Figment, from Back to Bed developers Bedtime Digital Games, is immediately arresting from all angles. The visuals look like someone painted over a handcrafted diorama. The story is intriguing and explores meaningful themes with as much grace as could be expected. Most importantly, the music in Figment is not only jaunty and fun, but integral to every other facet of the game’s experience from the narrative to the visuals to the gameplay. As impressive as Figment is on the surface, though; it is mostly a nice façade covering an otherwise hollow gameplay experience.
Figment follows Dusty and his overly cheery friend Piper, denizens of the game’s highly stylized representation of the human mind. You navigate through the mind of an unnamed girl, and you are tasked with ridding the place of the nightmares and negative thoughts weighing it down. It is framed around a tragedy that has cast this girl into a deep depression, but the game takes you on a journey through well-realized versions of the left and right brain to see all the different experiences that make the girl tick (or not). What is impressive about Figment’s narrative is that you almost exclusively follow Dusty and Piper in this fantasy representation of the girl’s mind, but it is the story that sits on the outside of that (of the girl’s loss and depression) that is the most riveting. This nested story works well for Figment and allows the metaphors to properly take hold as you start to see how thoroughly Bedtime integrated these concepts into the world design.
Everything in the world is a clever representation of a different aspect of the mind that all comes together surprisingly well for how thin they stretch the metaphor. For instance, you have to navigate the “train of thought” around the tracks in the left side of the brain (that deals with reason and order). You find a “heavy thought,” which here is a grumpy old man in a house that has been forgotten and set aside, and you have to use the train to move the heavy thought somewhere in the brain that it can flourish. For as on the nose as much of the game’s metaphors can be, they are surprisingly rich and thoughtful characterizations of a person’s fractured and struggling mind. It is especially effective when you get deeper into the game and see the more specific ways her earlier trauma has impacted her mind.
As well as some of the themes are implemented, what sets Figment apart is its score. The game is infused with music in every facet of its design which is profound because of the way in which it is integral to the behind-the-scenes narrative of the girl for whom the entire game is set inside. The diegetic and non-diegetic music builds a tonal experience that highly emphasizes a musical appreciation. The game then also is interested in helping reconnect the girl with lost passions: your companion character, Piper, regularly reminisces about how she wishes the girl continued practicing and learned the ukulele or how an organ you find—that is incorporated into puzzles—was crucial in solving the girl’s public speaking issues. Piper makes a specific reference to the fact that even the reasonable left brain is capable of being used creatively in the musical process. It’s clear that music is part and parcel with the girl’s personal identity that has been stashed away.
This musical motif all comes to a head whenever you get into one of the game’s handful of boss fights where the bosses all burst into song as they are trying to wipe you out. From a French spider’s burlesque inspired tune to the more heavy metal inspired song from the final boss encounter, all the music is well suited to the environment and mesh together well. Along with fitting with the game’s themes they also add a healthy dose of charm to boss fights that from a mechanics standpoint are rather rote and bland.
The shortcomings in the mechanics extend well beyond the boss fights though. Figment is an isometric adventure game complete with an inventory of items that you need to figure out how to use in the environment to proceed, but the adventure game part falls short of providing enough items to make those decisions feel meaningful or challenging. Generally, I would find a interactable part of the environment and know that if I went down the only other path, I would find the item I need to open the path forward. Often there would be puzzles standing between me and the item, but even those puzzles, while sporadically engaging and fun, were, more often than not, laborious and tedious. Many of the puzzles were simple box pushing chores that were easily solvable, but took far too long to actually execute.
In between solving puzzles, you’ll also run into the odd enemy. You can take them out with a simple string of light attacks or you can charge for a stronger circular attack. You can also dodge roll if you find yourself in a tight spot, but none of these combat encounters felt any good. The attacks felt too stilted to make the encounters worthwhile and the combat is so shallow that the encounters are always too brief to have a meaningful challenge.
As you defeat enemies and solve environmental puzzles, you are rewarded experience that unlock health upgrades, but there’s enough health strewn about the world that the upgrades felt trivial. The best part of this is that the experience orbs are called Endorphins, so that when you complete a task the game is giving you literal endorphins. It was one among countless ways Figment stretched its Psychonauts-like metaphor into every nook and cranny of the game.
Figment’s mechanics are woefully underdeveloped, but the rest of the game is so cohesive and often brilliant that it’s difficult to dismiss out of hand. The ambient soundtrack, and especially the boss songs go a long way and are worth playing through the slight, five hour game to hear if that interests you at all. If not, the gameplay can be downright boring at times.