Feist is an atmospheric platformer that’s as much a test of patience as skill.
Feist may be one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever played. Its maddening difficulty risks detracting from the beautiful music and overall aesthetic but it’s impossible to ignore. So, let’s talk about difficulty. There appears to be a consensus that, in general, games are getting easier. Most older games, whether by design or technical necessity, didn’t allow you to save your progress. The result was that a level of mastery was required. The difficulty of the game would gradually increase as you became more adept at it. With each restart from the very beginning, you discovered shortcuts or simply honed your reactions through repetition.
Whether you see Feist as a welcome challenge or an enraging extraction of blood from a stone depends on what kind of gamer you are. However, whether this difficulty fits in with the overall package of what think you’re getting, or if it is just arbitrary, is another matter entirely. While it’s difficult to define or quantify, there is something in the aesthetic and feel of Feist that makes its challenge feel, at times, unwarranted.
At its core, Feist is a creepy, 2D platformer. You play a nameless furry biped, an infant native of an unforgiving world ruled by giant insects and bigger versions of you. These beautifully designed enemies range from tenacious jumping spike balls, to javelin launching worms, and all of them can kill you in a matter of seconds. Each extended section is tail-ended with a battle against one of a gang of increasingly more challenging, grown-up versions of whatever species you are. These bullies seem be holding onto some kind of captive: a creature just like you.
The gorgeous silhouette art style and delicate, ominous soundscape pull you into a creepy world that evokes Where The Wild Things Are, as much as obvious visual companion pieces, such as Limbo. The great frustration then, comes from the fact that the game is constantly pushing you away.
Compared with other games of unspoken, unravelling narrative, Feist at best feels unfinished or at worst vague to point of being transparent. Early promise of a dark fantasy world isn’t developed past a swamp, forest and cave. At this point, overly long underground sections full of insects are almost a Gaming 101 no-no. That isn’t to say you can’t have them, but they are almost always visually unimaginative – and always too long. Feist is no exception.
By the end of the punishing conclusion of Feist, I never felt a sense of mastery. An ending to a sparse narrative that could have been meaningful, instead felt abrupt by a lack of clues or information as to who I was, where I was and why. It feels as though Feist’s primary thesis is “life is difficult when you’re alone”. To come back to the idea of mastery, Feist doesn’t feel like it can be mastered. Where games like Dark Souls beat you but teach you a lesson that is quantifiable (you learn the timings of an attack and hone your reactions accordingly), Feist’s victories almost feel random. There is no denying that when the difficulty is ramped up the feeling of accomplishment is greater, but where Dark Souls makes you feel skilled, Feist makes you feel lucky.
Maybe that’s the point. Maybe Feist is about how to make it as a cute furry gremlin. You need luck as much as anything else, but that doesn’t translate into satisfying gameplay. I’m not asking to become an overpowered god by the end of the game, but some form of reward beyond sheer luck would have not only made Feist’s gameplay potentially more diverse, but also have given it a much needed sense of pace and structure or at least broken up acts.
To enjoy Feist, a level of masochism is required. Grinding through the game felt like work but there are no doubt others who will relish Feist’s brutality.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), XBox One, PS4 ; Publisher: Finji; Developer: Beasts And Bits; Players: 1 ; Released: July 23, 2016 ; MSRP: $9.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Feist given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.