The human mind is a curious thing; its hidden operations guide our every move, our every feeling, yet its inner processes are often shrouded in mystery. Imagine if you could explore the vast maze of neural pathways that transmit your thoughts, dive into the brain's cerebral cortex, and tackle the subconscious fears that reside there. That is the premise of Figment, which presents us with the opportunity to delve into the deepest recesses of the psyche.
Figment is an isometric adventure game with a musical twist developed by Bedtime Digital Games. In the spirit of the studio's name, the narrative takes on a bedtime story-like quality following the tale of our hero, Dusty. As the mind's former voice of courage, our grumpy protagonist sets off on a quest after getting roused back into service by his ever-optimistic friend, Piper. It appears the mind has been invaded by nightmares and Dusty's scrapbook has been stolen, setting into motion events that will see you journey to different areas of the brain in a bid to find the origins of this new threat.
At its heart, Figment is a game about trauma and how you deal with it. Through the opening cutscene, which depicts a tragic car accident involving a family, it becomes obvious that this colourful world hides a deeper meaning. This nuanced approach to handling a serious subject matter in an almost playful fashion could be compared to how emotions such as grief are genuinely processed. Imaginary worlds can offer solutions to pain and serve as an outlet for loss that is not bound by the limitations of reality. In this way, Figment reinforces the fact that like any fantasy, video games can act as a proxy for real emotion.
One of the most striking aspects of Figment is its hand-painted art style. Invoking the surrealist quality of the Amiga era adventure titles that preceded it, Bedtime Digital Games' vibrant puzzle platformer seems alive with personality. Featuring a landscape that is bursting with life, Figment successfully fuses its authentic aesthetic with its inherently musical theme to create a game as diverse and original as its soundtrack.
The core gameplay revolves around solving a series of remarkably well-balanced puzzles that focus more on platforming than combat. Armed with his trusty sword, which allows two varying attacks, Dusty is often left to approach things in a more cognitive manner. That's not to say that the game is devoid of conflict, just that it often takes a back seat to conquering the world's environmental challenges. Each unique area you explore has its own brand of obstacles to overcome, culminating in a boss battle. The enemies in Figment are nightmarish creatures who represent various fears and anxieties. These nihilistic entities seek to destroy the mind and sow disorder among the brain's functions. The boss's certainly have distinctive personalities, reinforced by the fact that each one has its own theme song that they perform. There is an amateurish charm to these songs that, coupled with their voice lines, often amuses, albeit at times unintentionally.
Mechanically it's not a particularly complex affair. You pick up green orbs of adrenalin, a reference to the mind you inhabit, that restore your character's health. There is also a leveling system that serves little purpose to character progression other than to offer a larger health pool. As you defeat the monstrosities that plague the brain you pick up endorphins, once you have collected a set amount of these shiny grey balls you get a life boost. It's a simple but effective structure that clearly sets the focus more on narrative than character mechanics.
Music is an integral part of Figment. Throughout the game, you explore a rhythmic environment full of trumpet trees, piano houses, and singing enemies. A lot of the puzzles utilise sound as a tool and part of the experience of Figment, is discovering how your actions influence this musical universe and its dynamic soundtrack. As mentioned previously the music has a very personal feel to it and this is important in relation to the subject matter. As a personal story of pain and grief, an authentic and honest soundtrack is required to relay meaning. In this sense, the hand-painted originality of the world can also be found in the music.
Ultimately, Figment offers something that you won't find in triple-A games. There's a lovable innocence to its world and characters that you can relate to. There's no slick visuals or professionally produced soundtracks, but it's authentic and has a hand-crafted quality to it that is often missing in video games of this generation. This attention to detail results in an honest portrayal of the mind's struggle to deal with trauma. Unfortunately, the whimsical spell of this fairy-tale world is often broken with Dusty's unsolicited use of bad language that you can't help but feel is out of context in comparison to the world. Dusty is an anti-hero in many ways whose reluctance to cooperate and indiscriminate use of swear words sours the wholesome, family-friendly vibe at times. Let's just say he isn't exactly Mario, but instead, somewhere between Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake, as your first mission tasks you with finding some ice for Dusty's clearly alcoholic drink.
Similar to games such as A Story About My Uncle, Figment aims to tackle the serious problem of mental health in a light-hearted, playful fashion through a style of misdirection that uses fantasy to process emotion. It achieves this goal and presents a satisfying story that only stumbles on occasion as it strays from the focus of its immersive consistency. It brings honest themes to the table which is sadly a rarity in modern video games and takes a surprisingly genuine approach to portraying its cast of quirky characters. It reminds you that real heroes aren't flawless epitomes of bravery, but good people in bad situations. Figment gives you the opportunity to find your courage in a game that is honest, personal and powerful. The mind is a beautiful thing and so is the world that Bedtime Digital has created.
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