Review: Feist Is A Tense Platformer Reminiscent Of Limbo
It looks like Limbo, but Feist is its own beast and while it is short, it tells a punchy narrative with simple finesse. It isn't a carbon copy, but an offshoot.
- Worth The Time?Short, but worth it.
- Things LovedThe story is so simple and pared down, but it is emotionally powerful. The game takes some of Limbo's strengths and delivers a very different game experience. The visuals are actually very beautiful.
- Things HatedWhile the visuals suit the tone, and the game goes far to prove it isn't Limbo, it may be a cost that the game wears its inspiration so obviously on its sleeve. I also wish the game had been a little longer, even though the short playtime adds much to the story's power.
- RecommendationIf you liked Limbo, this is definitely worth a play.
- Name: Feist
- Genre: Platformer
- Players: Single
- Multiplayer: No
- Platforms: PC, Mac
- Developer: Bits and Beasts
- Publisher: Finji
- Price: $14.99
- Reviewed On: PC
They say “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck”. Feist might look just like Limbo, but that’s as far as it goes. The striking silhouette on broody background visuals and defenseless-looking character you meet in the first few moments put the game into a strange space for its first impression, a set up of expectations that the rest of the game deliberately turn on their head. This is no clone of Limbo’s gameplay, tone, themes, or feel, and even the visuals go into places Limbo does not, and this elevates Feist from being a moody platformer to a game that holds its own in comparison to what has become a classic.
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The first moments of Feist introduce us to a rogues gallery of furry, malicious-looking troll-beast-things that have some small fuzzball in a cage, and then the player takes the role of another fuzzball breaking free from a trap. Like Limbo, the protagonist is something not equipped to face the dangers that loom ahead. The game then becomes a journey across dark forest, into a mine, and through a misty bog, all three environments packed with dangers. Both games trade on the feeling of being dwarfed by seemingly insurmountable odds that require you to “try and die”, and reflect that in their similar broody visuals.
But the gameplay quickly shows Feist is a different game entirely. Where Limbo is mainly straight platform danger-avoidance, Feist lives up to the echo of its name. Your little fuzzball is no stranger to scrappy fighting, and as the game progresses you are forced to go toe-to-toe with the nasty beasts. There are no slow-build-up spider instakills in this game. Instead, the dangers require you to grab the nearest rock or log or stick and fight back powered by adrenaline and panic. Each encounter has a fight-or-flight feel to it, and the game is less dodging deadly traps and making difficult timed jumps than it is a running battle against a hostile environment.
Another way Feist takes Limbo as inspiration, but goes in new directions, is its experimentation with environment. Both games use the mood of gloomy colours and dark shadows to set a tone of despair. But Feist chooses to avoid the gradually mechanising environments of Limbo to focus instead on an unforgiving natural landscape. While Limbo is a journey through the afterlife, Feist is unflinchingly real, and the player is a small creature in a big ecosystem, the tiny prey animal choosing to fight back against the predators. The sense of rebelling against an uncaring world is captured in the bleakness and beauty of the visual world, especially in the backdrops and the presentation of another fuzzball on a spit early on. The game also explores the silhouette aesthetic, with the mine section standing out as something very powerful – using the pinprick of light that reflects a creature’s eyes in the pitch dark to really ratchet up the tension.
Through this, Feist manages to become its own game because, ultimately, the story drives a different feel and a shift in mood and tone that completely shatters the similarity between it and its inspiration. The soundtrack shifts to unsettlingly forest-like, complete with sounds like the hooting of predatory creatures and pounding drums, and the final showdown in the swamp is a blend of surreal beauty, terror, and by this point channelled aggression. Where Limbo drives you deeper into hopelessness in the face of the uncaring afterlife, Feist drives you to rail against it, by giving the player some agency. Feist is the ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ to Limbo’s ‘Ash-Wednesday’. Or, to save me from being called pretentious, Limbo is the opening of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, whereas Feist comes in after the guitar solo.
It doesn’t mean you’re going to fight your way out easily. Even the Flies, Inchworms, and Ticks that make up the common enemies can gang up and kill you with little difficulty if you aren’t careful. The beasts which make up the major bosses are even scarier. Here Feist can feel a bit like Dark Souls – the bosses can be dealt with by exploiting their weaknesses, but mess up and they’ll wreck you. Getting tossed into a wall and then crushed by flying logs is your punishment for carelessness. And each boss adds new dynamics to keep you continually swearing, panicking, and on the edge of your seat.
What works well here, though, is the pacing of the game. The game is compact, with the difficulty increasing along with your confidence, teaching you how to face the beasts and encouraging you as a player, as well as the fuzzball character, to feel more able to take down these creatures. The tightness of the narrative is in part due to its short runtime – clocking in about 3 hours in total (depending on how long you spend on mastering and passing each spike in challenge). It’s a difficult line to walk between being very short but satisfying and well-made, and too short for the price. What we will say, though, is the shortness of the narrative doesn’t allow you to forget the other fuzzball in a cage which you need to save. Any longer, and it would seem very unrealistic to expect it not to have become fuzzball-on-a-spit as well.
And in the end, it is this short quest to save another of your kind that gives the story a wonderful emotional heart.