Indie-games are known for being highly original, creative ideas—well the majority of them at least. At times, some indie developers just prefer to take an existing concept and put their own spin on things; and hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. There are some indie games that actually end up being better than the classics that they’re molded from, while still giving retro gamers that sweet rush of nostalgia.
RainyNightCreations’ FreezeME is definitely a title that was heavily-inspired by game’s of the past—specifically platformers from the N64-era; primarily Super Mario 64. If you’ve ever played a single N64 platformer, then your nostalgia drive will kick in from the very first moments of playing this game. While that’s certainly a good feeling, unfortunately, it isn’t enough to masquerade this title’s many flaws which set it noticeably apart from the classics that it’s molded from.
Like pretty much every platformer, FreezeME has a plot behind it. You take control of “R”, an adventurous moppet who’s life was turned upside when a dastardly villain named Fat the Cat (yes) kidnapped her beloved anthropomorphic dog “M” while the two were on a leisurely stroll. Fat the Cat’s goal is to create a dog-free world, and so, he’s imprisoned M in his lair which can only be accessed by a special key made of ancient materials. In order to save her friend, R chases after the fiend in search of the special gold bricks which she needs to enter the lair.
Now after reading that, you can see that even the plot takes inspiration from established ideas; character ‘X’ gets kidnapped by villain ‘Y’ in order to full evil purpose ‘whatever’ and now hero ‘Z’ must set off on a quest to defeat the enemy and get their friend back. Now then, I wonder where I’ve seen that before?
Sarcasm aside, the plot isn’t really all that important—a trait of most platformers. What matters most is definitely the gameplay.
As said in the introduction, FreezeME’s similarities to the classic N64 platformers can be seen as soon as you first take control of R. The characteristics are all there: large levels with all sorts of mechanics, relatively slow pacing with a focus on exploration, and finally, an awesome track playing in the background to set the atmosphere—they’re all present in FreezeME. Now while it has the traits of the genre, I really can’t help but specifically compare it to Super Mario 64. The game definitely feels and plays very similarly, primarily due to the fact that, like Mario, R is incredibly agile.
You can wall-jump with ease, perform a double-jump, side-vault, and even do the signature belly-slide to gain an extra boost of speed. Indeed, R’s moveset is modeled after none other than the Italian plumber himself. To really bring the comparison home, the first level actually includes a giant message that’s written on the side of one of the cliff-faces, reading: “Get a life. – The Plumber”. Need I say more? Well, yes.
Another design taken from SM64 is the multi-objective system for a single world. Each world has a number of different objectives that are all separated into different stages. In SM64, your goal was to perform different tasks in a single world in order to get a Power Star. Here in FreezeME, you do the exact same thing, except this time you’re hunting down a gold brick. Even though FreezeME uses this system, it doesn’t do it nearly as efficiently as SM64. There, the objective of each stage was made obvious by the name. Here, you get a small camera swoop once the stage begins that shows you the location of the gold brick, and then that’s it. Once you take control, it’s up to you to locate exactly where that area is.
Now, this is good for those who like to explore, but it’s hard to deny that it’s not frustrating to have almost zero direction. What really draws this problem out is the fact that each level is huge—much bigger than anything seen in SM64 and arguably any other platformer from that era. You can easily spend 10+minutes just aimlessly walking around the world.
FreezeME’s levels are incredibly huge and filled with stuff to do. However, the lack of direction makes for a frustrating experience.
Aside from the main objective, you also have other items to look out for. One special set of collectible items are the Green Pig coins, which are collected when beating a special challenge that’s initiated by talking to the many inhabitants in each stage. Some may have you race against them, others might have you solve a puzzle—there’s a lot to choose from. The thing is, these interactions mainly serve as a way to add fluff to the game. While this might appeal to the general completionist, normal players may just find themselves frustrated because of the lack of direction. It’s great that the levels are so wide and open, but even after running and jumping all over the place, finding certain areas definitely take a whole lot of time.
With that having been said, the one thing that really allows FreezeME to differ from its inspired-genre is the freezing mechanic. For whatever reason, a camera in this strange world has the ability to temporarily suspend time around a specific object. R just so happens to be a shutterbug, so this works out for her. You can snap the camera at anytime and it can be used on a variety of different things like platforms or enemies. While it’s the game’s main mechanic, it’s ironic to say that I didn’t use it all that much. In certain situations it’s definitely a requirement, but most of the time progression is achieved by simply platforming and exploring. Even so, this is where the Gamepad integration truly shines as you can simply tap the screen to freeze objects in a flash. With that having been said, while R is great at jumping, running and snapping pictures — she isn’t all that good at combat. Really, you only have one actual attack, which is a simple kick. While this works on smaller enemies, any larger enemies are a no-go. In those situations, all you can do is either avoid them or use your camera to hinder their progress. While I can’t really consider this to be much of a flaw, it’s definitely a weird design choice.
As far as the whole gameplay experience goes, it was a very flawed experience. Aside from the lack of direction in such huge levels, what really brought it down was the wonky controls. The controls aren’t bad, but they’re not perfect either. R is so agile that I can almost say she’s too agile. Sometimes it seemed like my jumps were too powerful or that I was accelerating too quickly. Having tight controls are a core element in any platforming title, and unfortunately, FreezeME didn’t do it as well as it could have. The camera is also very troublesome. The game starts off with an automatic camera system, which was fine at first, but as soon as I got close to another object, then things just got weird. The camera was trying so hard to adjust itself that it literally became disorienting. It wasn’t until I found out (by accident) that it can be swapped between automatic and manual, that the game was finally playable.
Although molded after signature platformers, FreezeME’s gameplay is too flawed to be rightfully compared to them.
Looking past the gameplay, another major trait that the classic platformers had is definitely the killer music. Thankfully, this is where FreezeME excels most. The music of the first world fits all too well. The quality is surprisingly close to that of the full-scale titles from the N64 era, and while small by comparison, FreezeME’s soundtrack could legitimately sit with the better of the bunch. Of course, what’s great music without a pretty picture to look at? Platformers are known for being bright, colorful and full of character—and FreezeME once again succeeds here. While the Wii U version’s visuals aren’t exactly the same as the PC’s, it still manages to look good. I can honestly say that it’s one of the better looking 3D indie titles currently available on the eShop, which is great. There are a few quirks, such as the framerate getting choppy at times and the character animations being a little stiff, but the game’s Wind Waker/3D Mario artstyle really does look good whether it be on the TV or GamePad screen.
In the end, even with all of my complaints, I can’t legitimately call FreezeME a ‘bad’ game. Really, I’d say it’s just flawed. Considering that it’s trying to spin-off of an already established and very polished formula, its shortcomings are brought out into the light primarily by comparison. The controls aren’t as tight, the camera can be a bother, and the combat is iffy. While it’s huge levels offer a lot to see and do, the lack of any real direction just makes things get boring and repetitive far too quickly. But despite its gameplay flaws, the title still looks and sounds just as good as the classics that came before it.
FreezeME probably won’t go down as being one of the greatest games in eShop history, but I can say that considering this was almost completely created by just one guy, it would be a lie to say that I was completely let down. If anything, it did leave me impressed—to an extent. I hope that if RainyNightCreations goes for a sequel, he can look back on this game’s shortcomings to better his skills and deliver a more enjoyable experience; FreezeME has a lot of potential that’s just hidden underneath the flaws. Even so, if you’re looking for a decent platformer and can tolerate its shortcomings, then this game may just be for you.