EA’s new indie label releases an ambitious new title that has designs on being a 3D Ori And The Blind Forest.
Metroid has never been a big seller for Nintendo, but the reason it all but disappeared during the N64 era is that they could never figure out a way to make it work in 3D. Mario and Zelda made the leap from 2D in groundbreaking fashion, but the contrivances of a Metroidvania game were not nearly so malleable. They finally cracked the secret by making Metroid Prime a first person game, but even today there are very few games in the genre that work with a standard third person view. And after Fe you begin to understand why.
For the record, our favourite third person Metroidvania is Batman: Arkham Asylum. But once you move the genre into 3D the distinction between it and any other action adventure immediately starts to fade away. In fact, if we hadn’t happened to have met the developers at a press event, and asked them the question directly, we wouldn’t even be certain that Metroid was the primary inspiration for Fe.
It’s certainly not an obvious connection to make at first glance, given the game’s strange, angular art design and monochromatic colour schemes. But within a few minutes of starting the game you’re presented with a dais featuring icons of lots of moves you cannot perform yet, and you begin to realise that the reason you couldn’t climb the trees before is simply because you haven’t unlocked the right ability yet…
There’s no dialogue in Fe (which is Swedish for fairy) to describe exactly what is going on, but you play as a fox-like creature in what appears to be an alien forest. There are things that look a lot like deer, but also manta ray-like birds flying in the sky, so it’s clearly not Earth. Wherever it is though, the opening cut scene has it being invaded by robotic-looking bipeds whose impact on the environment is an obvious allegory for our own world.
As the game starts you have no abilities other than being able to jump and to sing. The latter is used to communicate with other animals, as you learn their language via a little mini-game that involves holding down the right trigger with just the right amount of pressure. This in turn lets you use the animal’s special ability, such as turning certain flowers into trampolines or creating bomb-like seeds.
Your own intrinsic abilities, starting off with climbing trees and gliding, can only be unlocked by collected a certain number of crystals. These can be found hidden about the world, but you’ll also tend to come across the minimum number necessary if you follow the game’s agreeably subtle sign-posting. You can turn on certain hints and onscreen indicators if you want, but it’s clear the game would rather you experiment and figure things out for yourself.
It’s only upon completion that you realise that the climbing and gliding abilities are the only abilities you actually need to progress, and all the others are essentially optional. That’s not necessarily a problem, but the songs you learn also tend to have only a very specific purpose and you begin to realise that the gameplay is a lot more simplistic and linear than it at first seems.
It also doesn’t help that the platforming is sloppy and imprecise, and although it’s rarely particularly hard the fact that it seems such a chore having to do things again if you fail points to the fact that the mechanic is not nearly as fun as it should. The controls are also a problem when trying to be stealthy around enemies, as you attempt to avoid the torch beams emanating from their bodies.
None of these problems are enough to ruin Fe, but they do undermine the positive first impressions it makes. But although the game is only three or four hours long, even the art design begins to lose its appeal before the end. The lack of variation in colour and design not only makes navigation more difficult, but it becomes almost oppressive in its monotony.
Fe is not bad game, and if it turns up in a sale – which we’re sure it will – for something like half price we’d still recommend it. But it’s problem is that none of its ideas feel fully-formed, from the lightweight platforming, to the underdeveloped interactions with other animals. For a game that’s all about singing, Fe is disappointingly one-note.
In Short: Shallow mechanics hide a game that is much more simplistic than it first appears, but this is still a passingly entertaining take on a 3D Metroidvania.
Pros: The wordless storytelling and otherworldly atmosphere are immediately interesting. Competent level design and some interesting abilities to learn.
Cons: None of the abilities are used in any particularly clever ways and the singing is barely more than a gimmick. Sloppy platforming, and while striking at first, the visuals lack variety.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Publisher: EA Originals
Release Date: 16th February 2018
Age Rating: 7