Reading the synopsis for Samurai Punk’s Feather, you’d be forgiven for imagining this was a game in the same vein as Journey or Abzu.
Much like those titles, the graceful bird flight simulator does aim for a more serene, calm and – in the words of the developers themselves – ‘Zen’ experience than its action-heavy triple-A counterparts. However, unlike those games, Feather’s smaller scope and lack of objectives aim for a relaxation-focused experience that highlights tranquil exploration over mind-taxing story.
In theory, this is a brilliant idea; games have rarely had their equivalent to sitting in a hot bath listening to calming ocean sounds or watching Friends again for the sixth time because your brain’s too fried to understand anything else. However, while scouring Feather’s world is undeniably a relaxing experience, you’ll find you’ve seen it all within the first forty minutes. The game’s goalless nature can make it feel more akin to a tech demo than an innovative Zen experience.
That’s not to say what’s here isn’t good. Soaring around Feather’s small yet dense world is an absolute treat, the magical rings that litter the landscape guiding you to some truly beautiful sights. Whether flying over snow-glazed mountain tops or plummeting through the inner recesses of an intricate cave-system, the world is brimming with visible care, while the variety of different biomes and land masses feel vast and visually distinctive. The environments are more than just eye candy, however. Feather’s island plays more like a desolate utopian playground than a simple sightseeing tour, the archaic architecture and overgrown plant life providing plenty of obstacles to fly around, ravines to soar through and highlands to scale.
This is in large part due to the intuitive controls. Controlling the bird with the simple movements of your mouse (or thumb stick for controller users) and using the shift key to accelerate, it’s not long before these movements become second nature. Within minutes you’ll be diving down chasms and gracefully soaring over the treetops, taking away the tedium of wrestling with controls and allowing you to quickly engage with the experience.
It’s hard not to find yourself sucked into Feather’s world, in particular, thanks to the ambient soundtrack that serenades your exploration. As you adventure across the island, your interaction with the world around you will prompt music to play. These amazing songs correspond with the area you’re currently soaring over, meaning you’ll get music inspired by the marshy swamps, the warm beaches and the icy mountain tops. It’s a beautiful soundtrack that captures the serene tone of the game perfectly, winding up to be one of the game’s most relaxing features.
This soundtrack is a little short, although that’s mostly down to the limited amount of content it’s meant to accompany. Simply put, while Feather is a beautiful, relaxing experience, it’s one that is over in a flash. Once you’ve systematically flown over every inch of the game’s map, you’ll suddenly realize that there’s nothing else to do; no second area, no unlocking of new features, and no upgrades or changes to the gameplay to make you want to progress past that point. For a game that’s built on such solid fundamentals, it lacks any elaborate and extended use of them.
While Feather could feature a procedurally generated world, multiple islands, or perhaps something that lets players further explore certain areas of its central map, it settles with being a shorter experience. When you consider that jumping into Red Dead Redemption 2 and spending an hour playing the fishing mini-game may offer the same relaxation and de-stressing gameplay loop with much greater depth, it’s worth wondering what Feather offers that more complex games can’t?
In truth, Feather’s not what most would consider a “game”. It’s an experience that’s likely to find an audience who will treat it less like a game, and more as a moment of decompression and stress-free respite. While to some, the Zen feel Feather hopes to achieve is done at greater depth through titles like Journey and Abzü, there’s something simple and refined about Feather that could definitely attract a unique player base of its own. It’s easy to jump into, quick to get to grips with, and doesn’t require sinking hours of playtime to understand. For those who don’t have time for often time time-hungry modern gaming, this is an easy way to spend 20 minutes of downtime before the kids need picking up from school or your study break’s over.
Only you will know if Feather is the kind of experience you want to try out, but with the fundamentals so solid, it’s hard to not recommend to anyone who’s interested in a short, relaxing jaunt. Alternatively, if you’re the kind of person who watches a trailer and jumps to the comments to tell everyone how much you despise “walking simulators”, it’s probably best to steer clear.
Platform: Microsoft Windows (reviewed), Nintendo Switch
Developer: Samurai Punk
Publisher: Samurai Punk
Release Date: Out now
Overall, Feather’s a tale of two audiences. Those looking for a deep experience with a complex story akin to Journey will likely find its short runtime disappointing. However, if Feather’s serene gameplay loop appeals to you, the intuitive mechanics and beautiful soundtrack mean it’s hard to not recommend.
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