After a slow start After Us blooms into something spectacular.

After us doesn’t name it’s protagonist initially, so I dubbed her Gaia, so when I discovered that the player character was in fact called Gaia, I’ll admit that I was a smug little pagan.

After us is a puzzle platformer from Piccolo Studio and published by Private Division whom provided a review code.

After Us has you explore the world after the last living creatures have died, a spirit entity that I’m assuming is meant be be mother nature tasks you with recovering her essence from several creatures around the now lifeless planet. As no name is given for the light hair child you control I decided to name her Gaia. 

Immediately the games environmental conservational themes are obvious but even within the first level as plastic bags aggressively pursue the as of yet unnamed protagonist it’s execution is so heavy handed and that I rolled me eyes. Yes, humanity bad, nature good, but this cynicism wasn’t to last.

You explore the ravaged lifeless corpse of our planet that’s littered with polluted remnants of humanity’s environmental legacy. These are broken up into ironically named oasis. This wasteland is devoid of any really colour, the muted colour browns and greys are cut into by the life that blooms in Gaias wake. 

Statues depicting humans resembling Pompeii are clustered around what appears to be a combination of a mining drill and an  electricity pylon in what’s almost religious reverence.

As you explore seeing the beings that contain mother natures power, you’ll also find the spirits other other animals that you can rescue using mother natures heart, which is gifted to you as you start the game. It’s essentially a projectile in the form of a glowing orb with limited range, meaning that you’ll need to explore using the games platforming mechanics to get close enough, to free the spirit animals.

As well as animal spirits you’ll also come across glowing saplings, small points of nature seeking to reclaim the world, using the LT you can charge up a burst of life as nature blooms around you. The saplings emerging from the ground reaching for the still overcast and polluted skies, is often accompanied by an enthusiastic giggle from Gaia. I will confess, that my first impressions of the games heavy handed premise left me feeling rather weighted down by the prospect of seeing the game through to it’s conclusion. However, Gaia’s joy at reseeding life into the barren environment was infectious and as colour and vibrance returned, I found myself being to understand what the developers were hoping to impart. 

After releasing all the spirits and freeing the first vessel (a pooch, always a sucker for a cute dog here at GameHype) you return to the ark and it appears that Gaia is injured. Mother apologises that you are hurt but of course saving the planet requires sacrifice, again the games heavy handed execution of its theme hits you like a tree branch. 

After releasing the life force the first time you return to the desolate planet and explore deeper, it’s here where you’ll discover the games foes. Humanity. Some human spirits are mired by the pollution and trappings of human existence. These tainted humans will try and grab at Gaia and hold on to her in an effort to drain her life force, or as I chose to interpret it, reconnect with nature, franticly pressing the A button will see Gaia break free with an bloom of life that stuns the her foes. By hitting enemies with the ball of life you’ve previously only used to recover animal spirits you’ll notice that the pollution and taint lessens with each hit until finally the humans are pure again and transcend away into bright almost spiritual light. One section is even set in a mall with the humans having commercial trappings stuck to their bodies such as TVs. These function as armour meaning you’ll need to work around this in order to cleanse these people, again, the theme of ‘consumerism’ disconnecting humanity from nature is present all be it a tad more subtle even if it feels borrowed from a certain zombie movie director. 

Visually each oasis is theme around a diffract aspect of human life and as varied as you might expect, I won’t mention them all here as your initial reactions to seeing them and any reflection it stirs in you would be something I’d regret spoiling. However, the oasis in which you are to rescue the essence from a cage eagle was poignant for me, the nature that blooms behind Gaia is replaced by thousands of feathers being kicked up in her wake as climb and oppressive tower of cages. Being so fond of birds as I am, this oasis was particularly impactful for me and I’ve no doubt that each of you will have your own unique emotional resonances as you play through After Us. 

Gameplay is fairly standard but thats not a bad thing, After us is a ‘platformer’ and rather than try to reinvent the genre it focuses on being solid where it counts. Jump, double jump, air-dash, glide, all these will be familiar to anyone who’s played a ‘platformer’ and they are all present here. There are ‘rails’ that Gaia can ‘grind’ (think Tony Hawks not Cardi-B) to speedily get around but it’s where your exploring and what you do there that sets After Us apart from other games in it’s genre. It’s also worth noting the games use of prospective, often zooming out making Gaia seem minuscule and impart just how herculean her task seems to be.

Aside from platforming you of course have collectibles and it’s here that After Us does the formerly unthinkable, the game made me care about the collectibles. While I have commented already that the themes of the game are delivered heavy handedly, this turned out to be exactly what connected me to Gaia and made me care about freeing as many spirits as I could. I’d even back track to find ones I’d missed, something that I have never done before, not even in my most favoured of games. 

 Now, as I’ve explained, the game wants us to release ‘Mothers’ energy from the animals on earth, but along the way there are many other animal spirits to rescue, or collect, as well as memories dropped by the humans you reconnect with nature, these memories are small snippets of human life and actually go along way to redeeming the species in the narrative of the game, these memories show us that while humanity isn’t perfect, there are people trying to make a difference. 

After us is a well thought out and deeply meaningful title and I’ve not doubt its emotional resonance will stay with you longer after completion.