It seems that ever since the explosive popularity of Minecraft, every game has a compulsive need to have survival and sandbox elements. Unfortunately, few ever seem to feel like a unique experience. In a way they seem more like a cynical formula to try and ride on the coattails Minecraft. Rarely do these survival sandbox RPGs seem like anything different. However, in the case of Feel the Snow by Owlet, sometimes these games can take the tired ideas and make them feel fresh again. With its charming visuals and audio, intriguing story, and variety of play styles, Feel the Snow may have some pacing issues and it may not be doing much groundbreaking, but overall what it does it does very well.
Feel the Snow is available on Steam for $8.99.
You are either Annie or Willie, a snow person who wakes up to find their whole town destroyed by nocturnal creatures known as "Nightmares." Your job is to survive the onslaught of Nightmares at night, while in the day seeking sustenance and supplies to rescue the townsfolk from the mysterious corrupted figures who have taken their literal icy hearts.
The game is currently in early access, but rather than just making a bare bones experience all the way through the game, they have just made a full experience only part of the way through the game. As it stands there are only three boss fights, then an abrupt end just after the plot thickens. It's a pity because I was really engrossed in the story. It wasn't blowing my mind, but I did enjoy what there was. The best part about the story is how it worked with the gameplay. It doesn't feel like they made the game then went "huh, we should have a story here," it actually feels like they put time and effort into it and it shows. I don't mind the story being incomplete at the moment, especially seeing as it's still in development. I prefer a story that has yet to be finished over a terrible rush job. My only complaint is that, at time of writing, the game ends after a rather awesome boss fight after which you are given a choice. Unfortunately, your choice doesn't really go anywhere due to there being no more story at the moment. I guess it isn't a bad thing I actually want more story, so on this front I can definitely recommend it if you can stand a cliffhanger.
The gameplay is a bit strange until you get into it. It has the quickbar on the bottom like Minecraft but hitting the number doesn't equip it, it's just for using the thing once. If you want to truly equip a piece of equipment and use it consistently you have to scroll to it with your mouse then click. It threw me off a bit when I was attacked by a creature but couldn't attack back because my shovel was selected. After a while I did get used to it, but that is something you will need to adapt to and fast.
The gathering is an incredibly short and painless grind, which I always appreciate in a games like these. Press E and your character automatically goes to the next thing he or she can harvest, which means I didn't ever have to dance around something trying to find the sweet spot that lets me harvest the resource. Shovels even let you dig up roots and seeds to put in your house, which means you don't have to memorize every spot where things grew in order to make more health or magic potions. All I had to do was find the thing and then bring it to my house, then whenever I was low on materials I could just go back to my base and brew anything I need, no additional fuss. The only thing you will always need but can't grow is ice, but you can find that anywhere so that wasn't an issue. Your inventory is small and some stacks are rather small, like for wood you can only have 10 in one stack, so at first you do have to go home quite often. That is a bit obnoxious, but once you've built your own garden and chests at home that worry goes away.
This does bill itself partially as a survival game, which it kind of is. You do have things that want to eat you at night, which is a standard mechanic but well executed here. There is also a hunger meter, but once you learn how to cook pretty much anything you can just make a bunch of one thing and hunger is never a worry again. You have to keep warm as well, because in the ice cave it's even too cold for a little snow-person, but once you get enough wool to make a warm hat that's not much of a worry either. It feels like these survival aspects were added to make the game a bit more hardcore, but then they reconsidered it and made these bits irrelevant after a short time.
You have the choice to use magic, archery, melee combat, or a combination of the three. The skill trees are missing their capstone skills still, but what they have is fun to use and they all require some different strategies. I went mostly with the melee route and I quite enjoyed it. I used some magic and archery, but I found that being able to close distance and stun was super handy with most enemies.
Speaking of enemies, do not expect these things to take it easy on you. Even the chickens, the quintessential tier 1 enemy, are too powerful for a low level player with a stick. They deal decent damage, but that isn't what makes them difficult. What makes them difficult is the fact that they use guerrilla tactics. I lost to chickens a lot early on because I just couldn't keep up, which makes me laugh in hindsight but that is something to watch out for. On top of that, the magic enemies will run away if you get too close, one annoying wolf creature had longer reach and had a shield with which to block, and all other creatures have unique and often unexpected attack patterns to learn. That isn't a bad thing, I was fine with that. My problem is that some enemies I encountered would chase me to the ends of the earth and back if I so much as looked at them funny, which just meant I would pass more enemies and then they would continue the chase. The enemies are cruel and merciless, but that's just the way I like it. It actually makes you earn victory. Each death just puts you back at your spawn point, which just means you'll need to walk back to the place you were, which in an open world game is punishment enough. The game is slightly hard, but it's the Rayman Legends kind of hard where it doesn't revel in killing you. You die, you learn, you get back to it. I like a difficult game that doesn't just love basking in your misery like the cable guy from South Park.
Finally, in order to progress through the crafting you need to do get blueprints from killing creatures in a certain area. It's a great way to keep you moving and exploring and not just sitting in your home until you get the best equipment to steamroll through with the best sword available.
Sometimes in these games it feels like they add a home building mechanic just because they can, though it isn't necessary. In Feel the Snow, it is definitely necessary. At night the nightmares come out and until you can kill them, which is a great moment when you realize you can hold your own, you need a shelter in which to cower at night. Fortunately, it's all intuitive and actually makes a difference in gameplay. Nightmares don't spawn within closed walls, so you're good to wait until morning comes. The fact that until you have to wait a few minutes until it's safe brings everything to a screeching halt, but that just adds to the sense of accomplishment when you finally go a night outside killing nightmares.
One of the key selling points of Feel the Snow is the randomly generated world, which for the most part felt really organic. On top of that, there are several unique areas to visit, like the ice cave, the snowless area, and the robot city. The enemies and atmospheres in all of these places are incredibly unique. There are also treasure maps you can get that will send you looking for buried treasure and "Dark Zones" that pop up randomly and if you destroy the crystal at the center you get an increase in magic. These are all fun and effective ways to keep you going off the beaten path.
The occasional minigame
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the occasional mandatory minigame. These are a gripe of mine because as of now there were a few things I had to do once but never again. One particularly annoying bit was an unnecessarily long lock picking sequence which was essentially Dance Dance Revolution. It only happened once, it was uncomfortably long, and I couldn't skip it because I had to do it to get out of a cage. It isn't something that made me want to stop playing the game, I just wondered why it would break the pace of the game for something I would never do again.
Graphics and audio
The pixel graphics and designs are quite charming, and the enemies all look unique. I especially love the nightmares, who are black with eerie blue eyes and mouths. They also do a really great jobs with unique and beautiful colors for each area. On more than a few occasions, daylight came around when I was in the snowy area and I actually felt a little blinded like one might when looking out on a snowy field on a sunny day. I also love how when morning comes the nightmares chasing you just sort of fade away like something ethereal. Little touches like that really make this game for me.
The music is amazing. There is a different piece for each phase of the day in each area and each one sounds unique and beautiful. I especially enjoyed the pieces in the snowy area. Each one was calming, but the one in the evening always gave me the sense of "if I don't go back to my house right now something is going to eat my face."
Though it still bears the marks of Early Access, Feel the Snow shows a lot of promise for a game that could be an indy hit when it is finally released in full. The graphics and music are charming, the mechanics are mostly somehow useful, what there is of the story is intriguing, and the gameplay itself is challenging, albeit sometimes unintentionally. Still, despite the occasional Early Access flaw, I enjoyed my time in Feel the Snow. It is incomplete, but it's the good kind of incomplete where it is the full game up to a point, none of this "technically the whole game but the good bits missing" crap that developers sometimes give even in a full release. All in all, if you're in a market for a nice little action-adventure with RPG, sandbox, and survival elements, give Feel the Snow a chance. It has its flaws right now, but if the developers keep up the care they have been, this is a game that won't leave you out in the cold.