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Fret Nice (PlayStation 3) artwork

Fret Nice (PlayStation 3) review

"This exhausting ingenuity may be the most memorable piece of Fret Nice, but it doesn't make the game alone. It gets help from colorful landscapes that beg for exploration. Neither, though, is the gimmick what breaks it. That's left to control decisions that have nothing to do with the guitar."

Fret Nice might make your arm fall off. The game began its life as a college project, and like a lot of ideas borne from unrestrained youth, it's centered around a crazy concept: it's meant to be controlled with a plastic guitar peripheral. You move right or left by holding down different frets. You kill nebulous enemies by furiously strumming the flipper. And you jump, well... you jump by jerking the guitar upwards and activating its tilt-sensor. Since this is a platformer – one where all attacks must be performed airborne – you'll have to yank that instrument's neck more than you ever did playing Guitar Hero.

This exhausting ingenuity may be the most memorable piece of Fret Nice, but it doesn't make the game alone. It gets help from colorful landscapes that beg for exploration. Neither, though, is the gimmick what breaks it. That's left to control decisions that have nothing to do with the guitar.

As Fret Nice begins, however, those negatives are hidden away. You take control of a customizable member of the Vibrant Chordblasters, a mellow guitar duo. Slap on some shaggy hair, funky glasses, and a nerdy/cool tee, and you're ready to fend off the Head Bangers, who want to infect your free and easy world with their evil heavy metal. The Bangers are inky black blobs, resembling roided up members of the Moja Troop from LocoRoco, and that's not where the similarities end.

Apart from sporting a fancy Flash feel, the kind that screams 'charming original game' at first glance, Fret Nice also features a variety of flowing stages where you bounce along a seamless ride from start to finish. One world contains a collection of high-tension cables; you can fling yourself from one high-wire act to the next. Another catapults you underground, letting you jump a mining cart from track to track in an effort to outrun a giant ball of debris. Yet another has you slip on a jet pack to float through a festive parade where giant balloons blot out the sky. Meanwhile, rush hour rules the road below. If you ever land, you'll be run over.

Each stage is unique, but they all provide an opportunity to earn medals based on speed, percentage of enemies dispatched, and number of points earned. With these potentially contradictory objectives, you're encouraged to replay through each level in multiple ways. Actually, the game requires that you scour nooks and crannies for hidden bonuses and baddies. Medals not only let you purchase new threads and styles for your avatar, the latter stages have a minimum award count as a prerequisite for entry.

Regardless of your goal, the first step is to obliterate some bad guys, but your character only has his guitar as a weapon. Thankfully, his cheerful brand of music doesn't just annoy the Head Bangers, it kills them. Here's how it works. Each blob has a different number of facial features; play in tune with his facade, and he bites the dust. For example, one may have six eyes. Hold down any fret, strum half a dozen times, and he's dust. Another might have two eyes, two mouths, and two antenna. This time punching three frets with two strums will do the trick.

Precision isn't required, though. You can hold down all the frets, wail away, and still get most of the job done. Even if it's not your intent to be random, you'll sometimes kill secondary baddies without even realizing it. The temptation to button mash only grows when you use a regular controller. Facial features aren't hardwired to specific keys. You just have to press any button the number of times to match, which lets you jam freestyle. And that's the problem. The game already lacks a sense of urgency – everything seems to move in medium motion – and this system allows too much freedom.

The rewards for finding a 'right way' are minuscule at best. You earn extra points for keeping your patterns accurate, and some of the game's material even lauds that fact that your attacks are in the same key as the song, so the mayhem can augment the melody. However, I never found the groove to become a composer of carnage, and I never had to. My bleeps and bloops felt mostly wrong, but they were enough to progress without many problems. That lack of discipline is the reason Fret Nice doesn't quite work.


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Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (March 28, 2010)

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