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‘Figment’: A bright adventure through the human mind

(Courtesy of Bedtime Digital Games)

Developed by: Bedtime Digital Games
Published by: Bedtime Digital Games
Available on: PC

In recent years, video game developers have re-purposed familiar genres to wring fresh emotional takes out of familiar setups. Such is the case with “Figment,” the new adventure game from the Danish studio Bedtime Digital Games. This whimsical game has a storybook look and features a red nosed, long-tailed, (wooden) sword-wielding hero. Dusty, with his scarf, satchel and one-piece-hooded outfit appears outlandish enough to appeal to small children. As is de rigueur for an adventure game, Dusty must overcome enemies and puzzles, spread over differently themed worlds, to bring justice to a thief that stole from him. The twist is that the adventure takes place in the mind of an adult suffering from head trauma and the levels unfold as obvious symbolic representations of that mind’s maturation and recovery.

At the beginning of “Figment,” we hear the voices of a family talking in a car. A young girl speaks breathlessly, her mother chats in a soothing tone and her father’s clipped responses bespeak his preoccupation with other matters. After we hear the screech of their car accident, the game cuts to a rainy, verdant landscape. On the porch of his house, Dusty sits napping in a toddler’s rocking chair when a bird named Piper flies in front of him and bids him to wake up. Dusty shrugs off the bird’s call to action, telling Piper that his only concern for the time being is his drink. To freshen up his martini glass, the player must help Dusty find a “synapse battery” to power up an ice machine. Unfortunately for Dusty, when he returns to his pad he finds not only his drink but his precious scrapbook missing.

The culprit, a gangly, purple-beaked creature, taunts Dusty before fleeing the scene. Bubbly sounding even in a crisis, Piper tells Dusty that the mind is in trouble. But Dusty appears only interested in retrieving his scrapbook. Like a veteran toy lost in a closet he openly resents the mind’s long neglect of him. After Dusty draws a wooden sword from the ground, he and Piper continue their pursuit of the purple creature who is identified as a Nightmare.

Their journey gets properly underway when they strike out for the brain’s right hemisphere, the site of creativity. Throughout the brightly colored landscape they find curving pathways, windmills, guitar-bearing plants and houses inhabited by tea enthusiasts. Puzzles in this area, such as one where the player must use a contrived fishing rod to extract a worm from an apple-shaped balloon to make it flightworthy, illustrate the capriciousness of a young, unencumbered mind.

Later stages take place in brain’s left side which the game links to logical thinking. One of my favorite puzzles in “Figment” requires you to undertake several different steps to clear a path so that a literal train of thought can clear away cobwebs in the mind and open up new areas.

By the time you reach the final sections, you’ll be walking over serious-looking documents, running past the hands of deadly clocks, passing in front of streamers of receipts, and dodging waves of purple depression.

Aside from its terrific puzzles and lively sensibility, “Figment” is distinguished by its singing villains who belt out charmingly silly songs about existential fears. As the Nightmare you encountered at the beginning of the game sings near the end: “You will lose face, and all your keys, your purpose — time shows no remorse.”

That wee bit of grimness notwithstanding, I could see a parent playing “Figment” with a child and the two enjoying it on similar and different levels. (Right up until the end, the combat is fairly simple, while the puzzles are clever without being too draining.) I imagine children will take to the “barf rodents” and purple one-eyed tentacles while an adult might fixate on the game’s associations between tea and creativity, and coffee and stress. Speaking as someone who started drinking coffee as an adult, I see the point.

Ultimately, “Figment” is a well-designed adventure game that looks to flatter the senses with its levity and zest for life.

Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer who has been playing video games since the days of the Atari 2600. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Barnes & Noble Review, Al Jazeera America, the Guardian and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.

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