Review: Fret Nice

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play a 2D platformer like Mario or LittleBigPlanet with a guitar controller like Guitar Hero? No, you probably haven’t – I sure as hell would’ve never put the two ideas together! But Pieces Interactive and Tecmo sure did, and the result is a new PSN (and XBLA starting tomorrow) rhythmic platformer titled Fret Nice.

Fret Nice’s claim to fame is indeed the ability to play the game using only a guitar controller from your favorite music game – apparently there are compatibility issues with certain guitars, but my standard Rock Band 2 guitar seemed to work just fine. You move your cardboard-cutout rocker through 12 2D stages (plus 8 bonus levels) using the yellow and green keys to run left and right and quick tilts of the guitar to leap into the air. Then, when you come across the game’s kooky enemies, which look sort of like fattened Patapon, you don’t simply bop them on their head and call it a day, you have to leap into the air and play riff combos on the guitar to make them vulnerable for subsequent head-bopping.

This is actually the coolest and most unique part of the Fret Nice experience. Attacking in this game is built around a neat Facial Attribute System. Each enemy has different facial features, and in order to defeat them you need to play a riff combo matching their appearance. So, say, for example, an enemy has two eyes — to kill it you simply strum the same chord twice. Then maybe you come across a critter with two eyes, a mouth and a pair of tentacles, which requires playing a combination of three different chords. This is a really cool way to handle combat, and it’s definitely something that sets this game apart from the crowd.

Now, playing a platformer with a guitar controller probably sounds like it would be pretty awkward… and unfortunately it is. The Facial Attribute attack system is at its best with a guitar controller in hand, but the rest of the game’s controls completely fall apart. The guitar method lacks the precision responsiveness needed for smooth 2D platform hopping, and, in the end, having to constantly tilt the controller to jump becomes a tiresome, tedious chore.

Fortunately, though, the guitar controller interface is nothing more than an optional gimmick. Fret Nice also supports the regular ol’ Sixaxis or DualShock 3, and when equipped with a standard control pad the game plays like a dream – you move with the analog stick, jump with X, and play riff combos with the Triangle button and the four shoulders.

Beyond the differing control implementations, Fret Nice is a splendid all-around platformer, rife with enough platform hopping, pole swinging, rope climbing, trampoline bouncing, collectible hunting, score building, and boss battling to please any genre fan. And with reward medals for speed runs, high score milestones and enemy defeat percentage to strive for in each stage — not to mention offline two-player co-op, avatar outfit and guitar customizations, and an unlockable Hard difficulty – there is ample content to eat up hours, days, and weeks of play time.

Even if you aren’t the most ardent platform game player, Fret Nice’s oddball story and funkadelic style are sure to win you over. The game’s brightly-colored graphics and distinct art direction — which I can only describe as a crazy amalgam of Patapon, LocoRoco, and PaRappa the Rapper – are to die for, and the funky, upbeat music gives Katamari Damacy’s classic soundtrack a run for its money in terms of pure, head-boppin’ catchiness.

Its main gimmick may be a colossal failure, but event still, you won’t find a funkier, fresher downloadable game than Fret Nice. The $15 asking price is higher than some might prefer – downloadable games over the $10 sweet spot are inherently less desirable – but if you love a good platformer and appreciate games that try something different, you are surely going to love what Fret Nice has to offer regardless of price. You can always download the demo first if you still have reservations, but I say buy it now and thank me later.

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Pros:
+ Crazy art style
+ Incredibly catchy music
+ Unique Facial Attribute attack system
+ Fun, fundamentally sound 2D platforming
+ Lots of replay value

Cons:
– Lousy, gimmicky guitar controls
– $15 price is a bit high

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN, also on Xbox 360 via XBLA
Publisher: Tecmo
Developer: Pieces Interactive
Release Date: PSN – 2/4/2010, XBLA – 2/24/2010
Genre: Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-2
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!