The way games handle death is fascinating. We’re so used to killing all sorts of things in nearly every game, usually in the service of some greater objective, that it’s become subconscious to us, something we never really stop to think about. So it’s interesting whenever a video game makes death itself its central objective, as is the case with Felix the Reaper. The whole point of Daedalic Entertainment and Kong Orange’s puzzle game is to make people die, but that shouldn’t stop players who can stomach a good amount of dark humor from finding some enjoyment, and perhaps a good laugh as well.
Billed as “a romantic comedy game about the life of Death,” Felix the Reaper is at its heart a puzzler revolving around putting things in the right place in order to reach the goal of each stage. Driving this is the story of the titular Felix, a bureaucratic “field reaper” for the Ministry of Death who’s smitten with Betty the Maiden, an employee at the Ministry of Life, and hopes to one day cross paths with her in the mortal realm. This requires him to work through his job of setting up fatal accidents to meet the Ministry’s death quota, with each of the game’s five chapters building up to its unsuspecting victim meeting a cartoonishly gruesome end, like getting decapitated by an errant spear or being pulled into a well by a dog chasing a turkey leg.
Funny enough, though, Felix himself is one of the most charming things about the game. The round-bellied, vest-wearing, and headphone-sporting reaper is so full of personality. Despite his job causing horrible deaths, the game paints him as a hopeless romantic more interested in music, poetry, and dance. This makes him a delight to guide through the game’s stages, as he’s constantly dancing, whether he’s moving from spot to spot or just standing still. What’s more, these dances change with the background music, which players can swap out at any time from a selection of tracks. It wasn’t necessary for developer Kong Orange to make its civil servant of death so lively, but it is welcome.
Gameplay-wise, Felix the Reaper tasks players with guiding Felix across floating grid-like stages that represent different places and time periods in the mortal realm. Each one requires them to check one objective off the list of steps needed to ensure his next victim is in the right place at the right time to die. The challenge, however, is that Felix, being a creature of death, can only move around in shadows, which the stages’ terrain only provides in limited amounts by themselves.
Of course, the game gives players the tools to get around this. The most important of these is the ability to turn the sun back and forth ninety degrees, therefore moving shadows and creating new paths for Felix to dance down. Stages also provide players with an increasing number of crates, barrels, and similar objects they can pick up and place to create new shadows, in addition to stage elements like cars and wagons that can be moved down a track via a switch.
These elements prove to be a little limited in scope. While they can be fun to figure out the right path with, they’re rarely built up in a substantial way over the course of the 20+ main stages. Aside from stacking objects to create longer shadows, Felix the Reaper doesn’t offer much variety in the endgame compared to the opening stages. It can leave the game feeling somewhat basic, but as it’s only around 3-5 hours long (and at least twice that if one counts bonus content like expert stages, time trials, and achievement-hunting), opinions will vary on whether it wears out its welcome or not.
A more objective knock against the game is its camera. For the most part the diagonal camera works fine, as it can be moved around to suit players’ needs, but as the stages’ layouts grow more complicated, it becomes a fairly common occurrence for the scenery to get in the way of getting a good view of one’s surroundings. And since the camera tends to focus on Felix, it becomes possible to move the cursor players use to guide Felix beyond the camera and lose track of where it is. The ability to bring the cursor back to Felix with a press of a button does make this a minor issue all in all, but it happens frequently enough to be a recurring annoyance.
While the “romantic comedy” billing suggests Felix the Reaper is a narratively-driven game, that isn’t really the case. The whole premise of Felix trying to run into Betty is present throughout, but by and large it doesn’t grow, evolve, and come to a meaningful conclusion like one would expect from a normal narrative. For the most part, the narrative’s focus is on the brief stories of Felix’s victims, which prove to connect to one another in different ways, with the witness to a death in one chapter being the target in a later one. It an interesting (if morbid) approach, as it does explore the idea of how death affects the people around it.
However, this does take the game’s dark humor too far at one point. Without spoiling specifics, one of the later chapters revolves around basically harassing one of the witnesses to an earlier death in various ways, including reminding them of that traumatic death. This ultimately results in the character being driven to commit suicide. Considering how serious an issue suicide is, it’s in very poor taste to make a joke out of it, and it really puts a damper on the cartoonish intent of the game’s comedy.
It’s a shame, because for all of the story missteps and relatively simple gameplay, there are plenty of small touches in the game that make it rather enjoyable. During gameplay, most of that is due to the personality of Felix with his constant dancing, but outside of it there is fun and interesting supplementary content like pieces of death-themed poetry and loading screen illustrations depicting Felix’s life outside of his job. Each chapter also unlocks these quick but informative articles that chronicle the history of death’s depiction in art throughout the centuries, like the motif of “death and the maiden” that Felix and Betty are based on. One can really learn some interesting things playing this game.
If nothing else, it’s clear that Kong Orange was invested in exploring the concept of death in game form. Maybe a sequel could allow it to really go all-in on that (and the ending of this game certainly leaves the door open for that), but for now, Felix the Reaper is a pretty fun puzzler that shows promise, even if it’s held back by a story that sometimes goes too far and gameplay that doesn’t really go far enough.
Felix the Reaper is available for PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided with a Switch code for this review.