Felix the Reaper Review: Dance! Dance! Dance Until You Die!

Some cutesy characters on the side can't make up for a tedious core experience.

Billed as a “romantic comedy,” Felix the Reaper casts you as a goofy grim reaper who loves two things: dancing and Betty, his lingerie-clad love interest who serves the forces of Life. Basically, she’s whatever the opposite of a grim reaper is. After the opening cutscene sets up this Romeo and Juliet dynamic, Felix the Reaper promptly abandons the storyline for the bulk of the game. There’s a piece of loading screen concept art here, and a scene-setting “mission complete” voice line there, but Betty remains absent. As a result, Felix the Reaper is as much a romantic comedy as Super Mario Bros. There’s a love interest, to be sure, but she’s perpetually in another castle.

Between the paltry jabs at a story, you solve puzzles to rig up darkly comic assassinations. The denizens of Felix the Reaper’s world are chubby Sackboys, Sackgirls and Sackdogs — Oogie Boogies with expressive Cyanide and Happiness faces. It’s Felix’s job to kill them. Our dancing angel of death can only groove in the shadows, so you need to move objects around each diorama-like level to supply him with darkness. You can shift the angle of light sources along the X or Y axes, and often you need to stack items on top of each other to extend shade across each tile-based grid.

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Felix the Reaper Review

All of this is perfectly functional. I didn’t encounter any bugs during my time with Felix the Reaper. The problem is, even running perfectly, it isn’t the least bit fun. You know the sliding block puzzles you grit your teeth through in Resident Evil? Felix the Reaper is basically an entire 10-hour game built around those. You aren’t even attempting to form a picture. Instead, you typically try to ferry an object from one side of the screen to the other. But the impatient guesswork of a sliding block puzzle, the painful trial-and-error, the molasses-slow efforts to undo a multi-step action you realize is wrong all too late? That’s all here…

There are some brief highs. Felix the Reaper has those light bulb moments that define the puzzle genre (just in smaller quantities than you want). When you place an object in the right spot, a rainbow bright congratulatory message pops up — usually with a dance-themed lyric from a pop song. When you complete most of a level, and a straight shot to the goal appears, you can dance happily to the finish line. Sometimes I even solved puzzled without accidentally stepping into the sunlight a ridiculous number of times. But these momentary glimpses of fun are only as rewarding as they are because the process of playing through Felix the Reaper is such a tedious slog. It’s less “Wow, that was fun and I feel smart for cracking this puzzle!” and more “Phew! I’m glad that’s over!” But then, of course, another level awaits.

Even the game’s quirky aesthetic often frustrated me. When you’re deeply annoyed by an arcane puzzle, watching Felix move and groove to the music playing over his headphones feels mocking. Sometimes I would be deep in thought, attempting to suss out the secret of a level, and Felix would be going all out, spinning around, doing the splits, snapping his fingers like the Sharks from West Side Story. Except the most violent thing he can do is annoy you with misplaced, effusive joy. Show some sympathy, you irritating little skeleton!

Felix the Reaper Review

Dancing Off-Rhythm

It doesn’t help that the aesthetics and gameplay have almost nothing to do with each other. As a story, Felix the Reaper is about being a happy, star-crossed grim reaper collecting souls and hoping to bump into his love interest. As a game, Felix the Reaper is about moving junk around grids. The two halves pair like oil and water — or, to borrow a metaphor, like the angel of death and a servant of life.

I spent my 10 hours with Felix the Reaper on the Nintendo Switch. That’s ironically not the ideal place to play this puzzle game. While it pairs well with the console’s small screen — in fact, it felt significantly more confusing on my TV — the controls don’t feel all that well optimized for analog sticks. Controlling the camera is, at times, cumbersome. The challenge feels like it would pair better with the precision of a mouse and keyboard (or a better D-pad). And load times, which bracket each level, are lengthy. I timed out a few with my phone; they clocked in at around 25 seconds each.

All of this combines to form a game that I never wanted to play for much longer than a half-hour at a time. Each level is exhausting and the payoff is minimal. While the aesthetic is pleasantly goofy, the story meshes far too little with the gameplay. Puzzle games live and die on the strength of their gameplay. And most of the time, Felix is ready for the reaper.

Felix the Reaper

5

Felix the Reaper is an exhaustingly tedious puzzle game that attempts to set itself apart with the patina of a quirky thematic approach.

Pros
  • Perfectly functional and not at all buggy
  • Fun assassination vignettes between levels
  • Interesting character models
Cons
  • Exhaustingly tedious gameplay
  • Gestures at a story that it pays no attention to after the first 10 minutes
  • Long loads
  • Fiddly camera
  • Forgettable soundtrack in a game about dancing
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