In Felix the Reaper you take control of a dancing grim reaper who arranges murders for the Ministry of Death. This odd-sounding adventure started life as a casual game but has since gone on to become a fairly tricky 3D puzzler. In it, we're tasked with using skillful manipulation of the environment to pursue different mission objectives. Sometimes a victim needs to be pushed into the right position, at other times we have to put in place a chain of events (Final Destination style) or swap items in the level to make things happen.
When we first saw the project from Danish studio Kong Orange we expected a reimagination of Crypt of the Necrodancer or something similar, but Felix's urge to dance is more thematic than tied to mechanics. In fact, he wants to dance with a lovely young lady called Betty, but she works for the Ministry of Life and thus she works for the other side, so to speak. It's a cute character motivation but it also quickly faded from our mind as we put our brain to work on the various puzzles. The subject of dancing remains somewhat present, however, because Felix refuses to move normally, instead, he bops and jumps rhythmically to the beat of the music. Although we only saw a small portion of the game, the animation is wonderful to look at.
The most important mechanic of Felix the Reaper is connected to the shadows of the 3D environment. As a true grim reaper, Felix must not leave the darkness and so has to stay away from the light, which, in turn, heavily limits our movement options. Fortunately, we have the ability to change the position of the sun and give our undead friend more freedom to move around. There are two corresponding shadow placements and we can switch between them at any time we choose - there is also a handy preview function for this as well.
If by accident Felix gets roasted by the sunlight, the game lets us reverse our last step and we can carry on playing from where we were before things went wrong. However, the game will register our failure and lower the mission rating at the end of the level in question. The number of conquered panels and the time required to finish the stage are counted as well, so high score-hunting seems to be one of the main motivations for replaying already beaten levels. The puzzles are primarily solved by repositioning moveable objects, and we can jump between the shadowy pathways with their help. The challenge is recognising these potential paths and then completing the tasks in the optimal order.
The studio's interest in the artistic depiction and personification of death in popular culture and history has paved the way for the game's underlying design. In spite of its cute style, however, Felix the Reaper is ultimately a game about death and the studio does bear that in mind. That said, the tone and visual style are deliberately over-the-top and the game celebrates its slapstick humour in glorious ways, and this was probably the easiest and most appropriate way for the developers to deal with the topic at hand.
Kong Orange is creating a complex yet cute puzzle game with six differently themed worlds (each with their own set of levels) full of conundrums for us to solve. The fact that Felix's dance is treated so superficially feels a bit like a missed opportunity, but at least it holds true to the straightforward concept that underpins the experience. The simple shadow mechanics work well in the 3D environments, and even if we got stuck from time to time, the game's charming humour and funky soundtrack might be enough to give us the hint we need to figure things out and it also eases any sense of frustration.
For more about the games we saw during Daedalic Days, head this way.