Fearmonium (Nintendo Switch) Review

Exit light, enter night!

Last year, Red Black Spade popped onto my radar with the release of the Slavic mythology inspired Metroidvania, Catmaze. Catmaze (you can read our review of it here) was a wonderful little Metroidvania whose setting breathed a lot of life into the formula. So when I saw they had developed Fearmonium, it was a no brainer for me to want to play it.

Fearmonium is, just like Catmaze, the developer’s latest stab at the Metroidvania genre. While Catmaze had a dark side, Fearmonium goes down the abyss with gusto as it throws you into the mind of a troubled teenage boy, Max. No, it isn’t your job to save him, but rather to destroy him. You see, in Fearmonium you play as a phobia. A clown-phobia specifically. And it’s your job to turn yourself into a full on fear of terrifying proportions by destroying Max’s good memories and bringing all his repressed terrors to the surface.

Fearmonium Story Book Cutscenes

Fearmonium is described as a “psychedelic Metroidvania”, using an art and design style based upon what’s going on in our subconscious and the worlds created therein. Fearmonium certainly lives up to the psychedelic part, featuring gorgeous looking 2D artwork and sprites designed in the same style as Cupheads‘ 1940’s rubberhose animation.

There’s some stunning world design on display here, from dark carnivals to city streets, giving the game a cartoon look. Sprite animation is of a similar high quality, with interesting if not entirely original, designs. There’s a very morbid atmosphere that comes across in the aesthetics.

Fearmonium Lady Depression

As a Metroidvania, Fearmonium does exactly what you expect it to. There’s a massive map broken into various portions of the subconscious, blocked paths that can only be traversed when you gain new abilities, some simple puzzling, sub-weapons to wield, and, of course, boss fights.

You bash enemies with your clown’s giant mallet, releasing balloons and memory pieces from them that either add to you balloon counter, or have a chance to restore some health. Balloons are currency, which you can use to buy healing items, restock ammo on your sub-weapons, or be used in the simple puzzles.

Across the game you’ll come across a variety of NPCs. These include other clowns that Max has repressed; Depression, who is vehemently out to cause Max as much terror and fear as possible so she can bathe in his tears; and there are NPCs that represent the medication Max is on to help fight Depression.

To say that Fearmonium tackles some very dark subject matter is an understatement. While many Metroidvanias of late have thrown us into corrupted worlds full of monsters, few have made it their job to explore the darkness of the human mind and just how easily we can self-sabotage in difficult circumstances. If a world full of skeletons on tri-cycles sitting around like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion doesn’t give it away, or the fact you’re effectively destroying the goods things that help to keep a mind healthy doesn’t convey that point, then the narrative itself will spell it out.

Unfortuantely, while the idea behind Fearmonium‘s premise is good, the execution of the narrative leaves a lot to be desired. I’m no expert in psychology, so I can’t vouch for how accurate all the terms and descriptions here are, but developer Slava Gris – the man behind Red Black Spade – has a Masters degree in psychology, so I expect that the homework is correct. The problem is as interesting as it is to learn about phobias and repression, it’s in the telling that the game fails. Much of Fearmonium’s narrative reads like a dry textbook introduction to psychology for lay people. The characters lose much of their personality beyond their visual design, and end up feeling like bland info dumps.

Fearmonium Visual Style

On the gameplay front, Fearmonium’s other issue is in enemy placement – usually in areas that have moving platforms and environmental hazards. There are just far too many enemies in these areas that can knock you from platforms with melee or projectile attacks. It’s a common design flaw here that can see you locked into a series of knockbacks in spikes or toxic liquid until you’re dead. Combine that with projectile attacks that leave very little room to manoeuvre on tiny platforms, and you’ve got a recipe for frequent frustration.

Wrapping up, Fearmonium has got all the basics of a Metroidvania right, but its subject matter certainly won’t be for everyone. While the decision to take a deep-dive into mental health is admirable, and its 2D visuals are gorgeous, too much dry writing and cheap enemy placement bring down the experience. Fearmonium could have done with some more play-testing and refinement.

Fearmonium was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC, Xbox One/Series S|X, and PS4/PS5.

Fearmonium (Nintendo Switch) Review

Fearmonium (Nintendo Switch) Review
6 10 0 1
6/10
Total Score

The Good

  • It tackles mental health issues
  • Competant Metroidvania gameplay
  • Fantastic art and character designs

The Bad

  • The story often feels like reading a textbook
  • Cheap enemy placement
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