Feist: A Tale of Two Halves | A Short Pause Review
Feist is a game that unfortunately fails to live up to its potential. It has all of the makings of a title that should be a creative and critical home run, but it stumbles rounding the bases. There’s a lot to like with Feist, but at the end of the day, several glaring issues hold it back from being something greater than it ultimately is.
Tale of the Tape
Release Date: December 13, 2016
Developer: Bits & Beasts
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, & PC
Feist was actually a game that snuck up on me. I hadn’t heard of it prior to its launch trailer, but when I saw the game in action for the first time, I was instantly intrigued. I was immediately drawn to the game’s wonderful art style and, unsurprisingly, this is one of Feist’s strongest features. Shadowy silhouettes sharply contrast against subtly colorful, almost glowing backgrounds to create a striking and beautiful graphical style that wouldn’t at all be out of place in a Playdead title (Limbo, Inside), a stylistic connection I’ll be referencing several times throughout this review. It’s also visually reminiscent of developer Frogmind’s Badland, if you’ve played that lovably quirky title on mobile or consoles. Foreground objects and primary characters are portrayed in shadow, while the backgrounds are in color, or at very least bathed in light, resulting in a really cool look that I never got tired of.
This addicting aesthetic pairs perfectly with the game’s forest setting. While there is no dialogue to speak of, in either spoken or text form, Feist is still able to tell a simple, yet effective, story. In a nutshell, you find yourself in the fur of a small woodland creature looking to escape his or her captors — a group of large hairy beasts seemingly ripped from the pages of “Where the Wild Things Are.” I mentioned Playdead earlier, and their work is clearly an inspiration to Bits & Beasts, the Swiss developer behind Feist. The environmental storytelling at the heart of something like Inside is implemented in a very similar way here, albeit in a far less obtuse manner. With no HUD to speak of, the game communicates its mechanics and its narrative simply through the on-screen actions of the player. I’m a big fan of what Playdead has been able to do with their games in this respect, and I like what Bits & Beasts has accomplished here in the absence of a HUD and dialogue as well. There are some brief tutorial messages early on in the game explaining what the various buttons do, but for the most part the player is on their own to discover the rules of Feist as they play through the game.
In fact, I thought the beginning of this game was really strong. For the first five or so chapters, I was constantly encountering new enemies and obstacles, and I appreciated the way the game organically presented its puzzles. I intuitively knew to stack objects in the environment to reach higher places, lure enemies into traps to dispose of them, or pick up a stick off the ground to defend myself. I enjoyed the way the game presented progression as a series of natural and logical steps.
Things changed about half-way through the game, though, with the introduction of the spider enemies and cave levels. Navigating the environment was suddenly less intuitive. I started to feel less and less like I was figuring things out, and more and more like I was just lucky to get from point A to point B. Confined in those caves with an endless wave of those annoyingly pesky spider enemies quickly became an exercise in frustration. It was at this point that it felt like the ball had to bounce my way perfectly in order for me to proceed. If that spider would just jump in this particular direction, or if that rock would just fall that way, I could make it through this area. Even when I finally made it to the end of the cave sequence, level design continued to veer towards aggravation up through the end of the game. I’m all for a challenging game, but what’s here often felt cheap and punishing. Placing the first half of this game next to the second half is a strange juxtaposition; the first five levels’ organic progression and gradual escalation doesn’t jive with the final five levels’ reliance on trial-and-error frustration.
Feist’s uneven difficulty is accentuated by a few things. First, the game is short. Really short. It’s a title that can be completed in two hours at the most. With only ten levels that typically range from 5-10 minutes in length, I almost wonder if this spike in difficulty over the game’s second half is more so a means of prolonging the overall experience than anything else. Secondly, it takes too long for the game to load after you die. Deaths are often a dramatic slow fade away back to the last checkpoint you passed, which becomes grating after you’ve died for the tenth time in a row. This is a game that needed to quickly return you to the action upon death, and that’s not what happens here. While the wait time until you’re back in the thick of things is not egregiously long, it’s not as instantaneous as something like 10 Second Ninja X or Super Meat Boy. Feist is nowhere near as difficult as either of these games, but if I’m going to die ten times in the same spot I just want to get back to it as quickly as possible.
Above all else though, technical problems are perhaps Feist’s most damning issue. Hitches and stutters cropped up throughout my playthrough, getting progressively worse the longer I advanced into the game. It was strange to watch play out; these hitches and stutters were sparse in the early stages of the game, but by the time I reached the last level, the game was skipping quite a bit. It was noticeable, and ultimately affected my enjoyment in some of the more problematic areas. There’s also this very weird blackout glitch in the game that I was able to reproduce several times. In certain stages, if i were to engage an enemy in a specific area in the level, the screen would completely go black. The sound would still be there, but I would have to restart the game to get the picture to come back. It was odd to say the least, and hopefully it’s something that Bits & Beasts is working on correcting.
It’s not that Feist is an exceedingly bad game. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; there’s a lot to like here from the graphical style to the environmental storytelling, so it’s a shame that the game failed to deliver on the promise it showed. In a game that’s supposed to be a short and sweet two-hour experience, all aspects of the title need to be firing on all cylinders, and that simply isn’t the case here. Technical issues and an uneven level of difficulty hold Feist back from being something greater than it is. That said, developer Bits & Beasts is clearly a talented studio, and I’m curious to see where they go from here and how they learn from their experience with Feist. If they can execute the Playdead-style of game better on their next attempt, we could be in for something really special. Until then, most of you are probably better served playing Inside again for the fifth time.
Feist was reviewed using a digital copy of the game provided to us by the fine folks at Bits & Beasts.
- Aesthetically beautiful
- Environmental storytelling
- Organic progression early on
- Uneven difficulty
- Technical issues