Fret Nice Review

Your guitar will gently weep for this frustrating platformer.

The guitar was created with a singular purpose in mind: to make music. Whether they're of the acoustic variety frequently used to serenade coffee shop patrons or the plastic miniatures used in popular rhythm games, guitars have served their purpose admirably. Fret Nice attempts to expand the guitar's reach beyond merely playing melodies, but it only shows that the guitar is perfectly fine existing in its own little niche. Running from left to right, collecting notes, and battling enemies requires the precision only a traditional controller can give. This is immediately apparent when trying to perform even the most basic movement with a cumbersome guitar controller, which becomes so frustrating that you end up wanting to smash it like Pete Townshend before you finish the first level. You do have the option to use a traditional controller as well in Fret Nice, but that only shows how dull this platformer is when separated from its unfortunate gimmick.

It is worth using a guitar in Fret Nice initially, if for no other reason than to gain a new appreciation for a traditional controller. Movement in Fret Nice is handled with the green and yellow buttons. To jump, you have the option of either swinging the guitar up (as if you were activating star power in Guitar Hero) or using the red button. This is an extremely clunky way in which to navigate a 2D plane, and even the most basic acts, such as jumping over a modest pit or trying to nab a cache of musical notes in the air, are nearly as difficult as playing through a DragonForce song on expert. Tilting the guitar to jump is incredibly awkward and it doesn't even respond half the time. And using the red button (which is situated between your two movement buttons) is almost as difficult to wrap your head around. There is no configuration in which the guitar actually allows you to play the game well, so it's better to ignore it completely and use a traditional controller instead.

The most interesting aspect of Fret Nice is how you dispose of your enemies. Instead of bopping them on the head, you use your character's guitar to musically woo them into oblivion. Each enemy has an easily identifiable number of facial features (eyes, antennae, mouths, and the like), and you have to play the corresponding number of notes to make them disappear. When using a guitar peripheral, this amounts to jumping in the air and whaling away with the strum bar, but using a controller requires a finer touch. Hitting the triangle button or any of the shoulder buttons begins your attack, and every time you add a new button into the mix, a new part of the body is targeted. If you play more than the required amount (for instance, playing enough notes to cover four mouths, even if your enemy only has three), you still defeat your enemy, but you lose some bonus points.

It's a strange formula, but it works well for the most part. It's fun to destroy a group of enemies by simply rocking out above their heads, and figuring out exactly how many notes are required forces you to stay alert at all times. As fun as it can be to annihilate a three-eyed monster with a lone antenna on its head, there are a couple issues with this combat system. First of all, you must be airborne before you can start playing, which leads to some annoying situations. For instance, certain enemies will speed away from you, and the slight pause from when you leap to when you can start to play makes it impossible to catch up with fast-moving foes. Second, your guitar's reach is not always readily apparent. In many cases, you will play the required notes only to realize that you were a hair away from where you needed to be for your attack to hit. These slight problems are not a big deal the first time through a level, but when you're trying to reach the difficult requirements to completely pass a stage, they cause big problems.

There are 12 levels in Fret Nice, each with 10 different medals to earn. You need medals to unlock all the stages, which means you will have to play through each level multiple times if you want to see the entire game. The objectives are the same for every level; they involve racing through in the fastest time possible, locating a hidden newspaper, and defeating every enemy, among others. But the levels are completely static, so every time you reenter to try for a new goal, the same obstacles and enemies are in the same position. This creates a feeling of monotony as you trudge through the same tired environments over and over again until you finally accumulate enough medals to unlock the next stage. The visuals are initially striking and use a cardboard-cutout style to give a bit of personality to this drab platformer, but that goodwill is tarnished because you're forced to play through the same levels so many times.

Even strapping on a jetpack isn't much fun.
Even strapping on a jetpack isn't much fun.

The biggest problem with Fret Nice is that it isn't much fun to move your character, no matter which control method you choose. Your jumping ability is stunted and unsatisfying, making even tiny leaps a chore. By mashing on the square button, you give your sluggish character a bit of a kick, but even sprinting feels slow and cumbersome. Many of the branching paths are hidden behind locked doors, and you must flip switches to momentarily open a path. However, getting through these timed challenges is a pain. The mushy controls make even running across the screen feel arduous, and the camera frequently has trouble keeping up if you fall back to the ground too quickly. With a bit of patience, you can overcome any challenge in this game, but victory feels empty and unfulfilling because there is no joy in the proceedings.

There is a cooperative mode that lets two players venture through these levels together, but it doesn't add anything tangible to the experience. And unfortunately, many of the game's problems are not alleviated by the presence of a second player. Still, there are good elements in Fret Nice that make this a quirky alternative to standard platformers. The unique art style and interesting combat mechanics hint at an engrossing experience, but the core gameplay simply does not live up to that promise. The controls are not responsive enough, no matter which option you choose, and the repetitive mission design ensures that levels last far longer than is welcome. The gimmick of using a guitar in a 2D platformer is not alluring enough to make this forgettable game worth playing.

The Good

  • Snazzy art design
  • Killing enemies with your music is a cool idea

The Bad

  • Controlling your character with a guitar is awful
  • Movement even with a normal controller is sluggish
  • Playing through levels repeatedly is tedious

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