A Figment of a Sadistic Imagination

Review of Figment on XBLIG: Try
A deceptively difficult platformer. Casual gamers beware; old-school gamers rejoice.

Figment is a platformer about “a child’s action figures who have come to life in order to save a boy from dark forces.” If that sounds like a game that serves heavy style and story at the expense of vanilla gameplay, it’s nothing of the sort. Figment is deceptively difficult.  Casual gamers beware. Older fans schooled on Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden, rejoice—you need not lament the days when games were truly challenging.

It’s difficult to describe Figment as it left me with incredibly mixed feelings. It plays smoothly. Its cartoony graphics are unique and interesting, and the animation is high quality if not particularly flashy.  The style and storyline, told only in a series of comic panels, proves this isn’t just a basic platformer clone. 

The standout design element for me is character selection.  The differences between Sift (the male soldier action figure) and Aranha (the female doll) are subtle. For example, Sift has an air-to-ground ranged attack, while Aranha has a double jump (which can screw you just as much as save you).  There is no noob character and no expert character.  It’s all about getting a feel for each character, and I commend the designers for not simply pigeonholing the two characters.

However, I found Figment excruciatingly painful to play. (To be fair, I’m not a hardcore platfomer aficionado and my skills in that area have atrophied quite a bit since the early 90’s.)

The level design is what ultimately frustrated me.  The core mechanic here seems to be jumping puzzles and instant-death pits, some of which seem to be solvable only by trial-and-error. Characters can respawn indefinitely from checkpoints, but these checkpoints are spaced out every two or three challenges.  I found myself repeating the same areas over and over and over and over again, getting screwed by my stupid mistakes and the game’s touchiness in areas I’d previously cleared.

It should be noted that these are checkpoints, not save points.  The game must be finished in one sitting. I seriously considered leaving my XBox on overnight so I could take a break without having to lose my hard-won progress.  Nostalgia for the classic NES aside, when’s the last time a game made you consider doing that?

Additionally, control and hit-detection is extremely touchy.  I can’t put my finger on it, so I can’t say the hit detection is out-and-out bugged.  But, there were several cases where I died from an instant-death trap I wasn’t obviously touching.  I also found it easy to overcorrect when trying to maneuver during a jump.  Since the game has several challenges that require carefully-controlled jumps between instant-death traps, frustration is inevitable.

I found a few rare but annoying bugs in the game.  Once, I jumped high enough to lock the screen for a mini-boss fight, but did not jump high enough to actually stay on the ledge.  Off-screen and unable to scroll, I could neither die nor fight.  At another point, I paused the game as I was going inside a door, resulting in a black screen.  With no way to save, I had to restart from scratch.  (The ending credits promise updates to the game—mainly in the form of new levels, special attackes, etc.—so perhaps we’ll see fixes later.)

Figment earns a Try, because I can’t bear to give it either a Buy or a Skip without caveats.  The game design and art style is well-done, with professional polish.  There’s a certain class of hardcore gamer out there who will get their 80 points’ worth, as well as the bragging rights and satisfaction of having risen to the challenge.  However, I feel other gamers will find themselves frustrated and stuck early on.

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