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Posted by David Collins on March 9, 2010
Review: Fret Nice (XBLA)

Review: Fret Nice (XBLA)

Fret Nice

Developer: Pieces Interactive

Publisher: Tecmo Inc

Release Date: Feburary 24th, 2010

Platform: Xbox LIVE Arcade & Playstation Network

Price: 1200 MP ($15)

ESRB: E for Everyone

Ouch. Fret Nice isn’t very…um…nice on the hands. Well, it isn’t if you play it as it was intended, with the guitar controller. Seriously, after just the first level, my hands were killing me. The guitar was not designed with platformer controls in mind. Now, I’m not very good with the guitar controller no matter which game I’m playing. That’s why I tend to jump on drums when I fire up games like Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero 5. I can’t say I wasn’t intrigued though. Cutsey looking platformer where I take down the bad guys by wailing away on my guitar? It sounded awesome!

The set-up is short & sweet: Rebel rockers get shunned & leave the mainstream music scene to start their own country. New rockers arrive & the fans are happy. The rebels get wind of it & set out to destroy them. The description probably sounds a bit more dark than it really is. The whole thing, from the setting to the art style, is whimsically cute. When I first saw the game, the comparison that came to mind was Katamari Damacy or Loco Roco. Throw in the guitar controls & I had just had to give it a go as I’m always looking for new & inventive ways to use the one-trick peripherals I have lying around for my consoles. Alas, once I turned it up, things went down hill very quickly.

As I was hinted to earlier, the biggest issue is the controls. They just don’t feel right. Unless you’re some kind of Guitar Hero prodigy, Fret Nice will frustrate you. Moving back & forth requires you to use the green & yellow buttons while jumping is supposed to be a simple flip of the controller (a-la activating Star Power). Yet right from the beginning you’ll find ’simple’ is not the case. ‘Unresponsive’ would be a more appropriate term. The act of moving your character across the screen seemed to take ages, even when utilizing the ‘run’ button. Many, many times I found my little Ringo Star-esq avatar not jumping when he should. That’s a big enough issue for any game in this genre but when you consider that you can only attack enemies when you’re in the air, the results can be so discouraging you’ll want to bash the guitar over the TV. You would think having the option to switch to a regular controller (as platformers are meant to be played with) would be the saving grace. Nope. The same sluggish controls continued to make things much more difficult than it should be. In fact, trying to “wail away” on my trigger & bumpers on the controller hurt just as much as the guitar did.

It’s unfortunate the controls drag things down so much since there are some cool ideas in there. As I said, the art style is attractive. I just adored the sound design, with a funky rock soundtrack that (appropriately) doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Really, it’s some of the catchiest tunes I’ve heard in a long time (and hooked me the same way Loco Roco’s songs did). You have 2 characters to pick from, both of which can be customized from their shoes to their hair to the instruments they carry (the choices are sparse at the beginning, but you can unlock a bunch more as you go on). 2 player co-op is present & accounted for, but local only. You’re enemies have combinations of facial features such as eyes, antenna, mouth, etc… Each part represents a note you need to play in order to defeat them. For example, if a baddie has one eye & two antenna, your riff would be one note plus two of a different note. String riffs together without mistake & you’ll earn multipliers & bonus points. It’s simple enough when faced with one or two of them, but it can overwhelm you when you get mobbed by a bunch of them. That’s actually not a bad thing & would enhance the challenge, provided the controls worked they way you would expect them to.

The other knock I have against Fret Nice is a basic design irritation. There’s a total of 12 levels each with 10 different medals you can earn. But, you can’t access all 12 levels unless you earn enough medals. This requires you to go back & replay each level several times until you’ve earned enough medals. I’m sorry, but any game that insists I replay stages I’ve already conquered in order to progress forward loses a lot of credibility in my book. That compounded by the shoddy controls & I lost all desire to keep playing. Throwing in a 2nd player didn’t alleviate the problem either. It’s a cool little quirky platform title marred by some bad design. There’s some good ideas in here & Fret Nice held a lot of potential. But in the end, those good ideas couldn’t overshadow it’s not-so-Nice flaws.

Queue up the demo here.

Purchase the full game here.

Rating: ★★★★★½☆☆☆☆

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