When Death comes knocking at our doors, many cultures and people believe in this tall, dark, shadowy, and menacing figure to take us away from this life. What we don’t generally picture is Death as a corporation, and being met by a chubby reaper who jams to electronica music in his headphones while certainly dancing to his own beat. This is in fact precisely the case in Felix the Reaper from the developers at Kong Orange.
The premise is this: In the afterlife, there is the Ministry of Death, which employs Reapers to handle, well…the business of death. Among said reapers, is one chunky fellow who has taken on the job of ensuring appropriately flagged people die according to the Ministry’s plans. However, this reaper has ulterior motives and it’s soon clear what the driving motivation for the game is. Felix is in love! What? You didn’t think it possible that a reaper might have a heart? Well, it just so happens that he’s got a keen eye for a lovely Maiden from the Ministry of Life named Betty. Felix believes that by taking on cases in the world, he’ll have some opportunistic times to meet up with this lovely lady to profess his love.
As you begin the game you’ll receive your first assignment, which acts as the tutorial. You’ll be greeted and instructed by none other than Sir Patrick Stewart’s voice. Like for real, it’s him narrating (I even checked the credits when it sounded familiar)! Your first assignment is pretty straightforward and deals with the death of a deer from a gentleman hunting. You will find that the game quickly injects its macabre humor because if you happen to handle things incorrectly, the arrow goes past the deer and takes out another person wandering around. The Ministry is not happy with this, and you must try again. Felix also happens to be a rather special reaper who loves to dance. With a Walkman loaded with cool indie artist music tracks, Felix is always dancing around through the world.
Being a death dealer here is a complicated, multi-step process that comes in the form of a puzzle game. With each level of someone’s death, you’ll be tasked at performing something to set the stage for their demise. The game levels are displayed with grid tiles in which you can move about, but there are a couple of core principles that make up this puzzle game that are quite unique, but also challenging. Firstly, reapers are still creatures of shadow and need to stay out of the light, so Felix is only allowed to walk on tiles that are in shadow. Where your main gameplay mechanic comes in though, is that you’ve also been imbued with the power to change where the sun is positioned in each level, albeit only in two positions is it allowed to change. By changing the sun’s position, you’ll alter where shadows are cast, and thus how you navigate around a level and complete your objectives. There’s also a ‘preview’ mode in which you are allowed to toggle to see how the sun change will affect an area. This is critical in use to avoid too many mishaps, but I did find that more than occasionally when I entered this mode, the sun switch button would become unresponsive. It’s a nagging bug, but not detrimental. Frequently you’ll also need to move objects like crates or barrels around and position them to cast shadows in areas you need to reach.
Now in terms of puzzle difficulty, the game ramps up rather quickly. I was only on the second ‘story’ when I was already frequently getting stumped, having to reset milestones or even the entire level as I became utterly confused. If you accidentally manage to rotate the sun and the tile you’re standing on turns from a shaded spot to a lit one Felix will flinch and the game will rewind back since you can’t stand in the light. This makes for getting into some predicaments that may require a reset as I found it possible to move objects into a place where I couldn’t safely recover them.
Thankfully, the game offers several ways to manage the challenge if you need a helping hand. At any time, you can head into the options menu and select a button that says, “See next step”, which will outline what you should be doing next (i.e. placing a barrel in a specific space). You can use this aid as much as you like, though there are some repercussions to doing advanced puzzle stuff, but if you’re in need of help frequently, you frankly won’t care about that most likely anyways. You’re also able to reset the game to the last milestone you hit, which comes in the form of doing a particular action in the puzzle and seeing a little flashy screen notification. With these two mechanics alone, if you’re just here for this game’s love story, you can pretty much be hand-held the whole way through, and that for me is totally OK and acceptable.
For those that seek a good challenge in a puzzle game, there’s also plenty of motivation to do your best. After each level, you’ll be rated on a factor of how well you performed your task via metrics like number of moves, number of times caught in the light, etc. If you meet or exceed the par requirements for the level you’ll be rewarded with challenge icons. Collecting enough of these unlocks additional challenge levels. This, combined with a few other extra challenging things, can really test even the best puzzle game fans out there I would think.
When you do finally accomplish a level’s task, Felix will bust out a micro ditty dance and all of the tiles around you will light up in a flurry of flashing colors like a disco ballroom. What’s pretty awesome about these dances is that they were captured and animated from professional dancers and I thought it clearly showed. In fact, if the game hadn’t taken on that personality, I think I’d be writing a review of a puzzle game that felt as lifeless as death, but in contrast here, death has so much personality during gameplay that the game doesn’t feel stagnant.
Speaking of death further, between stories you’ll be given the opportunity to read into some facts surrounding how cultures handle death. The game itself has taken inspiration from the Dance Macabre or Death’s Dance that was found in some of our earliest cultural periods. These reading points further help build a storyline to surround the game and I found them quite interesting throughout.
The game’s entire aesthetic is well crafted too. The game levels are vibrant, but with muted matte scenes of clouds and such in the backgrounds. Character designs reminded me a bit of Psychonauts, with accentuated details and human-like forms, but in a gritty cartoon style. Again, for a game about death, there’s just a surprising amount of life here to be seen and experienced both from the game’s visuals and clearly from the music selection that you’ll be jamming to while Felix dances about carrying out the Ministry’s orders.
Felix the Reaper is a standout puzzle game with a love story set in a humorously tragic macabre world with the best dance moves a grim reaper could have. The puzzles are hard, and that will turn some folks off if they’re looking for a lighter experience, but if you’re up for the challenge there’s plenty to like here.
Felix The Reaper Review
- Graphics - 7.5/107.5/10
- Sound - 7/107/10
- Gameplay - 6.5/106.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 6/106/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Felix The Reaper brings a tragic comedy in the form of a challenging puzzle game to the Nintendo Switch. With a catchy soundtrack, vibrant visuals, and a reasonably fun storyline narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart, there’s a good game play here for only $24.99 on the eShop.