Developer: Dominique Grieshofer
Publisher: Dominique Grieshofer
Played on: PC
Release Date: October 16, 2015
Time Played (Steam): 25 minutes
Played with: Mouse & Keyboard
Generally, when one game adapts ideas from another, it will expand on them. It will add variations and extra wrinkles to the gameplay that were impossible when the original game came out. Sometimes, it will even throw in entirely new ideas that profoundly change the way the core mechanics work. I therefore find it interesting to see a game like Refunct, which seems to draw inspiration from an assortment of free-running games, but particularly Mirror’s Edge. Now, Mirror’s Edge is a game that I played through quite a while ago, but I remember that some of my biggest problems with it were just how big it was. The levels were large and complex, often requiring complex sequences of actions to traverse effectively. There was a lengthy story mode, which meant that some missions felt padded with unnecessary combat sections and other irritating set pieces. It was a good game at its core, but there was just too much of it. Then there’s Refunct, which strips away all the complexity and leaves only the bare necessities. While this scaled-back approach may seem counterproductive at first, I feel that it actually elevates Refunct to be a far more enjoyable experience.The premise of Refunct is simple. You wake up on an island of gray blocks in the middle of the ocean. You discover that walking over those blocks turns them green. You start jumping on top of blocks and find a switch. Once you step on it, more gray blocks rise up, and you can see another switch perched atop one of them. It’s pretty obvious what you need to do next.
I found that the complete lack of story didn’t matter to me in the slightest. There were switches that needed pressing and blocks that needed painting, and my gosh, I was going to take care of that. Later, you come across some strange cubes that can be collected, but they don’t seem to serve much purpose beyond being for completionists. Yet somehow, Refunct managed to get me hooked, and I could barely even stop playing to answer a text. There’s just something so natural and fluid about the movement. Running, jumping, pulling yourself onto platforms, sliding…they’re all done so well that you barely ever want to stop moving. It also helps that the game does a great job of making your goals clearly visible, with each unpressed switch shooting a pillar of red light into the sky that can be seen from pretty much anywhere on the map. Sure, if you’re trying to paint all the blocks or something, you may have to do a bit of wandering, but even then, the game’s world is small enough that it’s not really a chore.
Failure is also handled well by the game. Unlike similar games, it doesn’t force you to face death traps, deal with checkpoints and respawning, and work around other such barriers. Instead, every challenge is just a matter of, “I need to get from here to there. How can I do that?”, and there are no fail states for messing that up. The worst “punishment” the game doles out for missing a jump is making you fall into the surrounding water, at which point you just swim back to the islands, find one that’s low enough for you to jump onto (of which there are plenty), and continue on your way. It keeps everything moving at a steady clip, and encourages experimentation. Maybe that jump is a little bit too far for you to make, but it doesn’t hurt to try, right?Speaking of experimentation, I love how the game naturally introduces mechanics by getting the player to try new things. There is no tutorial whatsoever. No HUD, save for a reticle that can be disabled. Yet somehow, the only thing that I actually had to search for in the options menu was how to crouch. Climbing, wall-jumping, slide jumps, and more are all introduced through clever placement of switches. Getting to a switch on top of a platform that’s just a bit taller than your jump height seems impossible until you decide to jump again and realize you can pull yourself up. Eventually, traversing the environment becomes a game in and of itself, and I found myself frantically trying to wall-jump while plummeting towards the water, just to see if I could salvage the situation.
Much like its approach to gameplay, Refunct’s presentation is beautiful in its simplicity. Sure, the environment is just a bunch of rectangles, switches, and pipes, but that really didn’t matter to me. What greatly helped was the in-game day/night cycle. The lighting effects were excellent, and created some magical vistas around sunrise and sunset. Fog rolls in and blurs the surrounding ocean, stars twinkle in the night sky, and more. It’s simple, but effective, and it gives the game a constant sense of momentum that aligns nicely with its gameplay.
I think that the biggest problem with Refunct is that it’s over too soon. Now, on the other hand, I could praise it for not overstaying its welcome. Plus, it’s not very expensive, so it’s not like I think it’s a rip-off. Yet I can see some being a bit disappointed by it. I achieved 100% completion of the game in 25 minutes, and I don’t really feel much need to go back to it. There isn’t even an option to do time trials or something similar, which seems like it would be a perfect fit for the game. While it certainly isn’t something that really bothered me, I can definitely see where some might be a bit annoyed at the lack of content, and I would love to see the game expanded upon in the future.Keeping things short, sweet, and simple can sometimes yield the best results, and Refunct is a shining example of that. Even the ending eschews the typical approach of adding a sudden twist to make things all deep and philosophical, instead opting for the equivalent of giving the player a smile and a hug for seeing things through. I do really wish that there was more to Refunct, because the game was such a lovely little gem to breeze through in an evening. There’s certainly an audience that will be more than happy to just mess around in its parkour sandbox even after they’ve completed everything, but that’s not really something that I’m interested in sticking around for. Before I started playing, I did notice that the developer has been updating the game somewhat frequently, actually announcing an impending update this past Friday. However, it’s currently unknown to me whether this will ever include any actual expansions for the game as a whole. I guess I’ll keep my fingers crossed, though, because I’d love an excuse to take another run through Refunct.