I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m a big fan of Sony’s Playlink, a series of games that endeavour to introduce multiplayer fun to new audiences by eliminating one of the biggest barriers for non-gamers — the controller. By utilising the ubiquitous smartphone, and a bespoke mobile app for each title, Playlink takes the concept pioneered by the likes of the Jackbox games and goes for a broader range of experiences while also upping the production values. So far Playlink has riffed on Buzz-style trivia, reintroduced the world to SingStar, and even given us a surprisingly good interactive narrative game from Until Dawn studio Supermassive, and done so with relative success.
The latest Playlink title, Frantics, goes straight for the Mario Party space with a collection of short mini-games for up to four players using nothing but their smart devices. The standard game mode on offer is straightforward. Under the supervision of a dapper and sultry fox named Fox, players compete in a series of one-to-two-minute games to earn crowns, with the player possessing the most crowns at the end declared winner. In the standard game mode, everyone selects a zany animal avatar to represent themselves and plays through a handful of games chosen at random. Of the fifteen-or-so minigames on offer most fall under some variation of using tilt or swipe control on the smartphone to move your chosen animal around the screen, perhaps in a parachute, jetpack or even just an office chair and attempting to knock out your opponents. These are probably the less interesting of the bunch, not least because a few feel too similar to each other. The real winners are the games where messing with your friends can turn the tables at any moment, like a kart racer where players choose ‘upgrades’ for their opponents karts between each round or an obstacle-filled sprint where riding on another player’s head is a viable strategy. Overall, the selection of mini-games on offer is small but decent enough and while there are the inevitable lulls in the lineup, the majority are fun and often hilariously messy.
Super Aardman Kart
Like the other Playlink titles, Frantics isn’t really bothered with playing a fair game, and gets away with it surprisingly well. Fox loves to throw twists into the mix between games and will often encourage players to bid on advantageous powerups using coins collected during play or even go as far as to ‘call’ an individual’s phone and ask them to sabotage the next round in exchange for points. The best kinds of party games are the ones that reward skill while still keeping things interesting and unpredictable, and Frantics does a great job of this. One thing it doesn’t do so well that serves to undermine the ‘party’ experience is drag proceedings down with unnecessarily long tutorials before each and every mini-game. After the first couple of rounds, most players will have a good handle on the standard smartphone controls and be able to apply them to all future games. Unfortunately, Frantics doesn’t seem to trust its players that much, and insists on re-educating the absolute basics of control every time, before even teaching anything pertaining to the game about to be played. The overly-gentle learning curve is understandable given the aim of attracting people who’ve never touched a console game before, but it becomes a bit of a joke when some mini-game’s tutorials last almost as long as the actual round.
The lines for these Melbourne pop-up takeaways are getting hectic
Unlike something like Mario Party, Frantics doesn’t have a particularly large selection of activities or much of a meta-game, but what it lacks in substance it somewhat makes up for with a budget price and some impressive production values. For a game that costs less than a Family Feast at KFC it’s quite the looker, full of zany and enthusiastic animal characters and stages that almost have a claymation-like quality to them. I know that if I was an onlooker at a party where Frantics was being played I’d be pretty invested in what was happening onscreen, and probably quite enticed to get in on the action.
Overall, Frantics is a fairly successful little foray into the quirky, party-friendly mini-game ensemble concept that skimps a tad on features and content while doubling down on aesthetic. While it would’ve been nice to have a few more mini-games to play and maybe some more interesting game modes, at $25 and with no extra controller purchases necessary it’s hard to judge too harshly. Add this one to That’s You and Hidden Agenda to try out at your next gathering.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher