Felix the Reaper: Dancer of Death

This week I play a challenging romantic comedy about death. A puzzle game where you are a dancing reaper, ensuring that the right people die, and die in the right way. With narration by the great Patrick Stewart, what’s not to like?

Danse Macabre

The Danse Macabre was a tradition in the middle ages, where minions of the dead, or Death itself, would dance with people from all walks of life around the graves of the deceased. It was a tradition that inspired performance arts, paintings, poetry, and now, at least one video game.

Felix the Reaper is a game where you play the titular Reaper working for the Ministry of Death. Your mission is to ensure that Death’s plans are enacted and the right people die. Felix also loves to dance. And he is in love with Life (the personification, not life life).

The first time you see Felix, you instantly know what he’s about. Switching on his music, and donning his headphones he starts to dance. And he will do this for the entire game. The developers worked with professional dancers to create Felix’s moves. The captured moves are animated and blend with each other smoothly, and the effort has paid off. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a video game character with moves as smooth as Felix.

Of course, Felix needs music to dance to. The developers allowed the musicians to express themselves, giving little direction. The result is a collection of tracks that I would describe as “chill dance music”, though I’m sure people will disagree with my definition. The music is generally calm and relaxing, yet still has a beat that makes you want to dance along with Felix.

They even went as far to work with a history scholar, Søren Hein Rasmussen, who was working on a book manuscript covering 10 centuries of the art of Death. He would suggest ideas for the game, and the designers would try and work them in somehow. Knowing this is a testament to how much effort the developers put into this game.

The game’s story is divided into five chapters, each leading up to the death of a single character. These entertaining stories are played out as silent movies, with the overarching story being narrated by none other than Patrick Stewart.

Relaxing Puzzles

Of course, all of this doesn’t mean much if the actual gameplay doesn’t work. Thankfully, the gameplay has received as much love as the rest of the game, creating a unique and challenging puzzle experience.

Rule number 1: you have to stay in the shadows. The level and various objects cast shadows. If you are hit by the light, you have to go back a move. You can control where the light is shining – choosing from two directions perpendicular to each other. By moving objects, or hitting switches that move objects, you can manipulate where the shadows will be and move around the level.

The general goal of each level is different, but they all essentially boil down to “get object A to position B”. It’s simple, but this simplicity is all you need to create a consistent collection of puzzles.

The puzzles are well thought out, though they can be frustrating at first. It takes a while to get a grasp on how things work, but stick with it and you are rewarded with the satisfaction that comes with solving it, as well as a fun cutscene to show how your actions have changed the character’s lives (or ended them).

If it gets too frustrating, you can choose to see what the next move should be from the menu. The game doesn’t hold your hand, but it’s there if you need it. Or you can just take a break, listen to the music and watch Felix dance.

Challenge Death

Once you’re used to the mechanics, completing the game isn’t too challenging. But the game doesn’t end there. Each level has extra points you can earn for completing specific challenges – don’t get hit by the sun, optimised number of moves, within a certain time, and so on. It’s a nice way to extend the gameplay, but not necessarily the best. It’s basically asking you to solve the same puzzle over and over, and a puzzle loses something if you already know the solution.

Still, it can be fun to figure out the optimum way of solving a puzzle, rather than just solving it. But Felix the Reaper has another track on its dancefloor. Each level has a hardcore game mode. These levels have the same goals as the level they are based on, but are much more complex, requiring much more thought to solve them. They each also have the optional goal of collecting three coins scattered around the level, adding an extra layer of challenge to the game.

I’ve completed the main story, but I think I’m going to try some of these challenges. It’s been a short game, taking me around 5 hours to finish it. But there are more challenges remaining if I want to complete this game properly.

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