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Fret Nice
Score: 72%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Tecmo
Developer: Pieces Interactive
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Platformer (2D)/ Rhythm

Graphics & Sound:
Raise your hand if you've managed to accumulate at least a closet full of plastic guitars and are looking for something new to do with them. I've long considered building a Pee-Wee's Playhouse-styled addition with my unused collection, but I don't think my apartment complex or neighbors would go for it. Besides, zoning laws are a pain. The second option is finding other games that make use of the peripheral like Fret Nice.

Fret Nice is an original concept, but it is clear the idea still has a way to go. However, the things the game does right are worthy of merit. If you've read anything written by me in the last year or so, you already know I'm not a big fan of writing about presentation unless it really does something to help the gameplay. Technically, Fret Nice looks good; it has a simple "Flash" styled look that is immediately reminiscent of LocoRoco or Patapon. Music is the same; it has a goofy rock sound, but it likeable.

Both really shine in how they're a major gameplay component. Every monster you come across has a specific facial layout that directly relates to the note cords required to defeat it. For example, a monster with four eyes might require four strums with the green fret button. If you're good enough at recognizing patterns, you can pull off chain combos, knocking out multiple enemies in one big leap. Attacks are accompanied by a short blast of catchy guitar riffs. From a presentation standpoint it's a great system, but it doesn't quite carry through on a mechanical level.

Fret Nice is as far from a rhythm game as it could get, which is the first major hurdle it needs to overcome when trying to gain interest outside the plastic-guitar owning audience. Aside from attacks, gameplay is based around side-scrolling platforming. At first, the setup reminded my of Mevo and the Groove Riders, a PC game I reviewed about a year ago and loved. However, whereas Mevo was based more around DDR-like button combos to keep the red hero running through levels, Fret Nice focuses its rhythm-based gameplay towards combat.

A guitar isn't required to play Fret Nice; the standard controller works just as well, if not a little better. You lose the ease of "playing" through attacks, but movement and other motions are much easier to perform. Left and right movement is handled with the Green and Yellow frets. It sounds easy, but quickly tumbles out of control once you add in tilting the guitar to jump (which you must do before pulling off attacks) or toss in the Blue "action" fret or decide to use Red to jump.

It's a lot to take in and incredibly confusing through the first few levels. You're never punished by having to make a lot of tricky jumps, but expect to fall off level objects or fumble around while trying to simultaneously navigate levels and attack enemies. If you have a knack for picking up complicated schemes, you'll more than likely adapt within the first few levels. If not, switch to the standard controller. Again, you lose the gimmick of playing with the guitar, but I'd take working controls over a gimmick any day.

Guitar controller or not, Fret Nice is an interesting platforming experience. Levels are short, but challenging. Similar to Mevo, everything is based around earning medals to unlock new levels. Challenges range from earning a certain score to meeting a time limit. Meeting enough challenges to unlock the next level isn't very hard, though this is one of those areas where the difference between using the controller and guitar really shows.

In short, unless you're a plastic guitar-playing phenom with the ability to quickly pick up awkward control set-ups, you'll have a tough time picking up some medals. Sometimes you'll miss a time goal because you teetered off a ledge like a lemming; other times the game won't register the tilt, keeping you from jumping, killing your chance for an attack. It's not a terrible setup and shows promise, but sometimes it feels like an unnecessarily complex setup for what the devs are trying to accomplish.

Game Mechanics:
The more I played Fret Nice (and believe it or not, I spent a surprising amount of time with it - it's flawed, but there's fun to be plumbed if you're willing to put in the time), the more I thought of Mevo. In particular, I though how Fret Nice seems like an answer to issues I had with Mevo while Mevo answers some problems with Fret Nice. Not everything is "broken" here; it just needs tweaking.

The one mechanic that works really well in Fret Nice is combat. The game may not always read the tilt up to activate the jump, but for the most part, it works and is incredibly fun. I forced myself to adapt to the guitar just to play through combat. The big issue is navigating levels, which is one area I think Mevo might be able to help. Though it would take a considerable amount of iteration and rebalance, using a fast-paced auto-move to get through levels would work in Fret Nice's favor. Hitting short notes and combos to hit jumps and charge through the level (button variety is an issue with Mevo,) with a few attack breaks tossed in between, would be really interesting and likely make for a better game overall.

Fret Nice is worth checking out, but only if you're the adventurous type or desperate for something else to do with your guitar peripherals. It's unique and should earn some sort of following based on that fact alone. The core idea behind the game isn't a bad one, it's just undercooked and could benefit from some more development time to work out the kinks and get the most out of the idea.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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