Decapitated deer heads, star-crossed lovers, and super sick beats - these seemingly random elements may look completely out of place with each other, but that’s exactly where the appeal of Felix the Reaper comes in. If somebody had pitched me the idea of a game where you dance around killing people on the quest to be with your one true love, I’d have slammed my fist on the conference table, exclaimed a vehement “Yes”, and shoved what little money I had left in whichever direction I had to in order to make that game a reality.
Turns out that the higher-ups at publisher Daedalic Entertainment and developer Kong Orange were way ahead of me from the very beginning.
Yes, Felix the Reaper is all about you dancing through grids in a 3D puzzle platform in order to make the predetermined deaths of mortals a reality, often in a hilariously dark and twisted fashion (imagine accidentally decapitating your brother with an arrow because you thought he was a deer). As Felix, the agent of death working for the Ministry of Death, you have to get from Point A to Point B essentially, making sure to stick to the shadows and avoid the sun - not because you’re a vampire, but because it’s just spookier to off people when you’re not in broad daylight.
To do this, you have to manipulate a sundial that shifts the grids where you can move around, so you really have to knock around the ol’ noggin to figure out how to succeed in your assignments without stepping into the light.
The game was initially released on PC and on consoles during the latter part of 2019. To be honest, I had never heard of Felix the Reaper before all this, but the advantage of me living under a rock all this time is that when I started playing, everything was a surprise for me. I reveled in the quick and quirky introduction about the world of the game and who you play as, and no, I wouldn’t mind having Sir Patrick Stewart feed me instructions on how to do my job all day.
Love in the time of death
I’m not normally a fan of puzzle games, and the only ones I really enjoyed were Sid & Al's Incredible Toons by Sierra On-Line back in 1993 and Scribblenauts on the Nintendo DS in 2009. But the thing that really got me tapping and grooving with Felix was the story. I’m a self-confessed sucker for tragic love stories, and if this one’s going to take the form of a woman who works for the Ministry of Life and a man who’s essentially the Grim Reaper, then I’m totally and completely on board.
More than the actual gameplay, I found myself browsing through all of the descriptions and entertaining tidbits in the game. There were backstories to every mortal target, and tongue-in-cheek little details that most players will likely miss. For instance, during the tutorial, you end up offing the wrong victim, and you get a company memo that tells you to report immediately to the “Department of Unexistence of Non-Existing Events” with a note that says, “This didn’t happen!”
The problem is that it’s only very briefly shown until you have to move on to the actual game. I like those little things, but sadly, they weren’t enough to really make me enjoy the game to its fullest.
Too bad I missed the dance moves
Here’s the downside to all this. The game doesn’t hold your hand, and while I’m all for discovering things on your own, it probably wasn’t the smartest choice for the developers to make here. I spent an unholy amount of time during the first few missions of the first victim alone, trying to figure out how to get to a shadowed part of the grid, only to find out that I could actually move certain things that were in the way to get to where I wanted to go.
It was also a bit frustrating to target the specific grids while dragging-and-dropping. Because I needed to zoom out and see the lay of the land most of the time, the boxes always end up too small for my finger to drag-and-drop onto. It’s also a shame that I constantly had to zoom out to check my path, when a zoomed-in view would have been lovelier - the art is stunning, and missing out on all that jazz (not to mention Felix’s sick dance moves) is just too bad.
I love a good challenge as much as the next person, but whenever I finally got through a round, it just didn’t feel as satisfying as I thought it would. You get a score card and some checkmarks for certain criteria, which, quite frankly, are too difficult to achieve. It can be pretty frustrating (especially for someone who’s more spatially challenged as me), and while I really wanted to keep going, I had to stop and take a break because my head was literally hurting.
Oddly enough, the moment I stopped, I had this sudden urge to immediately go back to the game. I guess that’s the great conundrum of puzzle challenges, isn’t it?
Overall, I have mixed feelings about Felix the Reaper. Levels get bigger but end up becoming repetitive. I puff up my chest in self-pride with each round I clear, and end up with more debilitating self-doubt when the next stage starts. While I absolutely devoured the concept and storyline and wanted to see what happened next, I also couldn’t bring myself to just keep going.
I really want Felix to beat all odds and be with the love of his life. I mean, that look alone that he gives at the end of every round is enough to break my heart into a million pieces. He kind of does this little glance and takes one last look at his surroundings in hopes of spotting the girl of his dreams, then heaves this huge, dejected sigh of disappointment before he hops onto the elevator and leaves. It’s an ingenious idea, but if this were a short film instead of a game, I probably would have enjoyed myself way more.