Friday, August 5, 2016


Evildoers beware, I've got a Stick!
Oh, look, Sonic's gone goth.

Actually, the game most closely brought to mind by this little platformer would be Space Invaders, more on that in a moment.

Very little separates Feist from the hordes of '80s throwbacks (usually pixelated) churned out by the game industry's fringes to fleece hipsters who'll buy anything artsy, retro or just plain unplayable-for-the-hell-of-it. It manages to scrabble above the likes of Braid or Machinarium via inspired, invested, informed, interesting artistic choices integrated fully into the practical side of gameplay. Not to the point where one might call it a "good" finished product on the whole but nonetheless a worthy effort and worth buying... on sale.

It's been called too short. I agree. In itself this would not doom it, as it has failed to destroy many others. Old-school gamers have long since learned to sink their teeth into half-baked goodness. Feist successfully rides its obsessive negative-space backlit wonderland into the ground and bursts out the other side of kitch so fascinatingly that I expect we'll be seeing this gimmick copied into a small trend soon by other games. Its music, ambience and sound effects provide apt accompaniment in defiance of the overall trend toward forgettable, flat background noise in computer games over the past decade. Feist looks and sounds great.

However, all this... design... left expansion of this intriguing formula somewhere by the wayside. Despite professional level design, Feist is unavoidably truncated, a mere demo of what it could have been and unfortunately, instead of admitting this lack, its developers decided to appeal to another old-school gimmick. They teased the save points ever so slightly outside the player's comfort zone to force longer replays and create the illusion of length.

See, Feist, like some of its competitors, makes liberal use of a movement system capable of minutely detailed inertia. Objects of various weights and buoyancy bounce and wobble with satisfying grace (or lack thereof) and often a pixel's breadth separates your toe from untimely spiky death with that pixel you need to pirouette upon usually doing its own share of wobbling. To cut a long explanation short, watching the true experts "let's play" Feist in youtube videos reminds me of Space Invaders. It reminds me of hordes of little kids my age cluttering arcades, mashing their palm down on the big red "Fire!" button ceaselessly. The best timing is all the time.

So when you're basically doing the button-mash and the boss in the seventh room responds with a graveyard smash, when you know damn well that only random chance separated you from victory, it's very unsatisfying to respawn, not at the end of room six but back in room three or four, to be forced to replay a pointless grind merely to get yourself to the real challenge. This little gimmick has spelled clumsy, cheap design since its formulation decades ago and has grown no more palatable with age. If "taming the randomizer" is still a catchphrase, Feist not only fails to do so but ties you down and repeatedly lets that beast maul your foot.

The sad part here is that one can basically mix-and-match good and bad concepts between these low-budget artsy fringe titles which dare to experiment and see where they really should have learned from each other. After running through Sir, You Are Being Hunted a few times, I commented that its randomized environments lacked enough elements to become truly immersive. Of course, SYABH is an FPS. Feist is a 2D platformer which can make do with a low number of elements and can much more easily combine them. Given its emphasis on unstable footing, its lack of reliance on precision in the first place, I can't help but think this is a game which would have benefited greatly from algorithmically generated environments and backgrounds.

As it stands, it's an intriguing little demo of a good artistic concept which doesn't quite grow into a full game.

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