Felix the Reaper is a dark romantic comedy that oozes wonderful personality but its puzzle design hardly evolves beyond the opening moments.
Felix the Reaper just wants to find love, much like you’ll find yourself wanting to love this charming puzzler by Kong Orange and Daedalic Entertainment. From the get-go it seems impossible not to get on board with Felix. He’s a goofy grim reaper who uses his grisly job - staging the bloody deaths of mortals - as an excuse to win the forbidden affection of a life-giving goddess. He also really, really likes to dance. What’s not to love? The answer lies in the solid but ultimately stagnant gameplay that doesn’t consistently command the same level of fondness.
Felix himself grows on you real quick thanks to his cute dances that look great among the game’s wonderful animations. Strangely enough however, Felix the Reaper isn’t a rhythm game nor does it feature any actual music-based mechanics whatsoever. Even the soundtrack, while serviceable, is far from spectacular. Players instead solve a series of surprisingly challenging grid-based navigation puzzles. Since Felix can only traverse in darkness, you must move and stack objects, then use a sundial mechanic to rotate the sun’s position to create shaded paths safe for travel. Success comes in finding ways to deliver a designated item to its proper spot, which in turn triggers a victim’s Rube Goldberg meets Final Destination-style death.
Stages require much trial and error that feels akin to solving a Rubik's cube. There’s a definite logic to it, but don’t be surprised to find yourself stumped and randomly shuffling things around before stumbling upon the correct path. Still, deliberately working through stages can be fun, and it does feel rewarding to see all the pieces fall into place. Toggleable hints help alleviate frustration by showing both the overall goal as well as suggested steps forwards. Illustrated checkpoints also effectively communicate that you’re on the right track. Felix the Reaper drops the ball though in the tutorial department, namely in letting players know what they can do beyond the basics. For example, warp pipes and the ability to stack objects are never explained (or, if they are, not clearly) despite being crucial aspects of the game.
Post-level report cards encourage players to finish missions within a time frame or with limited moves, among other optional requirements. However, some drawbacks can discourage any desire to murder with efficiency. For starters, hitting pause doesn’t stop the clock. If you need to walk away for whatever reason, you’ll either have to suspend the game entirely to preserve your time or commit to finishing a level in one sitting. Chasing a goal that seemingly doesn't respect your time is often more trouble than it's worth. A preview mechanic helps save players from making unnecessary moves by letting them manipulate the sun–and thus view possible routes–before acting. Unfortunately, using this mode feels sluggish and nowhere near as snappy as simply turning the sundial normally. Given that there’s no compelling reward for hitting any of these extra benchmarks, you’re better off ignoring them entirely and playing with reckless abandon.
A lack of meaningful evolution in gameplay holds Felix the Reaper back more than anything else. Later chapters don’t bring anything new to the table. You’ll spend the final hour moving the same barrels, boxes, and wagons in the same manner as in earlier levels. It’d be great if each chapter brought a major, unique mechanic. The best puzzle games build upon established conventions by finding ways to flip them on their head, forcing you to reexamine familiar problems in new ways. As it stands, Felix the Reaper is a series of very minor variations of the same exact theme. Once that becomes clear, sticking with it for the long haul becomes less and less an alluring proposition since you know exactly what you’re getting with no hope of surprises.
Felix the Reaper is a respectable game that unfortunately stagnates after the first couple of chapters. None of its puzzles are bad; they’re just tough and don’t change much. That’s a bit of a shame because it boasts a coffin's worth of personality, both in presentation and in the writing. Whether it’s watching the kooky, elaborate death scenes or chuckling at Sir Patrick Stewart’s humorous narration, you’d have to lack a pulse yourself not to smile at this. Fun can certainly be had, but the potential for greatness feels buried six feet under.
Felix the Reaper is available October 17, 2019 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac. Screen Rant was provided a digital Switch code for the purpose of this review.