We're not sure what it is about foxes, but the little woodland creatures seem to be having a bit of a renaissance in games at the moment. Last year's Seasons After Fall put the ginger critter front and centre, giving him the power to alter the seasons in a fun little puzzle platformer, while this Christmas, Super Lucky's Tale bought foxy fun to the Xbox One too - and let's not forget Sonic's long-enduring sidekick, Tails either. Whilst perhaps not a fox in the traditional sense, seeing as he's black and neon purple, we're nevertheless going to have to add Fe to the list of foxy adventures, as a stylish puzzle platformer, and the first of a more experimental branch of EA.
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On paper, Fe sounds like a game that's right up our street - a puzzley platformer about a cute fox-like critter who's on a mission to reunite the animals of the forest through song. By serenading the forest's inhabitants, you can get them to lend a paw during your quest, as each creature has a particular plant they can interact with and help you on your way - birds can open buds to reveal explosive berries, deer can make a gust of wind shoot from a flower to lift you up to higher ledges, and so on. The reason for your quest though, isn't exactly very clear - and it doesn't seem to make any more sense as you go along either.
You see, trying to tell a story without words will always be a bit of a gamble, and unfortunately, Fe's attempt at a profound tale is mostly lost in a muddle of chirps and chirrups. All you really know is you're wandering around a forest as the strange fox-like Fe, a forest which seems to be under attack from a load of shadowy laser-eyed beings known as the Silent Ones for… reasons. Cave paintings and short sequences from the perspective of the bad guys attempt to give some more context, or delve a bit deeper into the lore, but rather than the something profound Fe seems to be aiming for, you're mostly left wondering what the chuff you just did. Particularly in the case of the 'Silent Helmets' playable cutscene sections, which just make you slowly walk forward in a straight line while the Silent Ones dance around a bonfire, before cutting back to Fe in a forest, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
It's this same vagueness that permeates the whole game, and turns what could have been a nice little jaunt through a woodland into a confusing, awkward mess. Tutorials fail to tell you what you actually need to know, right from the off, with the game telling you to 'sing gently with animals', neglecting to tell you that the pressure you put on the right trigger directly affects the pitch Fe sings at, and therefore makes all the difference between scaring off a deer or befriending them. Figuring out where to head next is similarly awkward, and while you can summon a bird to point you in the right direction, he'll often stubbornly point a way you can't go, or simply circle a creature you already know you need to help, you just can't work out how. At one point, he was adamant we needed to throw this explosive berry at a corpse of a Silent One - yet it turned out, the reality was nothing to do with it whatsoever.
Instead, what we had to do was help a huge bird-god beast find her missing eggs, which the Silent Ones had stolen. Generally, this involved finding the culprit and stalking them from a safe distance, as they lead you to the altar where they'd stashed the egg. Fe has no direct combat to speak of, but that's not to say you won't run into a fair few deadly situations during your time in the forest either, with each enemy encounter basically revolving around stealthily avoiding the Silent Ones' searchlight eyes by hiding in tall, dark grass, which effectively turns you invisible. By sneaking from one patch of grass to the next, you can slowly make your way up and around the Silent Ones, and pluck the egg right from under their nose, before hotfooting it back to mama bird. However, it's also far too easy to accidentally wander into a Silent One stronghold and get yourself instantly killed from lord knows where with virtually no warning if you're not careful enough - and given that the forest is a bit of a maze that all looks pretty samey, it'll happen way more frequently than you'd like.
One egg proved a bit more problematic though - a grizzly bear-like creature had taken a liking to it, and any and all attempts to waltz up and take it from him ended in our demise. We tried leading other animals to it, and most either refused to come anywhere near, or ended up as breakfast. In the end, after a few hours of confusion, in our desperation we ended up wandering around the cave, spamming the pick up button. And lo and behold, Fe found himself a previously-hard-to-spot sparkly gem, which Mr. Bear promptly traded for the egg, without eating us alive. Such is one of the problems with Fe's overly stylised dream-like colour scheme of shadowy hues and bright neon scenery - often it ends up masking the important bits and pieces, leaving you wandering around aimlessly for ages. That and all of the forest and cliff faces start to look the same after a while.
Helping out the adult versions of the creatures - like the aforementioned mama bird - will teach Fe new 'languages' (think songs) to speak to the forest critters in, unlocking new areas and abilities in the process. For example, once you learn to speak bird, you can catch a quick lift on any of the owls that soar the skies, carrying you up to higher ledges, as well as being able to work the corresponding plants without having to round up the correct animal first; useful if there's not one in the vicinity. But those aren't the only abilities Fe can learn, as collecting the pink crystals that are hidden around the forest can add new skills to your arsenal too - the only problem is that, once again, the game fails to tell you that once you reach each milestone, you have to trek back to the stone circle you started from to 'cash in' the crystals, before you can unlock the ability to glide and the like.
It's a shame that Fe turned out the way it did, as it's a nice idea, but its execution is a bit wobbly. A total lack of any explanations or hints leave you wandering around aimlessly, periodically being insta-killed by the Silent Ones, and generally getting frustrated and/or confused about what you're meant to be doing. Add in the fact that the 'guiding bird' often fails at its primary objective, and Fe is an unfortunate recipe for frustration.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4