There's a certain harmony in nature, with animal and plant life co-existing peacefully and in sync. For nature to thrive, so must the harmony that drives it.
That seems to be the idea behind Fe, a 3D platformer from Electronic Arts and indie developer Zoink. Nature is threatened and in order to help it continue on in peace, the idea is to reinforce harmony through music and puzzle-solving. It's a good idea, but one that feels a little too familiar without anything that makes it feel truly unique.
Fe centers around a young cub of the same name. He has the power to communicate with wildlife and plantlife alike through song. One thing he can't communicate with is evil machinery that seems to have invaded his world and seeks to snuff it out. To put an end to the mechanical menace, Fe goes around communicating with animals and plants to help open up new areas.
The actual singing mechanic is an interesting one, conveyed with Fe and his target literally meeting each other halfway. The idea is that they both communicate just enough to mix their languages together and learn from one another. Zoink brilliantly conveys this by having players lightly press down on the Right Trigger, since the concept is all about harmonizing with the other creature. This allows Fe to recruit animal friends to help him through certain areas or to open up previously-inaccessible places.
Fe's singing also opens up puzzle-sovling elements, as he can use his songs to find different paths. For example, birds can help light the way, while plants can open up to create bounce pads. Communication is also important in dealing with enemies, since Fe can't actually fight. He can recruit certain animals to help dispatch foes, otherwise areas with patrolling robots turn into stealth sequences.
Show Me The Way
The trouble is that Fe is designed as a Metroidvania, which means it's really easy to go to the trouble of finding your way through an area only to find you went in the wrong direction. Fe is mostly linear, but it's still troublesome to find out exactly which direction you're headed since the world is a fairly wide open space. There's no real way to set a waypoint or get an idea of which direction to head in next, so you'll constantly be toggling the map with the Left Trigger to get some semblance of idea of where to go or what to do next. And while the idea is to explore and appreciate Fe's surroundings, that charm starts to wear thin quickly.
With that said, Fe is capable of picking up multiple abilities, but it's really only the gliding ability that seems to matter. This is the ability that truly opens up the world and allows Fe to progress towards the end. This is also where the game starts to get a bit frustrating, because of some wonky controls. Gliding should be a fun aspect of the game, but it led to more inadvertant deaths than I would have hoped for.
Fe is a short adventure, only coming in for me at about four to five hours. There's more to do afterwards, as the rest of the world opens up without the pesky enemies, leaving players free to explore. Given how frustrating some of the stealth sequences proved to be, part of me feels that this should have been what the game was from the outset, leaving players free to explore and only asking them to solve puzzles related to the songs.
Fe's charm is in its concept and its songs, as I learned new songs with different pitches and tones, and learned to communicate with new wildlife. It also has flashes of visual brilliance, thanks to its use of soothing water color landscapes. But a humdrum story, lack of direction, and inconsistent controls didn't leave me wanting an encore.