Death has seen many forms and representations throughout history. You’re likely familiar with the robed, scythe-wielding figure shrouded in black, drawn to the mortal world to reap souls for the afterlife. Perhaps you even know him as the fourth and final horseman of the apocalypse, devouring souls in the wake of his three brothers. But of all the cultural personifications of this deathly phenomena, none can slay with fabulous dance moves quite like our new favourite reaper, Felix, can.
This is the premise of Kong Orange’s debut title, Felix The Reaper, a 3D puzzler featuring a large ‘n lovable bringer of death who wields a Walkman in the place of a scythe. With impressively complex puzzles and a fantastic soundtrack you won’t be able to resist dancing along to, this novel indie game will have you enamoured not only by the sturdiness of its design, but also by the heart and dedication of the small team behind its creation.
As the title would suggest, you play as Felix, a reaper employed by the Ministry of Death to oversee the untimely demise of mortals living across various historical eras. By manipulating your surroundings and altering the position of objects, animals and people frozen amid a precise moment in time, you must guide a waltzing Felix across the confines of the platform in order to facilitate events of deadly consequence. These outrageously far-fetched scenarios promote the charm of Felix The Reaper, with each chapter featuring a different soon-to-be-expired character whose efforts at living you must thwart.
However, as a dweller of the dead, Felix cannot jeté across the world of the living willy-nilly. The light is a hazardous obstacle for our reaper, limiting his movement to the linear pathways generated by shadows. This is the central mechanic of Felix The Reaper’s puzzles, requiring you to rotate the direction of the sun, place and stack objects, and activate various mechanisms in order to bridge shadows and navigate the levels.
While movement is constrained and the gameplay is relatively simplistic, Kong Orange’s use of what little mechanics they feature is certainly justified by the surprising complexity of the game’s puzzles. Their meticulous step-by-step nature makes solving them a gruelling process, and those who refrain from using hints may find the scope of interaction overwhelming.
There are seemingly limitless ways to manipulate the shadows, creating dozens of pathways that you often won’t realise lead to dead ends. However, their immense difficulty only adds to the reward of eventually discovering the solutions, even when the bizarre and hilariously twisted cutscenes that play upon a level’s completion already provide enough incentive to see them through.
Of course, the iconic ‘dance of death’ is hardly possible for our reaper without his trusty mix of sick beats. Kong Orange compiles the works of thirteen different bands and solo musicians into a highly varied playlist of themes, boasting a remarkably diverse and memorable soundtrack that responds to your interactions within the puzzle. With groovy electronica tunes, catchy techno-beats, synthesised melodies, mystifying instrumentals and even a spot of jazz, you’re bound to follow in Felix’s stead as he hip-bumps his way from one square to the next.
Alongside deadly dance moves, all twenty-four levels also offer optional challenges that grant Felix additional marks upon completing. Avoiding being caught by the sun, reaching the end goal within a certain number of actions and solving the puzzle within a set time are some of the performance challenges you are free to undertake if you are so inclined. Felix The Reaper also offers a ‘hardcore version’ of almost every puzzle, a feature designed for masochistic players who voluntarily opt to attempt to solve rage-inducing renditions of the main levels.
These puzzles strangely exhibit new mechanics that are not featured in their story-driven counterparts, with collectible coins and platforms that permanently disappear once Felix steps off them. While they certainly add more time to the counter and increase the difficulty tenfold, I found it baffling how such features capable of expanding the possibilities of gameplay were only included in the optional levels.
With this came the frustration that these ‘hardcore versions’ do not explicitly tell you where its end goal is located. While the overall task is the same as the more easily achievable puzzle it is linked to, the layout of the platform is not. So, when hints, backtracks and, most crucially, an identification of the end goal are all disabled as a condition of ‘hardcore’ mode, a frustrating lack of indication adds pointless minutes of guessing the placement of the major object until a level completion is eventually activated.
Unfortunately, another problematic feature of Felix The Reaper came with difficulties in controlling the camera. Although it’s potentially a characteristic only to the Switch, this issue was particularly palpable due to the function of a cursor as the player’s means for panning around the space and selecting the square Felix moves to. Even though the right stick rotates the camera, its centre point seemed to focus primarily on Felix.
At times when I was required to use the cursor to locate the position of a crate on the other side of the platform, the camera would often refuse to follow me even when I dragged the cursor toward the edge of the screen. While this doesn’t seem to happen when you are closely zoomed in, being able to scrutinise a puzzle from a wider view is often a more effective means of finding a solution. A difficulty in retaining a comfortable view on a certain point away from Felix, therefore, became a noticeable and recurring frustration.
What the freely-moving camera had me noticing, on the other hand, were the more subtle intricacies poured into the design of each individual chapter. When I took a brief moment to step away from the puzzle-solving, I began to notice birds soaring in the sky, fish leaping from ponds, the vast perspective of the surrounding scenery and the bold hues of its colours. I also adored the miniature narratives of each level, linked by the overarching plots of five mortal victims who are even granted their own tragic backstories. These are the details that make the world of Felix The Reaper feel (ironically) alive, brought to life with a distinctive and almost grotesque art style which perfectly encapsulates its darkly humourous tone.
The quirky personality of this puzzler is also underscored by a rich lore, with Kong Orange providing a comprehensible, chapter-by-chapter explanation of Death’s evolution as an ever changing symbol throughout history. Many of us groan with dismay when games attempt to force-feed factual information regarding the “real world”, but with Felix The Reaper, I found myself completely fascinated by the historical and religious concepts which inspired the character designs, narrative and gameplay mechanics of this extraordinary passion project. And heck, with Sir Patrick Stewart making a guest appearance as the wry and officious narrator, it is impossible not to feel engrossed in the world of Felix as it is so masterfully realised by Kong Orange.
By personifying the taboo symbol of death in a lovable and satirical way, this puzzler achieves the perfect balance of charm and grotesqueness that wonderfully complements its distinct style. While there’s still room for smoother camera controls and increased variation in gameplay, Felix The Reaper ultimately stands strong as a uniquely challenging and unconventionally entertaining depiction of a fate we are all destined to one day meet. But hell, it’s sure to have us dancing along the way.
A review copy was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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With a lovable protagonist and a soundtrack to die for, Felix The Reaper’s innovatively designed puzzles are hindered only by a fussy camera. At its core, however, resides an inexorable charm that deems this title a truly novel gem.
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