Jordan's Page of Useless Babble

Fret Nice: Pain is the Name of the Game.

I thought I'd take a bit of a break from reviewing classic games to take a look at something new. Presenting to you: Fret Nice, a brand-new game from Tecmo for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

Fret Nice promises to bridge the gap between traditional side-scrollers and rhythm games, two genres that don't exactly comingle. And what luck! It's available to download for $15.

Now, rhythm games are pretty popular now, and for good reason. Games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have revolutionized the entire genre. No longer are rhythm games relegated to tapping out Simon-like patterns on your controller at lightning-fast speeds or tapping your feet in time to shitty J-Pop songs in an arcade where everybody can see you and mock you. Rhythm games now allow you to use guitar and drum-shaped controllers to pretend to play how to music. It's like air guitar for a new generation.

The problem with buying peripherals is, you never know how much you'll actually use them. Sure you can play the game they came with, but what then? I'm a guy who's gotten burned by both the Super Nintendo Mouse and the Super Scope, so I'm a bit wary of picking up games that use peripheral controllers. Thankfully, my Rock Band controllers have seen a lot of use, but I am always thinking about how I can integrate them into other games. So, when a company tells me that they've made a new game that uses my controller, I'm excited.

Useless piece of shit.
Useless piece of shit.

Enter Fret Nice. It's been in the works for a few years, and now it's finally out. You play one of two rockers, who are supposed to traverse levels, and destroy monsters with the power of rock. Hell to the friggin' to the yeah.

Ok, so I have the game downloaded, and my guitar controller strapped on and ready to go. Anticipation is the key word, as I turn on the game.

And then the music starts, and I rapidly lose my excitement.

It's not cat-screeching bad, and it's not baby-in-the-middle-of-a-controlled-burn bad, but it's pretty bad. The game promises rock, and what they're giving is peppy, cheery, J-pop. This does not bode well.

So, here's the premise: your character belongs to the Vibrant Chordblasters, a band that is immensely popular, possibly because in the years previous, an elder god descended to Earth and drove everybody mad.

Well, not everybody loves the Vibrant Chordblasters. The Hair Bängers from the land of Heavy Metal don't care for your particular brand of shitty music, and have decided that the only acceptable solution is to launch global warfare to take you out. Congratulations are in order, as the first musical group to be the main cause for a major military strike; your band is officially the opposite of Wyld Stallyns.

Wyld Stallyns rule!
Wyld Stallyns rule!

Anyway, you and Player 2 manage to escape the carnage and are set upon by stupid looking monsters working for Hair Bängers and their leader: Baron Otto von Cocknose. It's up to you to traverse through a bunch of levels, killing monsters that all look vaguely the same and stop Baron von Cocknose's evil scheme to make the music enjoyable again.

Enter: Baron Otto von Cocknose.
Enter: Baron Otto von Cocknose.

So, you start off by picking your character: a douchey-looking Ringo Starr inspired rocker with a porn-stache (which we'll call Moustache), or a pigtailed flat-chested girl with no nose or mouth and eyes the size of dinner plates (and we'll call her Huge-Eyes). Both characters are equipped with guitars, and you use them to kill monsters with the power of rock.

Now, there are two ways of playing this game, you can either use a guitar controller, which appears to be the preferred way (in fact, there's even an achievement for playing the game with a guitar controller), or you can play using a standard controller, which is less painful, but you get the sense that the game dislikes you for your choice.

The guitar controller is…how should I put this…really fucking awkward. How awkward is it? You're having sex, and you accidentally moan your grandmother's name. That's only about a tenth as awkward as these controls are.

In order to move, you hit one of the fret buttons. One fret button moves you forward, one moves you backward. To jump, you tilt the controller up. All your fret buttons are used for attacks, and you use the strum bar to run.

More times than not, you end up moving spastically around the screen since your attack buttons are also your move buttons. Thankfully, the game makes sure that you don't feel sorry for the character, by making you move around the same way, by continually having to tilt your controller to get your character to jump. And you will have to jump. A lot.

Why is that?

Well, because the game designers realized that guitarists can only actually play when they aren't touching the ground. Remember that awesome music video where Slash played a 15 minute thrashing solo while being suspended 15 feet over a river from a suspension bridge? No? Because that never fucking happened! Fret Nice however requires you to not be touching the ground in order to play your guitar. If you want to attack while on the ground, tough shit, you can't.

This is the most dangerous man alive.
This is the most dangerous man alive.

Imagine a game of Super Mario, where Mario could only throw fireballs when he was jumping or falling. You'd have a hell of a time trying to hit anything because you were constantly having to move to do it, and you'd have no time to line up your shot because you're in movement the entire time. That's what Fret Nice does.

So, let's say you've gotten off the ground long enough to attack. Unlike several other games where you kill monsters with the power of rock, such as Brütal Legend or Guitar Hero 3, you don't actually rock out so hard that your enemies die in Fret Nice. Instead you play the monster a song that makes it realize how pointless its life is, causing it to commit suicide.

In game terms, you're not so much playing a song, as you are making attacks that make a little monster image. Each attack button does another feature: eyes, tentacles, noses, spots, etc. When your picture contains all the elements of the monster you're attacking, it dies.

This too brings up issues. In most side-scrollers, monsters can come at you in small waves. Fret Nice is no different in this respect. However, most side-scrollers compensate for this by allowing you to kill the monsters in a few hits, allowing you to take out the waves by concentrating your attacks. Fret Nice decides that you can only attack one monster at a time, and since making your attack can take much longer than in pretty much any other game in the genre, you're extremely vulnerable to attack.

And while we're on the subject of attacking enemies, the attack buttons in the game are arbitrary. No matter what button you use to attack, your first attack will always be creating the eyes of your enemies, the next the nose, and so on. It makes no difference what order you work in.

Imagine a Mario game where you have to make a jump attack before you can use the fire flower. You can use the jump as many times as you want before you switch to the fire flower, but once you do, you can't switch back until you're done attacking. You can't make the attack you want to when you want to, you have to make the attack the game lets you, when it allows you. That's pretty poor fucking design if you ask me.

Then there's the targeting. Since you can only attack monsters up close, you have to target your enemies to attack them. The game's very nice about this, and does the work itself. The problem is, if your target moves too far away, while you're trying to plonk out the right attack, the targeting goes away, and all your work is for naught. It just goes away and you have to start all over. In addition, if more monsters come close to you, there is a chance that the targeting system will pick another monster while you're in the middle of attacking your original target. This might allow you to kill them, or you might be stuck with an attack that needs to be changed quite a bit before it's usable.

This looks like more fun than it really is.
This looks like more fun than it really is.

Using a guitar controller makes the game virtually unplayable. Your attack button is your move button and the tilt control makes the concept of moving your character around into a massively annoying ordeal. Using a standard controller makes playing the game much easier, but the attack controls are so utterly incomprehensible, you'll likely find yourself unable to stand playing the game for long enough to get used to it.

Now, there are some other features in this game, both cribbed from the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. First off: character customization. You can customize Moustache and Huge-Eyes by changing their clothing, their guitars, etc. Unlike those other games, you can't customize the character's features to the point where they look good enough to justify wasting time. Secondly, the scoring system includes a bonus counter, similar to other music-based rhythm games. Unfortunately, the poorly designed attack system makes actually getting a high-score a tricky ordeal, and you won't likely find yourself getting a x4 modifier and holding it for any appreciable amount of time.

So, now that the actual system has been beaten down, let's talk about graphics. This game looks like somebody was set loose with a box full of construction paper and a glue stick. The end result: it looks like shit.

Total shit.
Total shit.

Yeah, I know they were going for a whimsical theme here. These graphics aren't whimsical. They're ugly, confusing and displeasing to the eye. 400 years ago, people would be burned alive at the stake if they created art that resembled this game.

In addition, it's not always clear where platforms exist. Some roofs you can go on top of. Others, you can't. There's not a well defined way to tell which is which, and you will end up taking a hit from an enemy on occasion trying to figure that out.

Finally, there's the music. For a game that's supposedly about rock, there's absolutely none here. It's all uninspired technoish Japanese pop. Sure there are some rock-like riffs thrown in, but it all comes out sounding like a Dance Dance Revolution machine took a shit on the soundtrack.

If this game had been released on disk, it would have been a disaster of ET proportions, and be easily named the Worst Game of 2010. Since it's only available as a downloadable game, it probably won't receive the same level of notoriety as it should. Poor controls, incomprehensible attacks, a terrible soundtrack, and eye-gougingly bad graphics all add up to a steaming pile for Tecmo.

If I were to actually rate this game, I'd probably be hard pressed to justify anything better than 3 stars out of 10. The fact that most game review sites I saw were giving it from between 5 and 7 stars makes me believe that Tecmo has been hiring people to give professional video game reviewers blowjobs in exchange for favorable reviews. This game is nowhere near that good.

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