Fret Nice Review
Although 2D platformers are dead in the world of current console software, they’re very much alive in the realm of smaller digital downloads. They’ve also experienced a resurgence due to HD remakes of old classics that can be found on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Marketplace, so seeing an ambitious title like Fret Nice isn’t too shocking. Essentially, if you take your standard side-scrolling platformer and implement a music-based mechanic (complete with guitar peripheral compatibility) and a kooky game design similar to that of Patapon, you get Fret Nice. It’s certainly a good idea and one that works…to some extent. The problem is that Pieces Interactive didn’t really take the next step and provide us with an engaging adventure; it just feels repetitive and a little incomplete. It’s fun and relatively unique, though, and it’s certainly more entertaining with a friend. The question is whether or not it’s worth the $14.99 price tag and ultimately, that may be a judgment call on your part.
Graphically, the game really does remind me a lot of Patapon, with the odd, somewhat freaky designs of the enemies, the off-kilter yet strangely appealing construction of the background, and the weird character design. Actually, some of the level creation appears to be 2D reincarnations of the backgrounds we found in LittleBigPlanet, if that helps. There’s a smoothness and consistency to these visuals, as each level features a good amount of detail and unique style. There isn’t a heck of a lot in the way of enemy diversity, just because the only thing that really changes is the face (there’s a reason for that, as you’ll soon see), but that’s not really a focal point, anyway. You can also customize your chosen character a bit and overall, the graphics are a highlight for Fret Nice, just because they provide us with an original, highly stylized environment. The effects aren’t anything too special but again, it’s about the appealing package.
Obviously, with any game that puts music in the driver’s seat, the sound is one of our top priorities. The good news is that the soundtrack and sound effects are quite good; they match the unique zaniness of the game’s presentation and those guitar riffs – despite being repetitive – can really spice things up. The platforming effects consist of little more than your everyday, run-of-the-mill sounds but once you start ripping off some requisite riffs to deal with enemies, the game really begins to shine. The music that goes along with your quest isn’t all that special, though, and I found myself wishing for customizable soundtracks. You also can’t expect full-on songs during gameplay and licensed music from games like Guitar Hero; it’s more about quick-fire solos that vanquish the bizarre creatures marauding over the landscape. It all sort of works together; the riffs you create, the soundtrack that brings out the game’s style, and the simple effects.
I really liked the technicals; it’s just too bad that the gameplay wore thin within an hour. The problem is two-fold: first, the attached gimmick that lets you utilize an actual guitar peripheral doesn’t work so great, primarily because it doesn’t gel with the platforming elements. See, you have to be in mid-air to rip off a riff and jumping was always a little awkward with the guitar. It works much better with the standard controller but even then, you’ll soon realize the novelty starts to wear off after the first few levels. It also doesn’t help that I continually had to repeat the same levels in order to unlock later stages by getting better scores, so in the end, I just got bored with the entire idea. The only saving grace is the unique approach to “battle,” if that’s what you wish to call it. Clearly, the developers had this idea in their heads first and then built a little side-scrolling platformer around it. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it just doesn’t feel like a fully realized feature.
The controls are a little loose and the characters lope along at a too-languid pace in my eyes, but that’s not really the problem. The problem centers on two facts: the levels just aren’t interesting enough; they needed to either do more with the platforming or do less and build upon the riff concept. All you can really do is jump with the X button and run faster with the Square button, but beyond that, it’s all about the solos to destroy the enemies. This would be cool if it was a bit more in-depth, but here’s the intriguing concept: basically, you can press any of the shoulder buttons and the Triangle button to start any riff, and each different note corresponds to a facial feature of the enemies. For instance, if the creature only has two eyes, you would play the same note twice in a row. If it has three eyes and two weird pink things on the top of its head, you would hit a button three times and then a different button twice. The somewhat confusing part is that instead of having each feature attached to a particular button; it just depends on which button you press first.
What I mean is that it doesn’t matter if you press the L2 button or the R1 button to start the riff; that first note will represent an eye. If you want to switch to another feature on the creature, you need to change to a different note and a different button. This makes the experience more annoying than it needs to be; I honestly would’ve preferred to just have the enemy characteristics assigned to a particular button. This way, the eye would be R1, the mouth would be L1, etc. It would’ve worked out much better, I think. Now, playing with the guitar peripheral makes the music playing aspect of Fret Nice a bit more interesting but even then, the originality tends to flag in the face of simplicity and repetition. It’s not that it’s a bad game; it’s that the appeal really starts to die out after the first few levels. I liked the style, I liked the presentation, the controls are okay, and the idea has plenty of potential. I always applaud new ideas because without them, this industry stagnates.
But in the end, Fret Nice doesn’t quite live up to expectations. The separate platforming and music elements provide us with a solid foundation, but neither element receives the benefit of extra attention from the developers. It’s almost as if they went halfway with the platforming and three-quarters of the way with the music angle, and oh yeah, I still say the button configuration could’ve been changed for the better. If you’ve got a friend who really likes this title’s vibe, you might want to try it. I’ll leave it at that.
2/6/2010 Ben Dutka