Luke spends his time playing video games, binge-watching TV and hanging out with his German Shepherd, Ziggy and Bernese Mountain Dog Pandora.
Xbox One, PS4, PC,
February 16, 2018
An adorable looking platformer that took our collective breath away when it was first revealed, Fe comes to us from the EA Originals line that previously featured another adorable looking platformer in Unravel a couple of years ago. Fe hits similar notes of whimsy, with a completely unique art direction and a hero that is super cute. While it does hit those comfortable beats, there are some elements that aren’t as refined as its concept, and for the most part the things that make me love Fe are underutilized, making for an experience that is enjoyable but not memorable long term.
In Fe, you play as a fox cub, bounding through an unfamiliar land, interacting with other creatures through your melodic howl. As you progress, you meet all sorts of new animal friends, who offer you different ways to communicate, giving you abilities through triggering the plants and flowers of the forest. Singing one tune makes a flower open up allowing you to float above it, while another gives you seeds so that you can solve some simple puzzles. All the while there are some creepy stalker-like sentries that patrol the area, trying to capture wildlife (and you) for some sort of evil-doings.
The progression is simple enough and there are plenty of visual cues to assist you in knowing what to do next; each flower is a clear bright colour that pops on the purple haze style that fills the majority of areas, though as you find new areas to explore the colour shifts to a lush green or, when in enemy territory, a foreboding red. The colour palette does have a habit of looking monotonous if you spend too long in the one area, to the point where backtracking to find collectibles becomes confusing, as all paths and trees look the same.
Still, I found the art style to be striking and the animations of the animals never failed to put a smile on my face – such as when the little lizard army I formed at one stage buried their collective heads in the sand to hide from an intimidating foe, or the way a deer bounds around on its own mission. I found the engagement with the creatures through song and other non-verbal communication to be the most captivating parts of Fe, relying entirely on visual cues and undecipherable sounds to figure out where I was going and what to do next.
Because of how much I loved these moments of discovery and wonderment, it makes things disappointing when traditional “video game” elements muddy the experience. Pressing a shoulder button brings up a map of the area with a clear mark of where to go next. If that’s not enough, calling to the sky to a tracking bird also leads you on a direct path of where to go as well. At least one of these tools is required at several points because there were a few moments that seemed genuinely unclear – to me at least – of what to do next. I wish that Fe utilized the style that clearly has had a lot of effort put in to lead me organically on the right path without requiring a mini-map and a way-point to assist.
“It wasn’t a feeling of accomplishment when I made a hard jump, more a feeling of relief that I wouldn’t have to do it again.”
Despite its harmonious concept, much of the game also does digress into being a traditional platformer with rather traditional stealth sections and puzzles to complete in each section. Climbing trees is easy and feels snappy, and leaping from tree to tree or soaring high above the environment using the air from certain flowers to keep you afloat work well. Jumping and general movement however feels a little floaty and imprecise. I frequently fell when I didn’t want to or was slightly off in landing a jump, which had me retrying sections needlessly. It wasn’t a feeling of accomplishment when I made a hard jump, more a feeling of relief that I wouldn’t have to do it again.
The story is also vague, if you can call it a story. There are some clearly evil beings that are capturing animals for… some reason. There is a logical “save the wildlife” path that you take, but scenes where you take part in flashbacks of sorts through the eyes of your enemy are slow and lack direction. No traditional language means that these cut-scenes are reliant on visuals to tell their tale, and by the end of the experience I didn’t feel like I had a clear grasp of what was really going on beyond being wired to save my friends from an unknown, random threat.
Despite this, there is one particularly clever section of Fe has you scaling a gigantic beast after freeing it from capture using some of the skills you’ve acquired, and it’s scenes like this that I wish there were more of. With the gorgeous soundtrack lifting as you climb, eventually reaching the very top feels like at real triumph and is a moment that stands out proudly among the moments of frustration. It’s with this that I think about what Fe could have been, instead of the sometimes clunky and confusing platformer that it is.
There’s no doubt that the ideas presented in Fe and the way Zoink Games have crafted its world shows a lot of potential. That potential is never truly realized however, with too many gameplay elements added in to make it feel like a video game. I wish they’d removed the map, the hints that come onto the screen too frequently and the guiding bird. I wish that there were more moments where I got to communicate with animals to help me solve puzzles instead of giving me light stealth sections and frustrating jumps that are easily mistimed. Fe is, a gorgeous, unique experience with an adorable protagonist, but its flaws hold it back from being the smash hit that I so I wanted it to be.