February 18, 2010

Review – Fret Nice

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 9:19 pm

Fret Nice
Fret Nice’s invitation to play through familiar territory with a slightly skewed set of controls is as alluring as it is frustrating at first. Short on fancier words, I’ll suggest that there are plenty of moments in this writing about games experiment where I spend days puzzling over what to make of a title, and this is no exception.

The nagging sensation biting at my neck makes it hard to simply brush the game aside as a mediocre platformer with a hook. Even without the guitar, Fret Nice would be an interesting diversion from the everyday, though a little light on content. And so here we are, with me kinda liking the game, but entirely unsure of what to do with it – of course I realize the obvious answer is to be playing it.

Fret Nice
Fret Nice isn’t the type of game I want to play for hours on end. Rather, it’s something more bite-sized that I come back to in short stabbing sessions, finding more duration in multiplayer bouts that start with the words, “hey, you have to see this game.”

There’s zero effort involved in loving the game’s Halloween candy colored aesthetic, a patchwork of paper-cut-outs and at least an air that reminds me of LittleBigPlanet in the visual freedom and some odd bit of Katamari Damacy in the quieter moments when the music hums with whimsical patience while I select a stage.

Those references won’t really do us any good here though, so let’s try something else.

Fret Nice
Naturally I grabbed the nearest guitar for my first play through, only to be completely overwhelmed by the fingers to proper buttons ratio – buttons are assigned to moving back and forth, with jumping handled via a flip of the guitar like star power. So I switched to the comfort and security of a regular controller, sidestepping all the strumming to try and comprehend the game, which involves a great many enemies with funny faces that need to be shot with musical beams – awesome right?

It kinda is. Swapping controllers like that of course defeats the point of the guitar entirely, but that crutch gave me time to grasp the idea at work within the stages, leaving me determined to play as well with the guitar as I had without it. That isn’t going to sell it to everyone because I really can’t explain what drove that resolve. But much like the original Guitar Hero, holding a guitar in my hands sparks a desire toward achieving virtual Godhood.

Fret Nice
The enemy has a dizzying variety of faces, with assortments of eyes, mouths, antennas, and other oddities to keep the player counting. These distinguished foes are beaten when the player jumps into the air and hits a cord, any cord, which plays a symbol to match the ones worn by the enemies.

Now, any note will assign itself to a symbol, hit in proportion to the number of times it appears on the enemy, and any subsequent note will start a new symbol. It’s not as complicated as it sounds even if I’ve done you absolutely no good with that explanation.

If you see 4 eyes, 1 mouth, and 2 antenna, you can hit any button 4 times, another 1 time, and one more 2 times to prevail. If you hit the first button three times, you can still come back to hit it one more time before finishing to nail the pattern.

It’s pattern recognition combat, which continually proves a twitchy thing as enemies emerge from holes or special spots, or even rush you while you’re trying to play the notes needed to beat them, always required to jump into the air to play said notes.

Fret Nice
When I went back to the guitar and found the agility to whip through a stage while setting a few records, there was a certain desire to run my tongue along the guitar bridge, if only because I’d done something incredibly cool within the game via that instrument. And there’s something worth mining in that idea, some faint dream of Contra level explosions caused by characters charged via my sick riffs.

When you’re doing well in Fret Nice, the game makes you feel very good.

The biggest stumbling block is a lack of intuitive design, something that a guitar should bypass in theory. Fret Nice lacks that World of Goo quality for instance, where I understand the game almost entirely by simply looking at it. That’s something plenty of games lack, and smaller scale download titles thrive on.

Discovering the groove within Fret Nice is a bit like playing around with a puzzle box, and a lot like learning to play an instrument. Practice makes perfect with repeated grinding in a game that doesn’t give up its secrets easily, a large share of which must be unlocked by earning medals.

Fret Nice
The game did best for me in two player, where one of us had the guitar and the other the controller, tethered together by an amp cord and pulling each other around like rag dolls at times. There’s some light environmental interaction that plays into that scenario, as well as plenty of secrets to dig around for.

The game just never finds its Chemical-X, the substance that keeps me playing while my dinner gets cold. I’ve run through stages more than a few times now, each one offering a unique angle on surpassing it, whether it be floating platforms, jetpacks, or slingshot ropes.

I did have a reason for mentioning LittleBigPlanet at the outset of this piece, because Fret Nice does lend itself to the same sensation of creating a space I want to play in, making up a few games and rules of my own along the way. In the end the game simply comes up short on offering enough to play with in that space, and unique as its charms are, those can only stretch so far.

Fret Nice
DeveloperPieces Interactive
System – PlayStation 3 (PSN), Xbox 360 (XBLA) (PSN Reviewed)
Release Date – February 4, 2010 PSN / February 24, 2010 XBLA

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

1 Comment »

  1. I tried the demo and, while it’s fun, it’s not purchase-worthy fun. Nice try from them, but not something for the long haul.

    Comment by EdEN — February 23, 2010 @ 12:26 pm

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