Developer: Zoink – Publisher: Electronic Arts – Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC – Release Date: February 16, 2018
What You’re Getting
A 3D platformer about saving an endangered forest using the sounds of music.
What’s The Story?
So what exactly is a Fe? Turns out they’re fox-like creatures possessing magical vocal cords. By singing to other creatures, they can learn their language, allowing them to connect with and befriend them. As a particularly altruistic Fe, you find your forest home overrun with invaders capturing the wildlife for whatever purpose. The mission: free your furry neighbors and expel this threat from the forest. Or at least, that’s what the game implies.
Fe’s story feels like its shooting for heartwarming whimsy but it left me feeling nothing. It begins without establishing a real narrative hook, leaving little purpose behind your actions. Players just begin running around and communicating with animals, leaving me to repeatedly ask myself “why should I care?” “Why am I doing this and what even am I?”
Fe tries to answer these questions by fleshing out its story using cryptic means. Scattered rock illustrations depict past events. Crystal orbs let players experience key memories of enemy troops. Unfortunately, these extra breadcrumbs fell flat because the information presented was vague at best and uninteresting at worst. Nothing exemplifies this more Fe’s final, big reveal where the only emotional response I could muster was an apathetic “Oh.”
That sentiment sums up my mindset throughout the entire story. With so little presented to care about (and there really isn’t all that much to the story), I never felt any emotional investment. I didn’t pick up on whatever deeper meaning lay beneath, and I eventually stopped caring to know. Typically, I love stories cut from this cloth. But Fe left me feeling completely indifferent.
How Does It Look?
Characters and environments have an angular, sharp polygonal aesthetic that, while unique, didn’t do much for me. Most areas are painted with different shades of the same color, making for a somewhat dull appearance. Incessant bloom lighting combined with a hazy filter can also make Fe a literal pain to look at.
Some creatures sport cool designs, especially larger varieties like a skyscraper-sized stag. The protagonist itself, however, comes off as more creepy looking than cute.
How Does It Sound?
The serene soundtrack reminded me of Maurice Sendack’s Little Bear cartoon series, which is a compliment. Fe’s various vocal tunes don’t offend. That’s good given how much you’ll hear them.
How Fun Is It?
Fe’s structure resembles that of early 3D platformers of the 90’s. Players romp across large areas containing multiple pathways and hidden collectibles. Killing much of this game’s potential fun are the cluttered areas and confusing layout that make it easy to get lost. The map, along with a guiding hummingbird that points the way, don’t alleviate this issue as much as they should.
Platforming itself works at a base level but lacks the sheen of more polished contemporaries. Jumping has a slight input delay and hopping up trees feels way too hitchy. These issues manage to sap away the epic feeling of scaling a massive creature Shadow of the Colossus style. This results in exploration that simply isn’t very fun even after gaining abilities such as gliding and sprinting. Another casualty of these problems was the incentive to hunt for pink crystals, which are used to gain unlock powers. Though I went after the ones in plain view, I had no desire to actively hunt for more. I didn’t want to interact with my surroundings any more than I had to.
Singing uses a cool mechanic of a pressure-sensitive button press to find the right pitch. Tuning my notes to successfully connect with animals feels strangely satisfying, even if the subsequent partnerships are hit or miss. Creatures bring different abilities used for activating corresponding mechanics in the world. None of them are particularly mind-blowing, but some are better than others.
I liked having a herd of rodent-like critters follow me to trigger bouncy flowers. On the flip side, riding deer felt useless and restricting thanks to the level design headaches. Ultimately, all of it matters little as this idea of cooperation gets tossed away quickly. Once Fe completely learns an animal’s language (by finishing a zone), it can perform their actions without assistance. Though more convenient, it makes the premise of teaming up with nature to overcome obstacles feel unrealized.
Fe attempts to mix things up with less-than-stellar stealth segments. Besides lacking that satisfying sense of outwitting a foe, they’re easy to cheese through. I often recklessly hopped past enemies without caring if I alerted them or not. It usually worked.
Fe has interesting ideas but misses the mark due to mediocre gameplay and bland storytelling. As opposed to having fun, the best I could do was tolerate Fe in hopes things would pick up. Whether its pronounced “Fee” or “Fay” both titles translate to a supremely dull time.