The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Review

I don’t consider this review to contain any huge story spoilers, but I do describe elements of the game including specifics of the first puzzle and areas in the game world. If you want to go in with no knowledge of those things, maybe skip to the first header.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter opens immediately with a screen saying “This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand.” The game isn’t kidding, it starts with just a few lines of introduction that sets up your character as an unknown person named Paul Prospero with no backstory. And that’s effectively all you get, I was immediately dropped on a rail line in the middle of a beautiful forest.

Following this trail leads you to a run-down bridge that presents us with gorgeous vistas, a river leading to a reservoir capped by a dam in the distance. The sun shines down on the sparkling water as I make my way over the bridge, wondering the entire time if a board is going to collapse, dropping me into the river hundreds of feet below. Wondering, because I know literally nothing about this game or its mechanics.

Continuing on leads me to a train engine and the game shows me that it’s missing the crank that I’ll need to start it, but doesn’t give any hints to its location. For the first of many times, I push forward, confused but assuming the game will eventually reveal its intentions. I continue across the bridge and head back into the forest on the other side. That’s where I find my first body.

It’s a teenager whose legs have been chopped off, presumably by a train engine. He’s dragged himself off the rail, leaving two trails of blood behind before succumbing to his injuries. The game prompts me to touch the body, which I do reluctantly. I’m rewarded with a strange floating circle that pulses, but not explanations what that means.

I search around the area, finding clues and re-assembling the crime scene. With each clue, the circle that appears when I touch the body keeps getting bigger and bigger, but no matter how much I search, I can’t find the last piece of the puzzle. For the second time, I push forward, assuming that the game will eventually make its intentions clear. I eventually find a second body and a second set of clues, but I still have no idea what is going on. Then a third body with a third set of clues. And finally a fourth body with a fourth set of clues.

At this point, I’ve explored the entire game world, explored strange haunted houses and an underground mine where I got my first, and thankfully only, jump scare. But I still had no idea what to do and I was getting close to halfway through the four hours the internet implied it would take me to beat the game. I decide to backtrack because obviously pushing forward hasn’t gotten me anywhere.

Now I’m back at the first body. He’s still covered in blood and missing his legs. Touching him still just gives me the pulsing circle and it’s definitely bigger, but I can’t figure out what the last step is. Finally, after wandering around in the woods for five or ten minutes, I come across a rock I can pick up! I have no idea how many times I must have walked past it, but I had it now. I find the pile of rocks it came from and go back and touch the body.

Finally, I have figured out the secret to how this game actually works! A series of ghost-like vignettes appears around the crime scene. They play one of a time, but once I ordered them correctly it showed the entire scene and I finally found out how the dead kid lost his legs. The sense of victory was huge, I praised the developers for not holding my hand and giving me the agency to figure out how the game worked myself, instantly forgetting the frustration I’d felt minutes before. I ran off to the second body because I now held the secret!

Well, I thought I did. I searched and searched and couldn’t find the last clue to finish out the second body. Finally, after a half hour of searching, I broke down and looked at a walkthrough. And even then, I couldn’t find it. Turns out that at the default settings, I couldn’t see the hallway I needed to go down. I’d walked past it dozens of times and didn’t even know it existed. (Full disclosure, when I played the game later on my TV, the difference in brightness was massive and the hallway was clearly visible.) Either way, I now had all the clues and crossed another mystery off the list. The third was also relatively easy to solve. As was the fourth. But then, again I was stuck. I hadn’t found any other bodies and I’d explored the entire world. What I didn’t know was that in the vignette world where you can see the crime recreated, one of the “ghosts” in the vignette had unlocked a previously unlocked door, which again I needed a guide to point out.

Once I got past that, the rest of the game was fairly straightforward, the story progressing nicely until I got to what I assumed was the ending of the story, where the game informed me that in fact I still had another four puzzles to solve before I could actually finish the game. Two of them I knew about, but the game hadn’t really implied that I needed to solve them to progress. The other two I wasn’t even aware of. Long story short, I found them and was then (and only then) able to finish the game.

Don’t Want Spoilers? Start Here.

Normally I don’t start a review with almost a thousand words of semi-spoilers, but it seemed important to explain the above in order to put my review in context. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a complex game full of incredible highs when I figured something out and equally frustrating lows when I had wandered around for 30 minutes trying to find a rock. What I can’t decide is if that is the developer’s intention. Did they create a game that “does not hold your hand” in order to make the joys of discovery seem that much better? Does that up and down wave make for an ultimately better game?

After thinking about it for about a week, I’ve decided that the answer is probably no, I think I would have enjoyed Ethan Carter more if the game had held my hand just a little bit more. I don’t need an arrow to guide me to each puzzle, but it seems like the game could have done a better job guiding me through the story using environmental storytelling. A game like Firewatch is a perfect example, I always knew where I needed to go, but it gave me a lot of freedom on how to get there. This meant that the story came together in a linear way, which in retrospect would have been a better way to experience Ethan Carter.

That being said, the real question is that even knowing that the game can be frustrating, is it worth the effort? Is the payoff worth it? The answer is an strong yes. The story that weaves its way through The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is excellent and unexpected in many ways. The ending will leave you with answers but maybe just as many questions and that isn’t a bad thing. On top of that, the game is gorgeous and it’s made even more so by the stunning 4k visuals in the Xbox One X and PC versions of the game (the PS4 is limited to 1080). The developers used a process called photogrammetry to bring real-world objects into the game by taking dozens of photos of those objects in the real world and it makes the game feel very real and astoundingly beautiful.

Overall, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter isn’t perfect. I enjoyed my time with it and while it’s not as good as a lot of other narrative adventure games I’ve played, it’s amazing story combined with breathtaking visuals make it a game well worth playing. I personally believe you would also benefit from playing it with a walkthrough. It will greatly lower the amount of frustration that the game presents you with and it will let you approach the game in a more linear fashion, which I think will help the story ultimately make more sense.

Our Recommendation: Buy it

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter isn’t perfect, but it’s artful storytelling and beautiful visuals make it a narrative adventure worth playing.

Platforms: Xbox, PC & PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Time Played: 5.5 hours
Completed: Yes
Developer: The Astronauts
Publisher: The Astronauts
Review Copy: Yes

Full Throttle Remastered Review

Nostalgia is a funny thing. On one hand, it’s a powerful force that helps you remember and hold onto your childhood and adds a nice rose color to the past. It even sometimes helps you gloss over the flaws of something you loved and allows you to continue loving it as an adult. But sometimes even nostalgia isn’t enough to smooth over the rough edges of something you loved in the past. Sometimes too much time has passed and the way we create and consume content has changed too much for something you used to love to still be relevant today. And Full Throttle Remastered fall squarely into the second camp.

Full Throttle was originally released in 1995 by LucasArts, coming on the heels of adventure game classics Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max Hit the Road. Designed by legendary game designer Tim Schafer and written by Schafer and Monkey Island writer Dave Grossman, Full Throttle puts you in the role of Ben, leader of a motorcycle gang called the Polecats. When the Polecats are framed for the murder of Malcolm Corley, CEO of Corley Motors (the last motorcycle manufacturer in the alternate universe that Full Throttle is set in), it’s up to Ben to clear his gang, bring the actual murderer to justice and save Corley Motors.

I remember loving this point and click adventure game when it was first released. I worked at Software Etc. at the time and probably borrowed it using their very liberal game check out policy. I vividly recall the terrific graphics, the incredible voice acting, catchy music and the compelling story. I recommended it to everyone that came in looking for a new game to play and I must have been one of many sales people that made that recommendation because the game went on to sell over a million copies.

So when I heard that Doublefine, the company that Tim Schafer went on to found after leaving LucasArts, was going to be doing a remastered version of Full Throttle I was very excited. I wanted to dive back in and experience Full Throttle again, but without having to deal with the graphics of a 22-year-old adventure game that may not have aged perfectly. And on that front, the new game looks terrific. It has been redone with almost a painterly aesthetic that really works within the game world.

The voice acting was always top notch, featuring fantastic voice actors Roy Conrad, Mark Hamill, Kath Soucie and even a couple of bit parts by Maurice Lamarche, which has obviously been remastered along with the graphics to be clear and crisp. The music is also incredible. A majority of it is performed by The Gone Jackals, an actual rock band out of California which was a rarity in 1995. My favorite song Chitlins, Whiskey & Skirt is still running through my head on repeat. The remastered audio sounds fantastic and fits perfectly into the game, rocking when required and fitting perfectly into the background when appropriate.

Where things start to go wrong is with the gameplay. To be completely honest, Full Throttle would have been far better off if it could have launched a month before Thimbleweed Park and not almost three weeks after. Thimbleweed Park managed to nail the feeling and nostalgia of a 90’s adventure game without making it play like a 90’s adventure game. Full Throttle Remastered on the other hand is the exact opposite. It doesn’t look like a 90’s adventure game, but unfortunately, it plays like one.

What that means is you are going to spend a lot of time walking awkwardly across screens, while the very basic pathfinding algorithms present in the original game tries to get you to the point you clicked on. Puzzles are going to be difficult to the point of being completely obtuse (I honestly don’t know if I could have beaten the game without a guide.) Sometimes when you can’t solve a puzzle correctly, the entire thing resets and you have to start over from scratch, often more than once. And finally, there are entire sections of the game that are just terrible to play, partly because of their design and partly because the controls are just bad.

For instance, about halfway through the game you set out on your motorcycle and end up having to jump across a gorge. In order to do this, you need to get a ramp from another biker gang. This means you need to beat up rival gang members while on your motorcycle, getting better and better weapons until you finally get the upgrade that leads you to the cave where the ramp is hidden. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to control the bikes while you are just driving, let alone engaging in combat with a woman trying to kill you with a chainsaw. In addition, the game really doesn’t explain which weapons are better or what weapons you need. Honestly, if the game had given me the option to skip this entire section I would have (an option they thankfully did add to the demolition derby scene.)

And don’t get me started on landmines and mechanical bunny rabbits…

Overall, Full Throttle Remastered is exactly what it is – a bit of nostalgia pulled out of its own time, given a fresh coat of paint and dropped into a completely different place. Unfortunately, gameplay has evolved so rapidly in the last decade that sometimes a 10-year-old game feels out of place, let alone a 22-year-old game. That being said, the Remastered tagline really is true, the game looks and sounds terrific and if your rose colored glasses are a bit darker than mine, maybe you’ll enjoy it. But I’d recommend waiting for it to go on sale.

Our Recommendation: Buy It On Sale

I remembered liking Full Throttle a lot more than I actually liked it while I was playing. The remaster is gorgeous, but the gameplay is stuck in the 90s. Double Fine’s games go on sale all the time though, pick this one up when they do.

Platforms: Steam and PS4
Reviewed On: Steam
Time Played: 4 hours
Completed: Yes
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Review Copy: Yes

Thimbleweed Park Review

While I was wandering around PAX West last year, I kept catching glimpses of a game through crowds of people that looked just like a modern version of Maniac Mansion. I wasn’t ever able to actually play it, but I watched a bunch of it and took note of the name because I knew it was something I wanted to check out. At the time I had no idea that it really was a modern version of Maniac Mansion, made by Gary Winnick and Ron Gilbert of Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island fame. That game, of course, is Thimbleweed Park.

Jump forward six months and I’m staring at a pixelating corpse as two suspiciously familiar looking FBI agents start to investigate.

 

 

I’ll admit, I had some trepidation about the game initially. I’ve tried other “remastered” adventure games that I loved in the 90’s and none of them had quite lived up to the memories. There are just too many things that have changed in game design in the last 20 or 30 years to be able to pretty up the graphics in a game and have it still work.

Within five minutes of starting Thimbleweed Park, I knew this game was going to be different. It may look like Maniac Mansion (but let’s be honest, it looks significantly better, with gorgeous pixel-based graphics that are locked in at 60fps) but it doesn’t play anything like it or any of the other SCUMM based games that came out of LucasArts in the 90’s.

Gone are confusing and opaque puzzles. Instead, you are gently challenged with puzzles that make actual sense and are solvable. Plus, if you get stuck you can always switch to one of the other four characters and work on their storyline for a bit. Movement is fluid and I never felt like my character was awkwardly walking from point A to point B using some unintelligible pathfinding algorithm like you often did in Full Throttle or Grim Fandango. The voice acting is superb and each of the characters has a fantastic and distinct backstory and motivation within the game.

 

 

The story is what really makes Thimbleweed Park special. The story starts, as I mentioned, with two FBI agents that have come to the city of Thimbleweed Park to investigate a murder. Luckily, the town’s patron Chuck Edmund is a genius when it comes to tube-based machines and he’s created three crime solving computers that will take the clues you find and tell you who committed the murder.

As you start exploring the town looking for clues, you’ll meet tons of other characters including the three other playable characters: Delores Edmund, the niece of Chuck Edmund who has decided to not take over the Edmund pillow factory and has instead become a video game developer; Franklin Edmund, Claire’s father who died suspiciously and is a ghost in the game and Ransome the *Beep*ing Clown, a foul-mouthed circus performer who is cursed to always wear his makeup and remain in Thimbleweed Park. Each character has their own checklist of tasks that they need to accomplish, many of them by themselves but sometimes with the help of other characters.

 

 

The story quickly moves beyond the murder mystery that it starts out as quickly evolves into something much deeper. Even on easy mode, the game will give you ten hours of really fun gameplay, hard mode will add an extra 7-10 hours on top of that. Unfortunately, you can’t switch difficulty levels once you’ve made the choice at the first of the game, so you’ll need to decide how challenged you want to be before you start playing.

Even though I loved this game, there were a couple of things that I didn’t enjoy. Fast traveling isn’t available until after you find a map of the town a couple hours into the game and I didn’t actually realize you could use it to travel everywhere until I was almost done with the game. It also seemed kinda strange that most of the time your characters couldn’t talk to each other, you weren’t even given the option to say hello, which felt very strange when you were on the same screen.

 

 

Finally, at the end of the game, each of your characters is given the opportunity to wrap up their quest line. Unfortunately, completing Delores’ quest actually ends the game, regardless of whether or not you have completed the quests for the rest of your characters. In retrospect, she does ask if you are really sure, but not in a way that made me realize that I wouldn’t be able to complete all of the quests. This meant that my game completed with half of my characters quests unfinished. It was still possible to go back and finish them from my last save, but it left me feeling a bit incomplete.

The biggest take away when I finished Thimbleweed Park though was that I really didn’t want it to end, which is probably one of the biggest compliments you can give a game. It’s beautiful, has terrific voice acting and music, a wonderful plot full of colorful and funny characters and maybe most importantly, it made adventure games delightful and wonderful for a modern audience. Go buy it.

Our Recommendation: Buy it

I loved everything about Thimbleweed Park except for a couple of nitpicky details. It’s beautiful, has terrific stories and characters and scratches the 90’s adventure game itch perfectly. Go buy it right now, you won’t be sorry.

Platforms: Steam, Xbox One and iOS
Reviewed On: Steam
Time Played: 10 hours
Completed: Yes
Developer: Terrible Toybox
Publisher: Terrible Toybox
Review Copy: Yes

Alwa’s Awakening Review

The first time I died in Alwa’s Awakening, the screen that allowed me to continue had a counter indicating the number of times that I had died. This was a pretty good indication that the game wasn’t going to be a cakewalk and it did not disappoint. But unlike other difficult games I’ve played recently, the challenge in this game somehow seemed appropriate, although that didn’t mean that at some times I didn’t find it frustrating. Luckily, fantastic old-school gameplay, gorgeous 8-bit visuals and terrific sound design combine to build a game that rises above the occasional frustration.

Alwa’s Awakening is a love letter to the games of my childhood. But at first, I wasn’t sure that was a good thing. When you go back and play Metroid or one of the original Zelda games you most likely have the benefit of nostalgia, which lets you smooth over the rough edges that are present in older 8-bit games. But when I first started playing Alwa’s Awakening, that nostalgia wasn’t there. Sure, it had gorgeous NES style graphics and a catchy chiptune soundtrack. But jumping felt kinda floaty. The hit-box on my character sometimes didn’t seem quite right. I was spending a lot of times lost and frustrated by screens that kept killing me and then having to slog my way back to them over and over again because of how the save game system works. But then, something clicked.

But then, something clicked.

The jumping that previously felt floaty became precise depending on how fractionally shorter or longer I held the button down. Because of how long you float in the air, I was able to slightly adjust my trajectory in air or dodge projectiles. The hit-box didn’t get better, but at least it was consistent and after a bit, started to almost gain it’s own nostalgia as I thought about similar frustrations when I was 10 or 12.

But maybe the biggest revelation of the first couple hours of play was that I was actually getting good at the game. That doesn’t mean that I stopped dying, but it did mean that I was dying a lot less. By the time I went back in to record some gameplay from the start of the game after playing for three or four hours, I was able to speed, beating the first boss in far less than a half hour. Now when I play, I feel fast and powerful and the game rushes to meet and challenge me. It’s a terrific feeling.

From a pure gameplay perspective, the game loop is terrific. Early on, you get a map that helps you find your way through the labyrinth of screens that makes up Alwa’s Awakening. It’s extremely important because it often seems like each screen is a mini-puzzle you need to decipher. At the start, you can only jump, which means you can’t reach a huge portion of the map. But then you get a wand that lets you place a single brick which opens up a huge portion of the game, followed by a bubble that opens up even more. Suddenly, you find yourself backtracking over huge portions of the map, finding hidden secrets and collecting orbs that make it easier to defeat the bosses. And the map is a huge portion of what enables that, showing you on every screen where it’s possible for you to move to in all four directions, regardless of whether or not it looks possible while you are playing.

This loop of exploring an area initially and then re-exploring to reveal it’s secrets as you gain abilities is not only extremely enjoyable, but it also takes a lot of the potential tedium out of the game and more importantly lets you move on to something else if you are stuck. Multiple times I would bash my head against a section of the game I just couldn’t figure out, but after going and re-exploring some other section would either come back with some new ability or a new perspective that would help me figure out what I needed to do in order to progress.

It may seem odd to say it, but the mark of a good 8-bit game to some degree comes down to graphics. And Alwa’s Awakening has some of the most beautiful retro pixel-based graphics that I’ve seen in quite a long time. They are bright and colorful and crisp. They just scream original NES in such a wonderful way. Even the video we captured, running at 1080p at 60 frames per second doesn’t quite capture how wonderful they look. But the graphics don’t just look terrific, they are also wonderfully animated and run at a buttery smooth 60 fps.

Performance is obviously something the developers put a lot of work into as well, which is fantastic. It’s also wonderful that they went out of their way to create a Mac version of the game. In fact, I played the majority of the time on a four-year-old Macbook Air; certainly not a machine made for gaming.  But with my Playstation 4 controller in hand, my Mac became the perfect way to play Alwa’s Awakening while I sat on my couch.

The final step in making a great retro title is making sure that it has a great soundtrack as well. I’ll be honest, the biggest disappointment with the Alwa’s Awakening soundtrack is that I don’t appear to be able to buy it anywhere yet. Every single one of the 25 tracks is beautiful and catchy and they all sound exactly like they would be perfectly at home on a Nintendo.

Final Verdict

Overall, if you don’t like 8-bit Metroidvanias, Alwa’s Awakening isn’t going to change your mind. But, if you love that feeling of nostalgia that you get when you boot up your old NES (or your new NES Mini) then this game is going to push all the same buttons. It has beautiful, bright graphics with terrific animation. The soundtrack will have you humming long after you stop playing. And the gameplay loop is exactly what you remember from all the games you played as a kid. I heartily recommend you give it a try.

Our Recommendation: Buy it

If you are looking for an 8-bit masterpiece, put down your NES Mini and pick up this game. It’s beautiful and sounds terrific, but most importantly its plays wonderfully. As a bonus, it will run on probably any computer you have. 

Platforms: Steam
Reviewed On: Steam
Time Played: 5 hours
Completed: No
Developer: Elden Pixels
Publisher: Elden Pixels
Review Copy: Yes

Toby: The Secret Mine Review

Toby: The Secret Mine starts out with a chase scene, one that will be replayed multiple times throughout its 21 levels. An evil creature (that looks much like you, but bigger and with red eyes) has kidnapped most of your friends and family from the peaceful mountain village where you live.  As you approach, he stuffs another villager in a cage and runs off, the music changing to a fast-paced gallop. You’ll encounter this same creature throughout the game, the chase beginning, again and again, the music swelling, until the final standoff.

Much like my review of Fiest, it’s nearly impossible to play Toby: The Secret Mine without comparing it to Playdead’s Limbo. Both are puzzle-based platformers. Both share a similar silhouette aesthetic. Both share a plot that finds your character making their way across trap filled level trying to retrieve your kidnapped loved ones.

Where they diverge, though, is just as important. While Limbo’s bleak black and white graphics span across all of its levels, Toby’s levels are filled with color. The games initial stage is even quite bright and sunny, although the constant lens flare might have been a bit overdone. Lens flare aside, the levels are gorgeous, with vibrant shades of orange, yellow, blue, and purple acting as the background to the all black silhouette foreground, culminating in the final level set in a hellish fire scape. There are even a handful of fun snow based levels that help mix things up in the middle.

While the sound design in the game isn’t up to the level of recent games like Inside and Abzu the music in many of the levels was downright catchy, with fun sound effects. The only vaguely unsettling aspect of the sound for me was that every time Toby’s head hit a platform, you were met with a dull thud. It left me constantly wondering about Toby’s overall intelligence and the effects that his journey might have on it, as I thunked my way through the levels.

Toby: The Secret Mine

Probably the biggest difference between Toby and its inspiration were the puzzles that make up the main gameplay. Like Limbo, many of Toby’s levels are divided up into small vignettes that you need to solve before you can move on. When playing Limbo or it’s predecessor Inside, I always felt that failing to progress through these stages was because I was doing something wrong. The developers had given me all of the tools I needed, but I just wasn’t putting them together in the right way. This led to constant “Ah ha!” moments throughout the game, which pulled you forward through the game in a very positive way.

Toby does have some puzzles that give you that feeling. Unfortunately, it also has quite a few of them that will leave you confused. That is until you realize that there is a small, hidden room that you missed and that it contains the lever you need to pull or the box you need to enable you to jump up to that high platform. These puzzles take a lot of the fun out of the level progression, leaving you feeling not smart but cheated.

Unfortunately, those puzzles aren’t even the worst ones in the game. There are a small number of sequences that require you to enter unexplained secret codes or solve arbitrary mazes to move forward. For the most part, they don’t even make sense and require the use of a huge amount of trial and error, or more likely the use of a YouTube walkthrough. Every time I hit one I groaned a bit inside, not understanding the inclusion of such a momentum killing feature.

The only other complaint I have about Toby really is just the completionist in me screaming out. Throughout the game, you’ll find people from Toby’s village trapped in cages that you can rescue. I managed to find 24 of the 26 villagers, but the game doesn’t give you any indication which levels the remaining two are in and I have no interest in replaying potentially entire game to find them. Some indication on the level select screen would have been really helpful.

So where does this ultimately leave Toby: The Secret Mine? If you are like me and enjoy a fun puzzle-platformer like Limbo, you aren’t going to be disappointed in Toby. It’s graphically beautiful, with vibrant, diverse environments. It does a great job of mixing together it’s puzzles and platforming segments, which keeps things interesting. Unlike a lot of other similar games, it has a very clear ending, even letting you choose between two separate and very different endings. I would have preferred that some of the puzzles had been handled differently or made not quite as obtuse and honestly some of them could have been removed entirely. But overall, if you are looking to spend three or so hours in a beautiful world that presents some challenges but that isn’t every going to challenge you to frustration, Toby: The Secret Mine won’t disappoint.

Our Recommendation: Buy it

Toby: The Secret Mine may not innovate in the puzzle-platformer genre, but it’s beautiful graphics and solid gameplay make up for some missteps in it’s puzzle design. Fans of the genre should enjoy an afternoon or a few evenings of fun. 

Platforms: Steam, Xbox One, iOS, Android, Wii U
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Time Played: 3 hours
Completed: Yes
Developer: Lukas Navratil
Publisher: Head Up Games
Review Copy: Yes

Feist Review

It’s almost impossible to see Feist and not immediately think of Playdead’s game Limbo. They share a certain monochromatic aesthetic and both feature characters that are silhouettes. Even when you take into consideration that Feist has added gorgeous shades of green to their palette, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’ve already played this game.

That feeling ends after about 45 seconds.

Where Limbo is series of vignettes that pit your character against an environment filled with puzzles, Feist lets you know that in this game there are monsters. And monsters eat things like you.

How it Plays

The game opens with a pack of creatures straight out of Where the Wild Things Are walking through the forest. The ones in the lead are carrying your friends in cages and it’s your job to rescue them. Unfortunately, you start off the game in a box, likely the same type of trap that caught your friends. After escaping from the box, you start your rescue mission.

This is the point where things take a drastic u-turn away from Limbo. The world of Feist is full of enemies, and progressing means you either have to avoid them or kill them.

The first enemies you face are mosquito-like creatures, if mosquitoes were just a stinger and a bunch of spikes. They are scary, but easy enough to avoid if you hide under giant mushrooms or in logs as you run through the level. But then you encounter traps that shoot spikes, bees that shoot stingers and centipedes that shoot javelins. Add these together and this pretty little game gets very hard and very deadly.

What ramps up the difficulty even further is that each of these creatures has their own AI and physics. Replay a level enough times and you’ll notice that the enemies are never in exactly the same place. They also won’t react the same way when they see you or when they interact with each other. This makes it very difficult to get through significant portions of each level on the first – or even fifth – try.

This randomness made me feel like I wasn’t using intelligence or skill to make it through the level. Instead, I managed to get the right physics/AI roll and ran in all the right places without getting killed. It definitely makes for frantic, exciting gameplay, but feels like a missed opportunity.

One thing that I very much enjoyed was capturing one of the bee-like creatures and using it like a gun. Every squeeze made it fling a stinger across the screen into another enemy, which then explodes in a very satisfactory way. The game has tight controls – running and jumping feel perfect – so the addition of a bit of gunplay is the perfect way to spice up a level.

Throughout the game, you will encounter “boss” characters, which is where the monsters from Where the Wild Things Are come in. They are huge, at least compared to you. They can outrun you. They can block the random sticks and logs and rocks that you use as weapons. And if they catch you, they will not hesitate to throw you across the screen right into a cliff face.

You start out fighting them one at a time, but as the game progresses you end up fighting entire packs. The only way to defeat them is by throwing a rock or log at them over and over again without them catching you. Again, it often feels like you are getting the right roll of the dice when you defeat one of the boss creatures, as opposed to skill. But after a couple of tries, you kill them and they poof into the air with a satisfying explosion of fur. The ground shakes and rocks fall into place allowing you to move on to the next level.

And that level might be full of spiders. The spiders are horrifying and plentiful, like spiders should be I suppose. By the time you make it through these levels, you are going to miss every other enemy you have fought up until that point.

How it Looks and Sounds

From a graphics standpoint, the game is gorgeous. The minimalist color scheme is beautiful and the different colors of green make the silhouetted characters pop. In the final level, a gentle snow starts falling, adding another layer of texture to the environment. The character design, on the other hand, is the opposite of minimalist. Each of the silhouetted creatures is very detailed, from the spikes on the mosquitoes to the heavy fur on the boss characters. And the spiders. I’m not arachnophobic, but the spiders are creepy, with their twisty, wiggly legs and random twitchy, jumps.

A game with no dialog doesn’t always need much in the way of sound design, the grunts of your character as he falls down from a tree branch or is attacked works well within the game world. At worst they are non-offensive and give you feedback when you are taking damage.

The music though never seem to quite fit. I had a few other people watch the trailer and got the same feedback. The music has a definite electronic sound and leans towards the ambient, but with a definite bass groove. This doesn’t sync up with the organic outdoor and underground environments you are playing in. It feels more like the music you’re listening to on your headphones while playing the game instead of the music in the game. This is even more obvious when you compare it to games like ABZU and Inside that had incredible sound design.

Final Thoughts

The three hours I spent beating Feist were fun, although not revolutionary. I recently played through both Inside and Limbo and those games made me feel smart when I passed a puzzle. Feist made me feel lucky. If you prefer your games a bit frantic and messy instead of more measured, it may be the perfect game for you.

It’s attractive, with levels that offer enough variation to keep you on your toes. The character design is wonderful, with different, interesting enemies that perfectly fill a game of its length. The main character is delightful and I felt bad every time I got him killed. It handles very well, with good controls and jumping mechanics. I never felt like I died because the game didn’t handle right, it was always because of the somewhat random nature of the AI and environment. It also has a much clearer narrative than games like ABZU, Inside and Limbo. When you finish it, you will know exactly what you have accomplished and it has a very real sense of closure.

Our Recommendation: Buy it

We liked the way Feist looked and handled and thought it had great enemy and level design. We weren’t as thrilled with some of it’s gameplay decisions or sound design. Still, it’s worth $10. We played it on Steam, but it would look great on a big TV.

Platforms: Steam, Xbox One and PS4
Reviewed On: Steam
Time Played: 3 hours
Completed: Yes
Developer: Bits & Beasts
Publisher: Finji
Review Copy: Yes