Many Xbox fans will swiftly point to Ori and the Blind Forest when it comes to the discussion of action platformer games. I mean let’s face it, Ori is an exceptionally well rounded experience. It has the unique theme, wonderful visuals, excellent gameplay, and a heart warming story that neatly wraps all of that together. Enough about Ori, let’s talk about another platformer game that’s set within the confines of a forest, namely Fe. Swapping viking zombies for something much more beautiful, Zoink Games have certainly crafted a compelling experience, but it’s not perfect. Fe is a described as a new type of platform adventure, one that reigns back a direct story in place of player discovery and seamless exploration. There’s no HUD, the journey is wordless, and the game doesn’t hold your hand. Despite a few flaws, these elements of play collectively come together rather well.
The game does come with a non-invasive overarching plot, being that the titular Fe will be journeying through a dark Nordic forest in hopes of finding a way to stop the Silent Ones from ruining the peaceful locale and all of its inhabitants. These antagonists will be present throughout, constantly trying to thwart both your efforts and progression. This is where stealth gameplay comes into view. The Silent Ones are all over the forest and will target you sooner than you can blink. All you can do is hide from them, which makes for some very tense sequences. There’s a deeper meaning hidden behind this, one that pulls on the story of mankind and nature, and the delivery of this story is arguably the game’s finest construct. By and large, Fe is all about communication, or miscommunication depending on how you look at it. For me, it was the former. Throughout the course of the game, Fe will communicate with several creatures, large and small, as they aid Fe on his way forward. As aforementioned, the game comes without a HUD. In fact, many mechanics that are often witnessed in platforming games have been stripped away here.
There’s no combat to worry about, no stamina or health bars, and barely any need to worry about picking up items to use further down the lines. Discovery is key in Fe. Communication is achieved through singing, with specific creatures and plants needing different volumes of song. There’s no text or dialogue in this game, so having this system in its place not only fits extremely well, but adds to the soothing and kind nature of the adventure. Singing is tied to the trigger button, with the volume of your song being tethered to how hard you press it. New languages will eventually open up to Fe as you complete certain tasks for the larger creatures and animals. These languages will collectively allow you to engage deeper with your surroundings, which is often necessary to make further progression. The most basic of which, for example, would be singing to a flower, which will open it up and allow you to use it as a jump pad. New languages also come in handy for backtracking to previous areas to reach new, previously inaccessible, locations.
Zoink have built upon this connection with its players, ensuring that almost every action in the game requires some form of unity in one way or another. I suspect that many will overlook this design choice, but if you truly want to relate to Fe, you have to allow yourselves to be swallowed by it. As already mentioned, Fe is a story of communication. Fe, along with most of the forest’s inhabitants have their own song. Fe must learn to communicate with these creatures and learn their songs, which touches up on a strong vibe in an age that’s heavily disconnected from such aspects. As such, it goes without saying that the soundtrack in Fe is an achievement in itself. Never does it become repetitive, annoying, or too forceful. It’s a constant treat to behold, and one that only bolsters the beautiful trek within. It’s not on-par with the likes of Ori, but it’s certainly not far off.
It’s a shame, however, that one singular problem is present throughout the entire journey, the controls. Controlling Fe can be a nightmare. Several times I was tempted to throw my controller in discontent, simply due to some irritating functionality while platforming. The game regularly has you moving from tree to tree, which also doubles up as a means to get some extra height. The issue I have with this, is that moving to and from trees can be rather clunky and as a result, counter productive. The same can indeed be said for scaling a tall tree, in which Fe will jump from the tree if you blindly hammer the climbing button in the hopes of reaching the top of the tree quickly. Once the game opens up, you get access to a gliding function, but this doesn’t totally alleviate that tree climbing irritation, nor does it remedy the slightly overbearing jumping and landing. Still, in the grand scheme of things, these are small problems to complain about, but problems that do tend to lead to moments of frustration nevertheless.
When the controls are not working against you, Fe shines at its brightest. The forest is wonderfully designed and I quite enjoyed the solid pace of the game. Exploration and puzzle solving is typically rewarded with progression. Though I found the game to be much more alluring when I was taking my time to sight-see and soak up the locations within. New areas open up, each of which coming with collectibles that have been carefully placed for those that appreciate stepping off the beaten track. There’s no arguing that the structure and design is well set, giving off a visually stunning experience that’s like no other platformer I have ever played. Colors constantly bounce off one another to great effect, with no two broad sections of the game looking the same. Zoink has clearly routed a lot of their efforts here, and to their credit, the presentation and the diverse environments will stay with me for a great deal of time to come.
Fe isn’t a huge game and can be completed in roughly six hours. Whether that sits well with the asking price depends on whether you’re happy with what’s in the proverbial box. Fe isn’t a game that compelled me to run it several times, so if you’re on the market for a game that’s heavy on the replay value, you might be disappointed. With that to the side, if you’re simply looking for something that will wow you in a single run, and comes with some great production value, Fe is definitely for you. Irrespective of that the fact that this game is categorized as a platformer action game, it’s actually closer to a puzzle platformer. On that front, the puzzles are well crafted and make sense. These are more apparent when helping adult animals, but still require more forward thinking than legwork. On the whole, it’s not hard to love Fe, despite its few issues. This is a game that effortlessly blends together stealth, platforming, and puzzle solving, tied to an endearing story that relays deep meaning and unification.
Fe is a wonderful and endearing adventure that’s slightly let down by niggling control issues. This game brilliantly merges stealth and platforming together, with a collection of well designed puzzles thrown in for both meaning and balance. The visual presentation remains rich and diverse throughout, serving up an experience that wont be forgotten in a hurry.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.