The 2-D platformer has seen a resurgence over the last few years through a multitude of indie games. Many of said games have put a unique spin on the tried-and-true formula of running right and jumping over enemies; and while Feist uses these tropes, it is also a refreshing new platformer where fighting-back is key to surviving an eerie and dangerous world.
In Swiss developer Bits & Beasts’ new game Feist, you play as a little fuzzy creature alone in a creepy, dark forest. This wooded environment is crawling with lethal insects and bigger, scarier, fuzzy creatures (which look like a Jim Henson movie mixed with Patapon) that want you dead. In order to survive this world, you cannot simply jump over enemies and run past them. You must fight-back to keep going.
The narrative of Feist is told through a few brief cutscenes spread throughout the game. The story is very simple, but still engaging and heartwarming.
By simply looking at a screenshot of Feist, it is easy to draw comparisons between it and another indie game, Limbo. Yes, both this game and the 2010 indie hit feature creepy silhouette style visuals, and obstacles or enemies want you dead, but there is a big difference: the events in the game are not scripted. This means that you won’t find the trial and error gameplay of Limbo here, rather a more dynamic style of combat and exploration.
Gameplay is perhaps what Feist does best. Despite being a small little guy, the player has the agency and ability to make choices to ensure your survival. Through playing the game, you learn what platforms you can reach and what items you can interact with; you are shown, not told, how to play. For example, the player learns logs make great places to hide, and that sticks can be used to parry fireballs back at opponents.
The game is also smart enough to create variety within the gameplay to ensure your brief, three-hour experience of Feist feels fresh throughout. Just when you start to think that beating insects with sticks and rocks feels repetitive, the game introduces flies you can grab and uses as projectile-firing weapons. Have more than one big fuzzy creature attempting to kill you? Try luring them into their own traps. Feist knows how to keep the player engaged through adding new obstacles and challenges, while creating variation through previous ones.
Another thing Feist nails is its atmosphere. The silhouette visuals paired with earthy colors create a world where you truly feel alone and in danger. The presentation of the game is gorgeous and lively; characters move in unique ways, and effects like rain or sunlight add depth and realism. The water effects in particular are absolutely gorgeous. The atmosphere of Feist also comes to life through the score. The music is eerie and string-based, lending to the feeling of isolation. At times I was reminded of Journey through the musical themes, and that is a very good thing.
The gameplay and atmosphere of Feist are fantastic, but the game falters in a couple areas. The most glaring issue of the game is its physics-based platforming. The platforming in Feist is floaty rather than sticky, think LittleBigPlanet not Super Mario Bros., and this isn’t very conducive the world of the game. The lofty physics add to the game’s sense of realism, but subtract from making navigation intuitive. I found myself occasionally stuck on certain environments, like hillsides, and landing certain jumps felt more luck-based than skill. Trying to leap from one tree branch to one above it proved to be extremely frustrating, as the flimsy jumps upward often led to falling off of the tree entirely. Sharper jumps and movement would have made navigating the game less of a hassle, and more of a seamless part of an otherwise excellent game.
While not as big an issue as the platforming, the game is very short. You should be able to complete it in three hours, maybe less. It makes for a tight, and intimate experience, but the short length means that the mechanics introduced in the game never to get to evolve in complex ways. Perhaps combat could have become more skill based, and platforming more varied if the runtime was a couple hours longer.
Feist doesn’t break the mold for platforming games in ways other indie games do, but it is none the less a refreshing take on one of the oldest genres in gaming. Jumping and traversing can be a challenge at times, but the game makes up for it with intelligent gameplay, and beautiful environments that emphasize you are a survivor who is not afraid to fight back; albeit a cute fuzzy one.
Feist, developed by Bits & Beasts and published by Finji, is available for Steam.