, versus £70 for the latest triple-A game. One will give you a relatively satisfying short-lived journey, the other will often be mind-numbingly dull but will stave off the aching emptiness of having nothing to do for longer. Neither are absolute must-plays, and I understand the criticism that Season will get for being ‘just okay’. But we give long games an easy ride for being ‘just okay’ too often.
I don’t want all of my games to be like Season. The 2023 game I’m most looking forward to is Spider-Man 2, and across Spider-Man and Miles Morales, I have 250 hours logged. I’m not saying we should get rid of long games. What I’m saying is we need a variety of titles, and when a short game comes along, it shouldn’t need to be inch perfect to avoid getting walloped for being too short. Season is not too short, and it’s definitely not too long. It’s just right.
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