NS Review – FreezeME (Wii U)

If you were to speculate what kind of game a solo developer would create on their first venture, you’d probably consider games like Cave Story, Undertale, or Papers, Please. They bear a simple, charming 2D art style that’s easy on the eyes, and their direction can be seen as a modern-day homage to classic games like Metroid and Earthbound. The developers knew their limitations, and focused on the finer features in narrative and gameplay, making them highly successful.

FreezeME, by Rainy Night Creations, is an ambitious and rare solo project due to its genre and inspirations. To quote its own trailer, FreezeME is “a 3D platformer inspired by the 90s classics… with a twist!” and its quickly noticeable how it takes after games like Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, and especially the 3D Mario titles. Expansive levels are filled with collectables, enemies, and challenges. The player can explore at their own pace and carry out missions in any order. It’s the classic collect-a-thon formula that experienced a golden age in the late 90s.

Pronounced “Freeze-me”, not “Free-zeem” or “Free-zuh-may”. Yelling the “ME” part is optional.

The “twist” is that the main character ‘R’ can freeze enemies, platforms, and other important devices with her camera. It’s a versatile piece of equipment, and an initial concern was that it would trivialise the game. Thankfully many of the game’s platforming challenges are designed with the ability in mind, and not quite every obstacle can be frozen.

The premise is as simple as they come. R’s best friend ‘M’ – sadly not portrayed by Judi Dench – has been kidnapped by the evil Fat the Cat. The feline’s agenda is to create a world without dogs, and M just happens to be one of those. After the initial cutscene plays, R is thrown into the first world and begins her journey to rescue her canine friend from Fat the Cat.

Fat the Cat

I’m guessing he was originally called “F the C” but Nintendo weren’t keen

The levels truly deserve to be called ‘worlds’ too, as each one is absolutely huge. No area has been ignored; there’s a smorgasbord of challenges within each stage, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming to play. However, the game is helpful enough to direct you to your goal by showing its location before you start the level, along with signposts scattered throughout. The level design is one of the better aspects of FreezeME, and there’s plenty to find in each world. An issue is that there are only three of them. There are a few extra bonus stages with some serious fluctuation in quality, but the meat of the package lies within the main levels. Considering they can feel too expansive, it may have been more ideal to create more levels with slightly less content in each. Each world looks unique aesthetically at least, and the stage with clear inspiration from Super Mario Galaxy is a particular highlight.

While we’re on the subject, it’s impossible to ignore how many elements FreezeME borrows from the famous plumber’s star-collecting adventures. The visuals take the biggest cue from Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World, while many other collectibles are inspired by earlier games. In this case, ‘Golden Blocks’ have the same role as Power Stars. There are ten in each world, and earning one signals the end of the level. There are three variants of coins, called “Pigcoins” here to offer some originality. Red Pigcoins are the standard common type, and a Golden Block can be earned on each stage for collecting 150 of them, much like the 100-coin objectives in Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine. Green Pigcoins require digging a little deeper, with several to find each stage. Ten of them can be exchanged for a Golden Block, similar to the blue coins in Sunshine. Blue Pigcoins are challenge-exclusive, like the purple coins in Galaxy. Certain platforms even have their own centre of gravity, much like the miniature planets in Galaxy. The hub area has a very Mario 64-esque vibe.

Even the control scheme is cut-and-paste. R can run, jump, wall jump, double-jump, crawl, dive, and kick. She can even achieve a much higher, longer jump by performing a side flip in the same manner that Mario could. R’s swimming capabilities are just as clunky as Mario’s too, though thankfully there are very few swimming sections. There are more examples, but the point has been made. FreezeME’s borrowing from other 3D platformers works both in its favour and to its detriment. There are plenty of satisfying platforming challenges, versatile movement mechanics, and a good sense of progression gained from collecting important items. But it rarely shows its own identity, being too derivative of its forebears.

The inspiration is obvious, but this is the prettiest world in FreezeME

The inspiration is obvious, but this is the prettiest world in FreezeME

There’s one vital element of other 3D platformers that wasn’t applied to FreezeME: polish. The game is severely lacking in polish and the effects leak into so many aspects that it could easily be enough to put a player off entirely. R has a nice moveset, but the controls are very floaty and inconsistent. She’s also quite the slow runner, so a constant input of jumping and diving forward is the optimal way to get around. Collision detection with enemies and hazards is also a grey area; there didn’t seem to be any consistency on whether R would give or take damage when attacking an enemy. The boss fights suffer the worst, lacking any kind of climactic atmosphere, with slow-moving action and lethargic music. The rest of the soundtrack is fine, though there are some issues with audio balancing.

Perhaps FreezeME should inherit that polish from the Mario series and give back the bad camera system in exchange, as the camera often tries to kill R by suddenly whipping round the other way. This is most noticeable in the gravity-manipulated areas. On one such path, the camera spun the other way and R ran straight into a hazard. This happened while the camera was set to manual controls, when the camera should remain fixed unless manually moved.

The planets aren’t entirely reliable either. Several times R would randomly stop being pulled towards the mini-planets and fall to her death. One egregious bonus stage contains a cubic grid of small planets with coins scattered everywhere to collect. About halfway through playing it, R suddenly fell into space rather than be pulled back to ground.

The first of many eye-rolling references to famous platforming heroes

The first of many eye-rolling references to famous platforming heroes

The lack of polish is to be expected from such a small development team, but here it becomes immensely frustrating. Issues with audio, narrative, and graphics can be forgiven. Cheap deaths, poor collision detection, failure of physics, and several bug encounters are potential deal-breakers. For those determined to gather all the Golden Blocks, they’ll also have to put up with frustratingly long load times.

There are moments where the game shines; the odd satisfactory platforming challenge, the occasional clever use of the freeze mechanic, and the few catchy tunes found in the soundtrack. But it ultimately feels like FreezeME collapses under the weight of its own ambition. Following the PC release it has come to a console that’s reputed for extremely polished software, and it struggles against that competition. For a one-person project there is promise, and the developer will hopefully continue to improve and create solid work. FreezeME has a few too many problems to be recommendable, and may highlight why 3D platformers tend to be done by larger development teams. However, the low price won’t break the bank for those curious to experience it for themselves.

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