Developer NapNok games has attempted to take the Mario Party formula onto PlayStation 4 with Frantics, a party game with a slant towards the devious. One to four players compete in a series of minigames hosted by a smarmy fox. Sabotage your friends, make secret deals, and try to come out on top in the latest PlayLink enabled PlayStation 4 title.
First of all, Frantics wholly embraces the ugly, Claymation art style that makes each of its characters look like mutated stuffed animals. I’m okay with my avatar looking like an abomination, but the fact that NapNok thought these creatures were somehow cute and not horrifying monstrosities is beyond my fathoming. Perhaps they’re made this way so as to not make you feel bad when you blow up your friend’s avatar, or smash them into spikes in a hope of winning the day.
There are three main ways to play Frantics, two of which are not available to you until you play through a sort of tutorial party mode. You can make a custom game, with custom length, win conditions, minigames, etc. Or you can choose to play each of the 14 minigames at will. There is also the main attraction party game, which sees up to four players compete in a series of minigames for the literal crown(s). Like Mario Party you collect items to win. In this case, instead of stars you collect crowns. You can bid on them at the end of the game, or win them in various minigames.
If you ever played a party game and thought the game didn’t do a great job explaining what to do during that game, you’re in luck: Frantics doesn’t stop explaining the game to you. You will have a narrator say something like “avoid falling to win” just to have those same words emblazoned on the screen. It will then go on to explain the rules, just for the narrator to remind you again “avoid falling to win.” It’s infuriating how redundant this is. Even with the tutorials turned off there is still an extreme amount of redundancy. To make matters worse, Frantics doesn’t even adequately prepare you for the minigame despite all of the tutorials and interjections. On top of that, when the gameplay changes slightly there is yet another interjection, halting the gameplay for a few more seconds as that new rule or condition is explained. All of these contingencies could have easily been covered in the overly long, redundant practice before the minigame.
These minigames are unfortunately not very different from one another, with only a few that stand out. There are games like “Friendless Runner” where you try to avoid obstacles while pushing your friends into them, all in an endless runner style game. Several games have you trying to push your friends off of platforms, still others require precise timing to win. This is where Frantics falls hard on its face.
PlayLink sounds great on paper. It’s a compulsory control method which enables all of your friends to connect their smartphones to your PlayStation 4 to be used as a controller. This is great in theory, as it allows you to use your phone’s gyro, accelerometer, touch screen, etc. to perform a series of actions in various minigames. Even better, Frantics actually uses your cellphone as a way to give players secret missions, to either aid or sabotage particular people you’re playing with. Unfortunately, the PlayLink controls feel so sluggish and imprecise it can be quite annoying to play. In one particular balance minigame my group of friends had a hard time not sliding off the platform even without being knocked off by others. It turns Frantics from an okay Mario Party type game to something that occasionally feels like a chore to play. Unfortunately, even if you did have enough controllers for everyone to use, Frantics only works using PlayLink.
While Frantics isn’t completely ruined by the PlayLink, it certainly isn’t helped by it. Even with the inclusion of the secret missions given to players via their phones, PlayLink seems like a bad idea reflex-based minigames. If the controls were more precise it would be more fun, but there’s nothing more aggravating than loose, sloppy controls. Frantics only had a couple of good ideas to begin with, but PlayLink makes the whole package unappealing. I’m beginning to think that the PlayLink experiment should just be dropped altogether. Even without PlayLink, you’re still forced to deal with the horrible redundancy and minimally inventive minigames. Avoid Frantics and find one of the dozens of better party games available. Frantics is available now for PlayStation 4.