There is a lot to be said for Bedtime Digital Games’ upcoming title Figment. The game describes itself as an action-adventure game that invites you to explore a unique, surreal universe filled with music, humor, and a multi-layered narrative, but all the gameplay screenshots I had seen before booting it up involved a man dressed vaguely like a raccoon running around a landscape straight out of Cat in the Hat. Some might scoff, but I am always down for the surreal, so my hopes were high.
I booted it up and was immediately engaged by the opening cut-scene. A disembodied family drove through a storm as a little girl chastised her father for not being brave. While all I could see were some storm clouds rolling across the screen, I got a good sense of the characters and the inciting incident from a few sparse lines of dialogue and some well-placed sound effects. To provide so much with so little requires no small amount of talent on Bedtime Digital’s part.
I had bitten the metaphorical bait, ready to be pulled into the family’s drama, but then they threw me a left hook and introduced me to some seemingly unrelated characters faster than I can mix metaphors. Dusty, the aforementioned raccoon-man, starts the game as a tired curmudgeon who wants nothing more than to get his ice machine working so he can make himself a strong drink. Having started many adventures in my own life with the simple goal of consuming alcohol, I could completely relate to the struggles he was about to go through.
Maybe it was the costume, or the flying islands, or my talking bird companion, Piper, or the instruments growing out of the ground like musical vegetation, or that they constantly refer to the land that they inhabit as The Mind, but something told me we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
The combat system is simple but smooth. You can swing your sword to attack, or roll out of the way to dodge enemy attacks. Most of the enemies have rather predictable patterns, which makes fighting them very easy one-on-one, but it becomes a carefully-timed dance once you are fighting multiple enemies at once. The bosses, or Nightmares, are similarly predictable, but contain grander sweeping gestures in their arsenal, making your timing crucial as you dodge their attacks. I managed to avoid getting hit entirely until fighting the second boss, which probably says more about how careful I am when exploring a new game than anything about the game’s difficulty level.
But while the game advertises its action/adventure aspects, most of the game is spent navigating through various puzzles, with some monsters scattered throughout for good measure. One particularly memorable puzzle involved rotating several windmills at a crossroads to blow away the poisonous gas left by a Nightmare, unlocking one of many paths while closing off the rest. Some paths only required a single rotation of a single windmill, while others required complex forethought and a good amount of time to get right. None of the puzzles posed too much of a challenge, but they were all well-designed.
I’m a sucker for puns, the best of which make me groan and smile in equal measure. While the various items in Figment aren’t exactly groan worthy, I appreciated the appropriately cerebral wordplay for a game that takes place entirely in the mind/imagination. Many of the game’s puzzles involve traversing the landscape to find and manipulate Synapse Batteries. Nightmares make up the main villains. The orbs you find that give experience are called Endorphins, while the ones that heal you are called Endurance Neurons. There are even hidden collectables called Memories. Because they were lost, get it? Lost and forgotten? You get it.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Figment is its music. Sure, the music you listen to as you’re traversing the landscape is nice, but I was surprised to find out that each boss sings a song as they fight you. The lyrics are somewhat cartoony and surprisingly catchy, a mix that felt stylistically on-point.
Figment is, above all things, a work of synergy. Every aspect of the game is zany and cartoonish on the surface, but the longer you explore Bedtime Digital Games’ mindscape of a game, the more the “multi-layered narrative” brings the story’s somber depths to the surface.
Figment will be available on Steam for PC and Mac September 2017.