It’s difficult to pin down exactly where to start with Refunct. I usually like to dive deeply into a game, looking below the surface of “click on their heads” to see what’s bubbling under the surface. All games have meaning, it’s the nature of creation. Every piece of art is created with a specific vision and message behind it, even if that message is as simple as “That guy bad, bad guy die”. Refunct is no different, and yet I struggled to make out what it was all about. On the surface, it’s an enjoyable first-person platformer, but underneath the basic mechanics of sliding, running and jumping there’s…nothing. And I think that’s kind of the point.
I don’t want to speak to developer intentions here, but if I had to guess, Dominique Grieshofer wanted to create Seinfeld. The sitcom that is famously about “nothing” has earned the moniker after years of pretentious film students citing the genius of it, and yet despite being about nothing it communicates that nothingness through characters, jokes and stories. Refunct, I believe does something similar: Delivering a game about nothing through the use of simple platforming. There are no goals in this game, no objective driving your forward. You start off staring at a red light shining into the sky, so you move towards it. When you reach it, another light appears with grey blocks rising up all around it. So you move towards that, turning the plain boring slabs into towers crowned with green when you land on them. Little blocks appear for you to collect, but you don’t have to. Just do what you want to do in this strange, modernist landscape.
And what does it all amount to? Absolutely nothing. Despite a small and very inconsequential revelation upon reaching the last checkpoint, there’s no reward for completing what is essentially a very tall obstacle course. I’m saying all of this as a warning to those considering picking up Refunct on the Switch. I finished the game in around 15 minutes. I’ve seen videos of players completing it in less than 5. Besides the specific appeal it may have to speedrunners, there’s not a lot of stuff here. Some light platforming puzzles and a sparse scattering of mechanics to spice things up here and there make for an experience that many will find underwhelming. Besides the fluid movement and beautiful score, don’t expect to be whiling away countless hours in this little indie game.
And yet, despite the lack of content, I found myself playing through it at least once a day. Not to experiment or try for a better time or even just listen to the music. I was playing it because it was so damn soothing. In isolation, each part of the game is nothing special. A fluid, if a touch slow, parkour system mixed into a surreal setting with platforming is not exactly innovation, yet by stripping out so many other factors, features that many would consider necessary for a video game, Refunct manages to be a thoroughly calming experience. There’re no fail states, no enemies, not even the most basic of narrative as to why you’re pressing these buttons. But in cutting all of these, Refunct achieves this sense of tranquillity that many will appreciate and no doubt value.
Just as I believe one of the core philosophies of this game is nothingness and the freedom that lies therein, I think the other central them of Refunct is restoration. There’s a symbolism to your movements changing the dull, grey pillars of this world into towers of topped with what I believe to be grass. It’s a process of bringing some kind of life back to this barren landscape, your footsteps miraculously spreading colour to the dismal shades of monotone that spread ever beyond. I think this is by design, the gameplay evoking some kind of harmony between what the player is doing and feeling at the same time. Just as you are restoring the world, so too is the game trying to restore you. Refunct is trying to cultivate a mindset of calm and relaxation, to offer those that are stressed or tired a reprieve from the struggles that have drained them of their energy.
It’s difficult for me to recommend Refunct because I know it’s not a game for everyone. I want to discredit it for having such a lack of content but I think its the perfect length for what it’s trying to accomplish. It’s simple, plain and even a touch stilted, yet it’s special. It’s a game designed to revitalise those who would surrender themselves to it, to give themselves over for just a few minutes and step away feeling lighter than when they started. Refunct is a solution to stress, anxiety or a bad day at the office, just don’t expect it to offer much more than that.
Last Updated: June 7, 2019