When Swedish developer Pieces Interactive formed in 2007, they set out to create unique games that would stand out in a crowd. Their second title, Fret Nice, for PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, does indeed stand out from the crowd, being best described as a "platformer that loves music." However, in this case Pieces may have tried a little too hard to be different, with Fret Nice ending up being a game that sacrifices fun for inventiveness.
Fret Nice's most distinguishing factor is its control system; players control this 2D side scrolling platformer using a Guitar Hero or Rock Band guitar. The basics of platforming, running, and jumping are mapped onto the guitar controller; movement is controlled with the first and third fret buttons, and jumping by tilting the guitar up. Naturally, Fret Nice also features a variety of enemies which players can attack by jumping and then strumming various frets that correspond to the facial expressions on the enemy's face. The key here is jumping first before trying to attack an enemy, because the fret buttons perform different actions based on whether the player is in the air or not. This mechanic, like all of the guitar controls, takes some time to get used to. Thankfully, traditional controls are available if using the guitar feels too foreign.
Having traditional controls as an option is a godsend because using the guitar just feels awkward. The main problem with the guitar controls is the jumping; tilting the guitar up every time a jump is required gets incredibly tedious. This becomes a huge issue when the game's design forces the player to jump in order to fight every enemy. The default guitar controls feel like a gimmick more than anything. Jumping can be switched to the second fret button, but this doesn't solve the problem; placing the jump button in between the directional buttons still feels awkward. Once the novelty of the guitar controls wears off, the best way to manage Fret Nice's platforming is to use a regular controller. Unfortunately, using the guitar for platforming is really the game's main hook, and since that doesn't work well the player is left with a rather cookie cutter platformer.
The game's presentation fairs much better than the gimmicky control scheme. The visuals have a vibrant, LittleBigPlanet-esque feel to them which helps make up for some very simple level design. Being a game about music, the sound is the main focus presentation-wise and it holds up well. The soundtrack is composed of catchy, SNES era inspired tunes that are, for the most part, memorable. One complaint is that the gameplay doesn't really complement the soundtrack, strumming different notes to kill enemies doesn't fit into the rhythm of any particular song. This design choice was likely to accommodate players without rhythm, which unfortunately ends up taking the focus away from the catchy soundtrack.
Fret Nice does offer a wide range of unlockables such as medals, secret areas, special enemies and story tidbits to entice players to return to previous levels. By design, players have to replay completed levels and earn medals in order to progress and unlock new levels. Replaying past levels gets tedious as these features don't hide the fact that the level design is simple and the platforming doesn't offer anything new to the genre. Hardcore players will enjoy the challenge of earning the numerous medals and achievements throughout the game, but again it's best without the guitar controller. Playing with a friend can make replaying levels slightly more enjoyable, but there are not many rewards and/or benefits to multiplayer.
Fret Nice experiments with some unique ideas but is ultimately a failed experiment. The guitar controls, which make the game stand out from other platformers, feel awkward. Once the novelty has worn off a regular controller is a much better option. However, by taking away the guitar gimmick all that's left is a generally plain platformer. The game's soundtrack is solid and filled with many catchy tunes but this alone doesn't give the game staying power. Dedicated players will enjoy trying to unlock all of Fret Nice's medals and other achievements, but most players will find repeating the same simple levels over and over very tedious.