On the whole, Feist is pretty hard to describe. In terms of gameplay, it’s a fairly straight-forward 2D platformer that favours both difficulty and innovation. But visually it departs from the platforming formula. It’s more like a shadow puppetry than a game – crazy and imaginative silhouettes on unsettlingly coloured backgrounds. With all its monsters and violent, scrappy fights, Feist is brutal. But when you take adrenaline and survival out of the equation, these same monsters could easily be cute.
Basically, it sits in the middle of the massive spectrum between Limbo and Where the Wild Things Are.
Now, the Limbo comparison is obvious because Feist wears its inspirations on its sleeve. Even past the silhouetted characters, Feist channels the foreboding atmosphere and lingering sense of dread that permeated Playdead’s 2010 indie hit. And it does all this to great effect. In a game with little-to-no discernable story, atmosphere takes charge as the animating force. Gamers will play for mood and ambience rather; there’s plenty of both here. The hues, shadows and ominous soundtrack will have you both dreading and welcoming your next monster encounter. In fact, the atmosphere in Feist holds up to every expectation that the Limbo comparison may set. It could, however, have worked to diversify this formula and make something truly unique. See, we’ve seen all this before. So as good as this part of Feist is, it’s something that we’ve already seen. And so it becomes something that holds the game back.
Luckily, that’s about where the Limbo comparison ends. You’ll hardly find one puzzle in Feist. Rather, it’s a conglomeration of scrappy fights. You guide a furry little creature through viciously hostile environments with the single goal of survival. The obstacles on your journey are the creatures that inhabit the world. Encounters with these creatures are scrappy and disorganised, courtesy of the AI reacting to your movements. Unlike typical platformer enemies, which follow set paths, the creatures in Feist will seldom make the same move twice. So, beating these enemies is usually a product of luck, freak reaction or sheer determination – sometimes a combination of the three. This isn’t so much an issue in the early stages of the game as monster fights are evenly matched.
However, later levels will see you fighting gangs of monsters and it’s not uncommon for these challenges to appear insurmountable. Such situations can test your patience and halt your progress. And they can quickly become a bad time. And, simply due to the unpredictable nature of the AI, that bad time can last quite a while.
The combat system itself is simple and effective. You damage enemies with items: sticks, rocks or even other enemies. You pick these up with the X-button and throw them with that same button. The Y-button will drop the object you’re holding. Jumping is useful as it not only allows you to dodge attacks, but also to deal with the more pesky airborne enemies. With the AI reacting to your movements, fights are often messy and difficult encounters – specifically if they’re occurring in confined spaces. However, when they work, they’re quite amazing. You’ll feel as if you’re a part of a living environment, interacting with other creatures. Sadly, more often than not, the fights seem volatile and confused. This does work with the ‘survive at all costs’ theme, but it doesn’t exactly make for great gameplay.
The lack of direction in Feist can be irritating. I’m a firm believer that trial and error is an appropriate means of instruction in video games, but there does need to be some guiding light. Of course, Feist has written tutorials for its controls, but short of this you’re left to fare on your own. When the game’s atmosphere has built up, that strategy plays out fine. But after dying a dozen times, you’ll have forgotten all about the atmosphere and will find yourself wondering, instead, what, exactly, the point of Feist and its fuzzy protagonist.
Feist creates an incredible atmosphere in its environments. At times the tension is almost palpable. The level and character design is praiseworthy, striking an excellent balance between appealing and unsettling. The enemies were well thought out, and on paper the AI sounds excellent. But a lack of consistency makes combat feel messy rather than challenging. Feist creates some frustrating situations through its combat, but the tension and ambience its environments create will push players through the weak points.