September 22, 2017
Usually when games cover subjects that centre around the mind, they’re often very serious and disturbing affairs. The horror genre is loaded with that kind of thing. But it doesn’t have to be that way, as Figment proves rather well. The game opens with the sounds of a rather serious accident, before settling on our hero Dusty, sat on his porch on a floating island and being a bit of a grump. Even more so when Piper appears; a little bird intent on rousing Dusty from his lethargy, when our hero’s favourite scrapbook of precious memories is stolen by a masked Nightmare. There’s a line I never thought I’d say.
Much like Disney Pixar’s Inside Out, Figment takes place entirely inside the mind of another person. This means that things don’t exactly look normal, because why should they? The main city is made up of cardboard buildings and pencil bridges; the main character is a guy with a tail and cat ears; almost looking like a dude in an animal onesie, and he wields a wooden sword. It just allows the developer to go nuts on the design of everything, including the themed areas of the game, all representing different parts of the brain and subconscious.
The main aim of Figment is to catch the Nightmare that has stolen Dusty’s scrapbook, but in order to do that you’ll have to explore two other areas and banish their own, minor nightmarish entities. These will each sing songs at you whenever they appear (including providing the music for their own boss fights), and fill their individual areas with themed enemies and traps to block your progress. Luckily, the combat is incredibly simple and is sparse enough that it never grows tiresome. There is an attack button and a roll button, and it really is as simple as that: you attack and dodge whatever any enemy throws at you. There are patterns to watch for, especially during boss fights, but you’ll never be too taxed by encounters.
It feels like the game is deliberately keeping the combat simple, in order to focus on the story and puzzles. Your brain will rarely be bothered by the majority of the puzzles dotted throughout the world of Figment, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun. It certainly doesn’t mean they’re easy. One or two, especially in the final third, took a few minutes for me to discover the solution, and each time it was a nice moment when I was able to progress. The puzzles that tend to prove most difficult are those related to the optional memories that are hidden throughout the game. Some are easy to find, but others require some exploration and a little forward thinking, both to track them down and to discover the way to grab them.
These memories help to flesh out the story of Figment, providing a piece of artwork that shows a piece of a life we don’t yet know. Alongside these pictures are small pieces of text, hinting at what lies beyond this realm of imagination, and some can be quite emotional. This says a lot about the quality of the writing on show – not just these pieces of text, but in the script and song lyrics throughout. Dusty is a cynical old sod, constantly at odds with the eternally chipper Piper. The Nightmare and his underlings are typically villainous, but they’re sometimes charming, and the citizens of this particular mind are all manner of weird and wonderful. You never see these folk, but you can knock on their doors and listen to a snippet of dialogue that will teach you a little something about the area you’re in, or simply make you laugh. And you will definitely laugh.
To say that the presentation is brought together by the visual style and music does the whole package a disservice, but this is a review so I have to single things out a little, right? It does look fantastic, with an art style that looks like Tim Burton and Dr Suess decided to design a Roald Dahl cover. Everything looks hand painted, or at least crafted out of everyday objects, and the characters and creatures are animated so beautifully it’s hard to believe this was made by a small Danish team on a tight budget. Its visual design easily surpasses that of much bigger studios with budgets most Hollywood directors would blush at. This presentation is matched only by its magnificent audio, from the cracking voice acting (Dusty and Piper bounce off one another brilliantly) to the wonderful boss songs. Sadly, even with subtitles, you’ll probably miss some of the lyrics due to concentrating on the fights themselves. But honestly, I could listen to Figment’s soundtrack all day long.
Coming in at around four or five hours, with room for another playthrough if you want to collect all the memories, Figment is just about the right length. It’s not perfect, with the final area dragging a little and containing a couple of frustrating moments, but it is a gorgeous and charming adventure filled with humour and imagination. Regardless of whether you’re a musical person or a fan of puzzles, there is so much to love in Figment that you’ll adore spending time in its colourful world.
Drags a bit towards the end
Figment tackles a potentially emotional subject, but does so without depressing the player. Quite the opposite. Its gameplay and writing come together in such a charming and musical way, you’ll find yourself smiling throughout.