Figment, much like Danish developer Bedtime Digital Games’ previous title, Back to Bed, is set in a surreal dreamy landscape and whereas Back to Bed tackled the theme of narcolepsy, Figment wrestles with how the human mind copes with trauma, in a unique and beautifully crafted way.
Both titles share similarities with being set in a 3D isometric world and puzzle gameplay but Figment surpasses its predecessor by being much more story and character-driven, which is complemented by a multi-layered narrative and quirky humour.
Figment’s opening immediately encapsulates you into the narrative, with an audio scene depicting a father driving his family in stormy, wet conditions in which he is so focused on the conversation he is having with his child that he ends up crashing the car. In the last moments of the scene, you hear the child crying before the screen turns to red and you awake in the whimsical world of the father’s unconscious mind after the accident. It’s here that we meet the rather grumpy protagonist called Dusty. It’s difficult to describe what exactly Dusty is. Just like how the mind works when we dream, nothing ever quite makes sense which includes Dusty himself. Not quite human or an animal, Dusty is a merger of the two, he’s a cutesy-looking humanoid creature with large ears and a tail with a gruff old man voice.
When we first meet Dusty, all he wants to do is drink his days away with his scrapbook of memories that is keeping him transfixed on issues from his past. It’s not until his ridiculously cheerful and optimistic bird-friend sidekick, Piper, turns up to try and motivate him, followed by his scrapbook getting stolen by a Nightmare, that Dusty finally springs into action. Thus begins his tale of regaining courage and confidence whilst overcoming the doubt and depression caused by the real-life trauma of the car accident.
As soon as we are greeted by Figment’s bright and beautifully cartoony hand-drawn world I’m reminded of the quote by John Milton that “the mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”. Basically, the mind can dream up all sorts of pleasant images as well as absolute horrors and Figment does a superb job of portraying this. The landscape we find Dusty in represents a different part of the brain and therefore it cleverly creates an abstract mismatch of everyday objects utilised in unusual ways to make levels that only the unconscious mind could ever dream of. One minute you’re navigating through the bold and pretty countryside, containing brass musical instruments growing out of the ground in all shapes and sizes that represent the creative side of the mind, to then find yourself in a much colder aesthetic level of mechanical clockwork puzzles emphasising the logical nature of the mind.
There are also areas that install a sense of unease with having teeth fall from the sky to crush you and I’m sure at some point we have all had the horrible nightmares of our teeth falling out, which is highly disturbing. I won’t spoil the final area of the game but its design and aesthetics are really ingenious in linking to the opening narrative. I was also pleasantly surprised by how lived-in each area feels as there are many homes of which a lot of them houses characters that give some dialogue that is generally quite amusing, especially those in Cerebrum City that match the mood within the title of the home.
Figment’s art direction and crisp bold colour-palette does a wonderful job of ensuring there is balance within the game and that the heavier emotional themes the game touches on doesn’t become too grim and overbearing. This is aided somewhat by the banter between the games two protagonists. Some of the puns are pretty terrible and fall a little flat like bad dad jokes, but most of them had me grinning, for example, when you have lines like Piper saying “You’re on the right track buddy” followed by Dusty answering “Your train puns are really going off the rails…” Yes, it’s super cheesy, but it helps to keep things a little more light-hearted especially for those from the younger audience that may play this game and not necessarily understand its deep themes.
This does brings me nicely to the point that the slightly off-putting and offensive word ‘bastard’ makes an appearance within the game and Dusty also calls Piper “turkey tit” too, within the opening level. As an adult who plays a variety of games with much worse use of language it didn’t bother me in the slightest but if some parents overhear these words when their children are playing the game, they might not take a liking to it. I was somewhat surprised to find these words within Figment as the simplistic nature of both the combat and puzzles along with the cartoonist visuals and humour would make it ideal for a younger audience to play even with its underlying deep themes. It’s therefore left me with some confusion as to who the target audience is for the game.
Aside from the gorgeous visuals, Figment is a joy to play with the gameplay elements being very easy to grasp. Don’t go expecting upgrading abilities or complicated move sets, this game has none of that. You literally hit nightmare creatures with a wooden sword and roll to avoid attacks. There’s not a wide variety of enemies but each one does take a different approach to fighting, so you can’t just run in sword swinging. Some might find the combat too shallow and simplistic but it only serves to act as a diversion from the main meat of the gameplay which is the game’s puzzles.
These start off as simple fetch a certain object, such as a battery or a turn wheel, to make a machine work or bridge appear. The puzzles do become more intricate without ever becoming mind-numbingly hard and not once did I ever get stuck or frustrated with one. Suitably the puzzles also fit the theme of the area nicely and my favourite featured having to find notes to play the keys of a piano/organ house correctly to open up new pathways.
The game does use some backtracking to use objects that you have collected to solve puzzles, but thankfully the levels aren’t too large meaning it never feels overly tiresome. It’s only if you want to find all the memory collectables within the hidden areas that more backtracking is required. I didn’t manage to collect all the memories but the piece of artwork and text to each one further helps to flesh out Figment’s story. The finest moments of the game come when you fight the three main bosses which weave both the combat and puzzle elements neatly together for a satisfying experience. The only downside of the bosses is their annoying singing, which I guess as they are trying to goad you into making a mistake, actually works in putting you off!
Figment also has a real emphasis on music throughout the game which is especially imaginative within the area of Freedom Isles. This area merges the level design to the music with it playing the type of instrument you see on screen within the environment. Also, if you interact by hitting a guitar or trumpet it will play a tune too which is a nice little touch. I’ve already mentioned the songs that the bosses sing to you and while in-keeping with the presentation of the game, it did grind on me a little and I also missed a lot of what was being said in the lyrics by having to concentrate on the fight themselves. Lastly, the voice acting was solid throughout and really helped to cement the friendship between Dusty and Piper.
I thoroughly enjoyed the five hours or so I spent playing Figment. I never once felt bored or that it overstayed its welcome, to me it was the perfect length. It’s a charming adventure with very satisfying and creative puzzles complimented by an attractive art style. It does a fantastic job of exploring the human mind’s inner demons and balancing the heavy subject matter with light-hearted dialogue and musical moments. Minor combat and language issues aside, I would whole-heartedly recommend Figment to all who wish to take a journey into the mind.