Having cut its teeth with many a black-humoured title in the past - including the wickedly clever Stick It To The Man and the upcoming Flipping Death - you’d think that Swedish developer Zoink Games had found its niche and settled itself in for the long haul. But then along comes Fe, a game that trades funny bones for heart strings and ends up offering one of the most unique experiences on Nintendo Switch.
Song is the central theme at play here. No, this isn’t a pop-addled karaoke sim, but rather an action-platformer that uses the voice of its titular character to interact with the dark and mysterious world around it. Fe starts off with just a single language to its name, but as you explore further you’ll encounter more creatures and unlock new vocal melodies, which in turn reveal extra abilities and means of exploring forests, mountains, rivers and beyond.
It’s a bold move to have a game completely void of dialogue or a text-driven narrative, but it’s a decision that works because Fe - much like fellow silent experiences such as Journey or Proteus - uses the simple yet poignant themes of its story to drive it forward. Fe’s forest home is under attack as a race of cycloptic creatures known as the Silent Ones begin to take over, capturing creatures and placing a chokehold on the natural world around them. It’s a plot that’s clearly juggling a few messages - from the destruction of nature through urbanisation, to the concept of being part of an interconnected whole - but it never forces one or more of them down your throat, instead it lets the simplicity of its allegory take the reins.
Fe’s rural locale is an open-world of sorts, a semi-linear sandbox that you can explore and uncover at your own pace. There’s always a gentle hand guiding you in the right direction - both in the form of creature encounters that lead you in a given direction or by holding the sing button (ZR) to call in a bird that will then flap away and show you where to go next. For a game intriguing enough to accommodate younger players, it’s nice to see Zoink Games offering a means of navigating a world that could have been overtly obtuse.
Every creature you meet speaks one of six languages - and each one is unlocked as you push further into its colourful, contrasting setting. With a series of pink crystals serving as the main source of collectibles - which enable you to unlock further abilities as you progress - there’s plenty of room for replayability as you return to old areas with new powers, such as the power to glide across large gaps on wind currents or reach high ledges with spring-loaded plants.
To ‘connect’ with a given creature, you’ll hold ZR then tilt the Joy-Con to find the right frequency. It’s not particularly challenging as the HD Rumble gently reminds you where the sweet spot is, but it’s a neat way to bring Switch’s handheld gyroscopes into a title designed to be multiplatform. Each animal also plays its part in the Nordic ecosystem you’re exploring, and connecting with them offers a plethora of new powers. Giant birds can be used to cross unpassable gaps, while stags can be used to skewer those pesky Silent Ones.
These passive powers only last as long as you’re around a given creature, but there are plenty of more active abilities you’ll unlock once you’ve collected enough pink crystals and made an offering to the giant tree at the heart of Fe’s world. These powers open up how you explore Fe’s world, so whether you’re clambering up trees or gliding across great distances, you’re never left feeling unempowered as you explore deeper and further.
Without the ability to fight for itself, Fe instead has to rely on using other animals or, more often than not, falling back on good ol' stealth. The almost mechanical Silent Ones - which can insta-kill you on sight - are a constant danger, so you’ll use small black bushes to conceal yourself or scurry up a nearby tree. With so much cover available, much of the dread these Doctor Who-esque foes exude tends to evaporate, although there are some more tense moments where you’re forced to sneak by with an item needed to free a creature or complete a task.
This being a platformer at heart, there’s plenty of ledge hopping to be had. Unfortunately, it’s an area that Fe finds a little difficult to nail. It’s by no means broken, but it can feel unintuitive at times, including the awkward power to climb trees that requires you to jump up until you reach its peak (which often leads to one jump too many and a long plummet down). It’s an issue that becomes less of a problem the further you progress, but it makes the first few hours something of a mechanical slog.
Visually, Fe looks pretty good on Nintendo Switch, with no real slow down or screen tearing encountered during our playthrough. It’s noticeable a little fuzzier in presentation in both tabletop and handheld mode when compared to the versions running on other consoles, but the contrasting light and dark shades of its colour palette works to lessen the impact of this graphical optmisation.
Poignant and moving in both theme and execution, Fe is one of the most unique platformers on Nintendo Switch. Its platforming can be a little hit and miss, and its stealth feels a little too forgiving at times, but that doesn’t stop its world and the unique vocal premise from bewitching you with a dark and Gothic Nordic fairytale. While it’s not as groundbreaking as other dialogue-less games such as Journey, it’s still one of the most intriguing worlds to explore on Switch, and proof Zoink Games is more than just a one joke pony.