Monday, February 15, 2016

FreezeME (Wii U eShop, Steam) Review

We cap off the first night of the work week with a new review. FreezeMe is a Steam game that saw a recent port on the Wii U eShop. How does the game fare? Let's find out with my review.

Unpolished Platformer 64

The original PlayStation and Nintendo 64 era of gaming was well known for its collect-a-thon based 3D platformers. Last generation we saw indies take on the 2D platformer, and do some really awesome things with it. I guess that it only makes sense that this generation we start to see some attempts at a very difficult genre to get right, the 3D platformer. While Poi and A Hat in Time are on the horizon, we have one of the first of many indie attempts, FreezeME, for both Wii U and Steam. 

What's there for the excuse of running through colorful 3D worlds isn't that fresh of an idea by any stretch of the imagination, but it has a character named "R" chasing after a villain named "Fat the Cat" who wishes to purge the world of dogs, including R's canine companion. 

In order to rescue R's dog, R will have to enter three expansive and lush worlds to collect Super Mario 64 Power Star equivalent "Golden Cubes" in each level. This is performed by completing various platforming, combat, and/or puzzle-solving tasks throughout FreezeME. When you enter a world, you get a quick flyover of the level, showing where the Golden Cube for the task you currently have selected is located, and a means to go about finding it. However, you don't get much help other than that. Forget the general area where the flyover view showed the Golden Cube? Then you'll have to either restart the level or push through and find it yourself with some heavy exploration. Some will find an issue with this, but I think it merely encourages exploration, and feels nice compared to some mainstream games that consistently want to hold your hand the entire way.

All that glitters is probably one of these Golden Cubes.
Speaking of which, exploration was key in 3D platformers of the N64 era, and it's key here in FreezeME as well. The large and luxurious levels are 3D platforming playgrounds for the player, full of platforms and obstacles to leap off, leap over, and leap through. It's easy to get lost in some of these levels, being so large. That said, the slow, methodical pace of exploring is broken up by many quicker platforming challenges, puzzles, and combat situations.

The tasks in FreezeME run the gamut from mixtures of platforming and puzzle trials, to races through levels, to collecting 150 red Pig Coins. Furthermore, there are some clever ones that utilize the game's central innovation, the ability to freeze objects momentarily with R's camera. (This feels great to do by tapping on the object or enemy you want to get frozen with the Wii U GamePad's screen.) Some missions you'll need to collect a specific amount of blue Pig Coins, but you definitely don't have enough time to do so. Instead, what the developer intends for you to do is to freeze the clock, which will in turn freeze the timer, allowing you to pick up all of the coins with plenty of time. 

Explore worlds both colorful and full of eye candy.
Levels in FreezeME range from good to bad. Let's get the bad out of the way. The hub world lacks character, is not overly enjoyable, can really feel like a chore to continually run up to level entrances when spit back into the hub after completing a task and collecting a Golden Cube, and the whole area just doesn't feel necessary. I really wouldn't have minded FreezeME going for a hub-less, level menu approach like the one found in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Either that or make the hub world more fun to leap around in.

As for the actual levels outside of the hub, the first, Sunshine Valley, seems like a random assortment of colorful platforms (whether by land or in midair), obstacles, and scenery across a hilly expanse. It all seems man-made instead of something more cut from nature, something that someone would come up to show off platforming game ideas rather than an actual level. Additionally, some pieces of the levels even jut out, are uneven, and look awfully amateur and incredibly incomplete because of this. However, despite all this, it's still very fun through move about in and explore. 

The first level or a platforming playground? ...Why not both?
Further, the clearly Super Mario Galaxy-themed planetoids and sections with their own rules of gravity don't fare as well as their inspiration, as the camera can really spaz out, especially in a specific challenge level where you must collect 20 blue Pig Coins across a myriad of similarly sized planets. Every time I'd move between planets, the camera would move every which way, completely disorienting me, a common problem with these types of in-game sections.

Some sections of FreezeME make up their own rules when it comes to gravity.
Yes, set to automatic, FreezeME's camera will thrust you into some awful predicaments where you will be forcefully fighting with it to keep it in the place you want it to be. This is apparent in one of FreezeME's early missions, where you must navigate an aerial bit of platforms, spinning rows of spikes, and lava jets. However, set to manual, you won't find yourself forced into fixed camera sections anywhere near as much. Sure, you still get stupid scenarios where the camera can get locked on scenery and stuck in a faraway view, such as trying to enter the second world's ice labyrinth, but overall, it isn't overly horrid.

However, where FreezeME heavily disappoints is in its controls. It's paramount for a platformer to nail its controls. If you aren't feeling a nice, tight responsiveness, then you're going to have a difficult time of the game you're trying to play. It's especially important to nail the controls in a 3D platformer, where there's things like full 360 degree rotation and depth to consider.\

"Clunky" is what I would best describe FreezeME's controls as. No matter how much the game apes Super Mario 64, in the place it should have aped the most, the controls, FreezeME falters. Moving R around feels slow and not as responsive as I would like for this kind of game. There is a total lack of being able to fine tune a jump while in midair, making for a lot of frustrating deaths to be found. 

"Feets, don't fail me now. (You will, but at least a girl can dream.)"
Like a certain Italian plumber in Super Mario 64, R can run, jump, and leap into the air and slide around on her belly to cover great distances at a faster pace. She also takes a page out of Mario's playbook by being able to attack with a jumping kick. The problem between Mario's jumping kick and R's is that Mario has a longer pair of legs on him than R. This means he gets more leg in his kicks. R has short, stubby legs that don't reach out that far, resulting in trying to make contact with an enemy very challenging. It became a guessing game to me whether R would successfully kick a baddie or if she'd just fling herself into a foe. That's not the kind of metagame I want to playing during a 3D platformer that demands precision. A game should not require you to feel like controlling it is a chore, and FreezeME violates this golden rule of mine.

The second world of FreezeME is suitably chill.
FreezeME contains ten Golden Cubes to obtain in each level. Like Super Mario 64, when one is collected, you're put back into the hub world, forced to reenter the level. As I mentioned earlier, though, you're put in the middle of the hub with a bit of a journey to reach each level in the hub. With Mario 64, it was as simple as doing a back flip or 180 back into a level painting. However, unlike Mario's first 3D outing, you can choose which Golden Cube you want to go after in the preview menu. What this means is that if a particular Golden Cube mission is causing you excess amounts of grief, you can merely skip over it. 

Alongside the three main levels containing ten Golden Cubes each and one final level containing three, challenge levels open up that reward green Pig Coins for completing them. These challenges all have a particular platforming obstacle or game mechanic to perfect. Green Pig Coins are also found in the three levels of FreezeME. These are hidden in clever locations and awarded to you for completing challenges posed by NPPs (non-playable pigs). 

There's no time for a vacation. There's a dog to save!
FreezeME is a wonderful sight for the eyes. Worlds of colorful and bright, and suitably so. There are some obnoxious clipping issues that are heavily prevalent to be conscious of, however. Plenty of bugs and glitches also plague the game, so be sure to have an extra dose of patience on you when you decide to play this game. 

Musically, the game's soundtrack complements the game's worlds marvelously. The greatest praise I could utter regarding it is that it sounds like music that a Nintendo composer would deliver. High praise indeed!

Taking into consideration that this game was designed mostly by one person, it's hard to want to be cruel to FreezeME, especially when it's in a genre from an era of gaming I hold so dear. Perhaps the game is then a disappointment because I was wanting another excellent 3D collect-a-thon platformer like Super Mario 64. Then again, perhaps FreezeME is just a disappointment because it's a profusion of good ideas marred by some truly glaring flaws, specifically the controls and tremendous lack of polish.

[SPC Says: C-]

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