No matter what they tell you, you are an animal in the forest.”
― Bangambiki Habyarimana, The Great Pearl of Wisdom
We lounge in air conditioned or heated rooms, playing our games on big flat screen televisions, snacks mere feet away in temperature controlled refrigerators, wanting for nothing. It is easy to forget that a mere blip on the cosmic timeline ago, our ancestors fought tooth and nail to survive, to get their next meal, to keep their young safe from predators.
Feist is set in a primordial forest of unknown location; perhaps in our distant past, or perhaps on a planet far away. It doesn’t really matter, because our protagonist doesn’t have time to wonder about its place in the universe. Our furry hero’s one goal after escaping its cage is to find the larger creatures that took its mate away, and all else is merely a peril to get through.
Though small and easily overcome, our plucky hero has two advantages. Moving swiftly, often faster than the enemies around it, our furball bobs and weaves, evading danger by a hair’s breadth. It also has small hands, which can pick up sticks, pine cones, and stones to disarm traps, or strike predators.
Feist is a game that rewards decisive, swift action. Though outnumbered and smaller, the hero’s swift movement allow it to slip past seemingly insurmountable odds, while hanging back and being cautious will almost certainly get it killed. Cleverness is its next most important survival skill. Often traps set for the player can be used against pursuers, or patterns in enemy behavior can be exploited by a feature in the environment. Sometimes enemies can even be turned against each other, allowing the hero to slip by.
The odds are stacked against our lowly furball though, and you will often see it slump silently into lifeless defeat, its spiny hairs indistinguishable from the blades of grass around it. Fortunately, checkpoints are frequent, and death is merely a correction to be bolder or try a new approach.
The game has a stark visual appearance, with all characters being silhouetted against a lush green forest, or a dark, claustrophobic cave. Those are really the only two settings for the game, but it makes sense as the natural backdrop for this short journey. Snow, rain and pollen make the limited number of backdrops interesting, while still allowing the focus to stay on the action at hand. Our furball hero will face many foes, from bloated flies with giant stingers, caterpillars with spiky tops, spear flinging smaller flies, and creepy bouncing spiders with grasping hands. The larger monsters that kidnapped your mate are round and furry as well, but much larger. They remind me in appearance of the monsters in the children’s book Where The Wild Things Are, and they are Feist’s version of mid and final bosses.
Unfortunately the bugs the hero eats to replenish its health are not the only ones in the game. I found thrown objects “sticking” or spinning in the environment several times. More frustrating, in the final level that relied on timed button presses, the game froze several times on my PlayStation 4, causing me to miss jumps or get hit. Fortunately these hiccups were not insurmountable or frequent, but I was annoyed to see them on my more than adequate hardware.
Is Feist worth your time? Yes, because it respects your time. The only fluff in the game is on the hero’s body, the game itself introduces an enemy or challenge, and then moves on to the next. There are no long repetitious stretches in the game that feel unnecessary, and generous checkpoints ensure the player will not be retreading familiar ground. It is important to note that because of its tight focus, Feist is a short experience of about two hours, which may be an important factor to your purchasing decision. Personally, I would rather read a compelling short story than a boring long novel or a listen to a powerful single song than endure a mediocre album. Everyone has there own value on entertainment though, so I think Feist’s length is important to note.
The simple story is complemented by tight controls, a striking visual style, and challenges that hit a perfect sweet spot between too easy and too frustrating. Feist is a well realized story of survival that will bring your primitive brain back to the tension of survival.
A PlayStation copy was provided by Bits and Beasts and Finji for the purpose of this review.