Sunday, September 21, 2014

Frip and Froop's Logical Labyrinth

It’s not often that I review puzzle games, so this one is a little outside of my usual output. Frip and Froop’s Logical Labyrinth is the first game by Wayward Thoughts Interactive, a relative newcomer in the world of video games. Seeing as this is the independent studio’s first game, it’s a pretty admirable effort, though there are still a couple of shortcomings. But first:

Transparency Note: I am friends with the founder of Wayward Thoughts Interactive and have become at least acquainted with everyone on the development team before production of this game began. Thanks to this friendship, and the fact that the lead, Tyler Uslan, was a guest at least once on this blog, I was personally asked to write up a review of this game, which I didn’t object to doing. To prevent any unintentional influence on my opinion, I didn’t participate in any betas (in fact, I wasn’t allowed to anyway for the same reason) or directly support the game in any way apart from moral support (because friendship) [Update (11/5/14): I also voted for the game on Steam Greenlight, but had forgotten about it until later]. It was determined that despite the personal connection, I’d still be able to give an honest evaluation of the finished product. Below is my completely unbiased review of Frip and Froop’s Logical Labyrinth.

Frip runs Friptech Laboratories, a facility where the latest in cutting-edge technology is created. However, his latest experiments, Genetically Engineered SuperMice, have gone missing. To remedy this, Frip asks his nephew, Froop, to complete a series of courses within the facility.

This aspect of the game, the story, is the one place where the game feels unfinished, since the more I think about it, the less sense it makes from a narrative standpoint. Since the SuperMice are mentioned at the beginning, they feel like they’re going to be important to the rest of the story, but afterwards they are never seen or heard from again, so it feels like a very loose justification for going through a series of courses. In addition, there a twist in the third act that, despite some subtle foreshadowing, feels like it comes right out of nowhere. What adds to this feeling is the fact that it takes the introduction of two new characters and a really long exposition dump to properly explain. The story is clearly ambitious in its end goals, but I would have liked it if more time were given to properly set up the possibility of the end-game reveal, as well as a more consistent justification for why Froop has to go through the training courses in the first place (after mentioning the mice, Frip shifts to saying that he has no one to test his inventions).

One of the inventions looks like a Gameboy.

In some ways, the game also appears to have a heavy Portal influence in everything but gameplay (as the famous Portal Gun does not appear). Friptech is kind of like Aperture Science in that the facility is meant to be on the cutting edge of science and technology (although it’s unknown if Friptech will “throw science at the wall and see what sticks”). Frip sends Froop through a series of training courses, which is similar in concept to the testing chambers in Aperture Laboratories. Frip gives commentary in a similar fashion to GLaDOS, even making some similar statements, although in this case a couple of these similar quips seem to come out of the blue. Additionally, the twist is related in some way to the series (I’m not telling you how), although without a lot of the subtlety from the Portal series. This is just what I figured out in hindsight after playing the game, but I can’t help but wonder if the writer had Portal on the brain when he thought out the final plot.

As for the gameplay itself, this is where the experience is much more even. There’s actually a pretty nice pace to the game as it continually introduces new gadgets and obstacles to deal with on a regular basis, so the player is never really bored trying to anticipate new gameplay twists. It sort of feels like the game was very deliberately divided across its 100 levels, spread across 12 stages, though this works more in its favor. The six different gadgets are also pretty fun to use and have their own quirks about them that make each of the puzzles increasingly challenging.

One of the later stages of the game.

However, there are a couple of issues with the difficulty of the game, mostly with regards to the puzzle structure. I’ll just say right away that I’m pretty sure I managed to get through a couple of the puzzles, one of which is basically a fairly faithful recreation of the first stage in Pac-Man, by following an unintended solution, since the game hints at solving them one way while I got by with a different approach. As for the difficulty, it does gradually rise, as puzzle games should, but overall the experience felt pretty easy; I was able to beat the entire game in around four hours. When the game does get difficult, it’s usually for a couple of reasons: 1) The solution requires pixel-perfect precision and timing with almost no margin for error or 2) The game is programmed and animated so that pushable blocks go not only to the next space, but the area in between the spaces. With the latter point in mind, that means that if you accidentally push a block too far just when you had it perfectly positioned, it’s possible that you can no longer move it (since Froop’s hitbox takes up the entire space around him), forcing you to restart the entire puzzle. Sometimes the puzzle you happened to screw up in was particularly long, forcing you to die or hit the “Oops!” button and undo about five minutes of meticulously planned progress. So I was stumped on a few puzzles, occasionally for the wrong reason, but even then the game is still pretty easy and the final boss felt a little anticlimactic; that or I’ve just gotten good at puzzle games after spending countless hours in pursuit of Kongregate badges.

The art is a little bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the end result feels a little like an internet flash game with a decent art style. On the other, everything is very clearly defined and easy to understand, even when there several objects on the screen at once (once so much so that I felt lag while navigating a maze). In that case, the ability to clearly understand each situation is preferable, as I can think of plenty of internet games that I’ve enjoyed regardless of how they looked. Bonus points also for including the concept art in the Friptech Catalog (basically a bestiary of sorts (but with even more backstory on the game)) on the main menu; I’ve always found it fascinating to see how something, be it a movie or video game, translates the concept art to the end result (I even try to buy art books for this reason).

There are even image credits.

Sound-wise, the music and effects come off as being stock (in fact, the credits acknowledge that these are public domain and mention a website by name). The voice acting is decent, though a little dull-sounding, but the fact that I’ve met most of the voice actors in real life kind of prevents me from fully enjoying it, as it’s pretty uncanny to hear them coming out of my laptop speakers. Still, that’s just my own experience and I’m sure someone will feel differently (as they will likely have never met them before).

My overall feelings on Frip and Froop’s Logical Labyrinth are kind of mixed. It’s certainly ambitious and the puzzles escalate at a deliberate pace while giving the player just enough time to get used to each new gadget or obstacle so that they can adjust accordingly in later stages or figure out the proper combinations of gadgets to use. However, the story is disjointed, as it relies on a huge exposition dump toward the end, and the puzzles can sometimes be difficult for seemingly the wrong reasons. If this sounds like the kind of game you’d like to play, then feel free to spend full price, but if you’re not really sure that it’ll be worth it, then play it for free on Kongregate to see if it’s right for you. To give credit where credit is due though, it’s pretty amazing that Wayward Thoughts Interactive could create and release a full game on a shoestring budget and I hope that they learn from this game when trying their hand at future projects.

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