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Frantic Frigates

(Plenty of Games; US: 26 Aug 2011)

The roguelike is—generally speaking—not the most “frantic” of genres. 


Given the high stakes quality of the traditional roguelike, death is the end, a fair amount of these style of games tend to provoke players much more towards slower, more thoughtful play.  If you have to “start all over” after a game kills you, you really don’t want to make mistakes.


Frantic Frigates is not a traditional roguelike.  Indeed, it may not (using a very literal definition of the genre) be a roguelike at all.  Still, to me, it is at least “roguelike-like.”  The influence is there in that Frantic Frigates charges the player with captaining a pirate ship that, if destroyed, will cause a restart from the very beginning of the game, no continues. 


It also features a leveling system, as the pirate ship’s encounters with sharks, other pirates, and bosses produce experience points that level the character up and allow for the purchase of upgrades to make the ship more powerful.  The leveling system does trump the “no continues” issue, though, since it also determines how much money that you begin the next game with.  Therefore, the game allows the player to upgrade very quickly if they have played previous games.  You “lose” when you die in that you haven’t completed the game, but you “win” in that the next attempt will probably be a more promising one.


This, of course, leads to the potential for a frantic experience in a roguelike.  Death sort of matters, in that you won’t complete all of the game’s boss encounters if you die, but, nevertheless, each game allows you to inch closer to creating a ship at the outset that allows you to survive some insane combat.


This, then, is more or less a bullet-hell roguelike.  The controls are simple enough: steer the ship with your mouse and hit the space bar to move to a purchase screen.  That’s it.  Your ship will auto-attack any enemy that is closest to you in location.  While initially there are no bullets flying at you, just sharks running at your hull, there will be bullets flying soon.  As you upgrade, the money will flow faster and the bullets will as well.  However, this isn’t the most brutal bullet hell game in the world (and, indeed, hardcore fans of the genre will likely find this altogether too easy), but Frantic Frigates seems to create a concession to its roguelike aspects by not being ridiculously brutal in its level of challenge.


That being said, the game is still not “easy” in what I would consider the proper sense of the word.  Once you have a regular cash flow and can upgrade fairly rapidly at the start of the game, it ramps up the challenge pretty steeply, pretty quickly.  The loot and bullet flow is its allure, though, as it has way of pulling the player to try one more time to run all three levels and all three bosses in a single play.  Each time that you receive more money, you feel like this time out could be the time that you can empower yourself completely to make that full push.


In that sense, the “full playthrough” is not an especially long one if you can make it if you are tough enough and skillful enough to make it through all the way from level one to level three.  It is a flash title after all.  Nevertheless, failure after failure will mount up, and in real time (and depending on your skill level at dodging tiny red bullets), the game will likely require a few hours of defeat in order to get to a place in which you can actually succeed.  And, as noted before, it is kind of hard to resist just one more try at it, given the fast paced play and the fast paced looting and purchasing system.


Death on the high seas here is very, very cheap, but persistence is rewarded handsomely in Frantic Frigates as an anodyne to that very cheapness.  This is not the most cerebral title in the world (though an efficient looting and purchasing strategy certainly helps out the player’s effort), but the game’s manic play is enjoyable as it is so thrill driven (with its escapes in the nick of time, knowing that an error could have led to certain doom) and its wickedly fast pacing makes death less wicked and more an encouragement to give it yet another go.

Rating:

G. Christopher Williams is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He posts his weekly contribution to the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters every Wednesday. Besides also serving as Multimedia Editor at PopMatters and writing at his own blog, 8-bit confessional, he has also published essays in journals like Film Criticism, PostScript, and the Popular Culture Review. You won't find him on Twitter, but you can drop him a line with that old fashioned thing called e-mail at williams@popmatters.com.


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