Felix the Reaper (Switch) Review
I hadn’t heard of Felix the Reaper before being offered the opportunity to review it. Now, after having played it, I’m not really sure how that happened; it’s a beautiful, unique puzzle game, filled with gorgeous visuals, a quirky (if slightly morbid) premise, and some of the most interesting puzzling I’ve seen in a game in quite some time. But… maybe the Switch version isn’t the right way to play it; more on that later.
In Felix the Reaper, you control Felix, a reaper with the Ministry of Death, as he goes about his daily life in the job. It’s the job of reapers to ensure that everybody meets their timely end on the planet, and they do so by stepping in, freezing time for a little bit, and setting things up juuust right so their target finds their (often gruesome) expiry date.
Felix, the newest reaper on the job, is a little different from other reapers at the Ministry. While most are grim, stodgy beings — as one would expect from somebody whose job it is to force people to their deaths — Felix is a lively, energetic being. And he expresses that in the quirkiest, most fascinating way: he dances. Armed with a walkman, a set of headphones, and a feel-good attitude, Felix, the reaper, jives to the beat, with every step he takes forming part of an elaborate dance routine. It’s a very literal take on The Danse Macabre — or The Dance of Death — an allegorical genre of art that that historically illustrated that none were exempt from the calls of death, no matter their class or creed. That theme of the universality of death is beautifully represented in Felix the Reaper, as Felix’s targets come from all walks of life, from the rich and famous to the peasants that served under them.
Historically, The Danse Macabre is tied to another artistic motif, Death and the Maiden, and that, too, is represented here. While most reapers join the Ministry of Death to serve their duty in the afterlife, Felix joined for one reason and one reason only: love. The object of his affection is Betty the Maiden, a worker from the Ministry of Life, whose role it is to foster and protect life on the planet — a stark opposite to Felix’s role in the Ministry of Death. However, it is said that wherever life goes, death must follow, and as such, Felix hopes that by enlisting in the Ministry of Death, by dancing his way through the gruesome tasks set for him, he may someday encounter and catch the eye of Betty, for whom he has fallen deeply in love. It’s a cute little story, told in pieces and illustrated in loading screens and menus with Felix’s sketches of the life he wishes to live with Betty, and while it’s not particularly present, or particularly impactful, it’s a special touch of storytelling in a game that could’ve survived without it.
The gameplay itself is something special too; it’s a series of grid-based, single-room puzzles that excel in being appropriately challenging and complex, and in the simplicity of your actions. You’re (usually) limited to simply three actions: move (or dance, rather), pick up and place objects, and change the direction of the sun. Objects on the map cast shadows, and Felix, as a reaper, must always act within the shadows; touching the sun is a big no-no, Felix will be penalised for it, and the stage will rewind to the last point you weren’t in the sun. Some stages require a few more actions, such as pulling levers or stepping on teleporter pads, but for the most part, it’s those three actions that carry you through the entire game.
In a mission, each of which is a part of a small character arc, Felix is tasked with setting up a particular series of events, ultimately leading up to the death of his target. Some missions may have you moving a piece of ham in such a way that the target’s leashed dog can smell it, while some may have you moving certain objects and characters out of the way of a wayward arrow so that it hits its intended target. As this is essentially Felix’s job, after each mission you’ll receive a job performance scorecard, on which you’re marked in several fields. If you take less time, move over less spaces, and avoid the sun as much as possible, you’ll receive a much better score. These scores ultimately don’t mean much — you can progress through the entirety of the game with the lowest score on every mission — but a good performance can award you with stamps, which can unlock harder bonus stages and challenges.
In terms of performance, Felix the Reaper performs passably on Switch, but not perfectly. This isn’t a game that needs a consistently high frame rate, so you likely won’t notice if or when the frame rate drops, but what you will notice is the low resolution and the long load times. It’s not awful-looking by any stretch of the imagination, and everything you need to see is visible and plain as day, but much of the game is filled with jagged edges, and it can be a little bit unsightly, especially when playing on a large screen. The long load times are a much bigger problem, with some aspects of the game taking upwards of 30 seconds to load, and in at least one instance, I experienced a start up time of just over a minute — a long time to wait if you’re hoping to jump in for a quick puzzle on your lunch break.
The controls, as well, are not particularly well-suited for Switch. All of the actions you’ll perform in Felix the Reaper are controlled with a cursor; instead of the analogue stick simply moving our intrepid dance-master Felix, you have to move the cursor to where you’d like him to go, and then press A. When you’re working against the clock, trying your best to improve your completion time to get a stamp, that becomes an issue, especially when your cursor gets outside of the camera view, and you’re left waggling both sticks in an attempt to find it again. It feels like an experience optimised for a mouse, or perhaps even a touch screen — but the Switch version has no option for touch controls, leaving an unwieldy, ultimately frustrating control scheme getting in the way of what could be an utterly excellent game.
And it is, for the most part, an excellent game. It has a beautiful — if a little grotesque and morbid — art style, a fantastic selection of music (a must for a game focused on dancing skeletons), and a ridiculously charming premise. It even has Sir Patrick Stewart — THE Patrick Stewart — to serve as your narrator and instructor throughout the game. In terms of presentation alone, Felix the Reaper absolutely knocks it out of the park, in a way that most other games could only ever dream of.
There’s a lot to love about Felix the Reaper. Its puzzles are deep and challenging, its presentation is deliciously morbid, and it’s packed to the rafters with charm and character. Unfortunately, the Switch version of the game is held back by an unwieldy control scheme, a lacklustre resolution, and agonisingly long load times, which all hold back what could have been one of the best puzzle games of the year. That said, I cannot recommend it enough… but maybe play on PC instead.
This review originally appeared on Maxi-Geek.com, and has been republished to Vooks with permission. Review copy provided to Maxi-Geek by Daedalic Entertainment.
+ Incredible mix of charming and morbid
+ Fantastic puzzles and gameplay
+ The voice of Sir Patrick Stewart
- Extremely long load times
- Controls not suited for Switch
- Lots of jaggies