Fe is the latest project from the Swedish studio Zoink! Games, and is a wide departure from its previous work. Swapping out quirky, comical adventure games like Stick it to the Man for something more straight faced, the developer's experiment is a decent effort, but unfortunately falls short of greatness.
You play as the titular creature, a small, agile thing that can sing and climb trees. Your primary task is to learn the languages of all the animals of the land, which means exploring woodlands, marshes, caves, and more besides. However, standing in your path are the Silent Ones, a mysterious group of faceless baddies who appear to be wrecking the environment for some sort of sinister purpose.
At the start of the game, you can only sing in one language, but this is enough to befriend a couple of critters, and it's not long before you learn more. Each song helps you traverse the environment in new ways; learning the bird song, for example, allows you to ask giant owls for a ride on their back, while the deer song enables the use of fan-like flowers, which boost you to new heights. It's all very pleasant, although you'll find you use some songs far more than others throughout your journey.
Alongside this harmonious system, you'll also want to keep an eye out for pink gemstones, collectibles that, once you find enough, enable new abilities for your Fe. Once you can clamber up trees and glide around, you're able to explore most of the game's world, which feels somewhere between a generous sized sandbox and a more linear series of rooms and corridors. These abilities, combined with the traversal options that emerge from your singing, give you plenty of freedom.
Unfortunately, the world doesn't offer a huge amount for you to see. Exploration is rewarded; you'll find dozens of the aforementioned gems, but you'll also come across old Silent One helmets that offer a glimpse of story from their perspective, or giant tablets adorned by symbolic murals. The problem is that these storytelling elements don't ever feel like they amount to much. They left us puzzled, when it feels like they're supposed to entice you. The story in general seems to be shooting for something profound and impactful, but we were left wanting as the credits began to roll.
Another problem lies in some of the basics. While the controls are mostly fine, the camera and platforming can be extremely fiddly. It's not always clear which platforms you can clamber up and which ones you can't, and making big leaps or more precise jumps is much more difficult than it needs to be, thanks to some finicky mid-air manoeuvrability. You'll also need some patience when attempting to "speak" with another creature, as the volume is analogous with the amount of pressure you apply to R2, which is a nice idea, but it can be tricky finding the right tone.
Encounters with the Silent Ones are bothersome, too; you need to stealth your way through, but it's all a bit trivial. You can hide in spiky bushes and, regardless of whether you've been spotted or not, you'll be safe, as long as you stay put. There are plenty of opportunities to navigate above their heads, but if you miss a jump, they make very quick work of you, which can become frustrating.
There are also some performance issues as the game loads in new areas. It's not the end of the world, but there are noticeable frame rate dips throughout. Aside from this, Fe looks rather lovely. The angular, low poly look is like a gloomier version of Grow Home's aesthetic, and it works. The soundtrack is good, too, dynamically shifting from pretty, peaceful tones to more sinister music when the Silent Ones are around.
Fe is a decent puzzle platformer with some nice ideas, but it all rings a bit hollow in the end. The various songs are a fun way to interact with the world, but some are barely used at all, while you'll rely on others almost constantly. It can also be surprisingly difficult to control, with a camera that isn't always cooperative and platforming that isn't as tight as it needs to be, especially in an environment as vertical as this. The story, which strives to be poignant, fails to leave an impact, and while the world is a nice place to explore, there isn't a whole lot in it. Ultimately, it's a fine game, but it struggles to leave a lasting impression.