Now that the lustre is gone from playing "Rock Band" or "Guitar Hero", what do you do with all those plastic guitars? Brett McCallon reviews "Fret Nice", a game that tries to put those instruments to use ...


The music-game wave seems to be receding. The market is shrinking for the two leading series, "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band", and revenues are in decline. But plenty of flotsam has been left in their wake. Many of you, no doubt, have moulded bits of plastic that resemble guitars, drums and microphones gathering dust in a dimly-lit corner or disused closet. Sure, there are still "bands" that get together regularly (including Lamb Hammer!), but yesterday's toys have become today's junk, until your next party shifts into multiplayer karaoke mode.

That's a lot of debris taking up precious living-room real estate. This is why gamers throughout the world will be relieved to know that a new, downloadable game called "Fret Nice" (available through Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network) puts plastic guitars to work controlling a game that has nothing to do with pretending to play rock songs.

The control scheme adapts a standard, "Super Mario"-style two-dimensional platform game, in which players jump over obstacles and enemies, and shifts it to the guitar. Instead of pressing forward or back on a game pad or joystick, players move forward or back by holding down the green or yellow fret buttons on the guitar controller. Jumping is handled by yanking up the neck, and players can dispatch enemies in the air by playing various "notes" as they would in a standard music game, hitting the strum bar and one or more fret buttons in prescribed combinations.

"Fret Nice" was developed by a small Swedish developer called Pieces Interactive, and the game's graphics and attitude are simple and charming—a palate cleanser for gamers overwhelmed by big-budget spectacles like "Mass Effect 2" and "God of War 3". Characters and scenery resemble layered, textured cut-outs, and the animation and sound effects are well-executed—clearly, and refreshingly, not the work of a giant development team.

All of this would be great, if only the game were a bit more fun to play. Problems abound, both small and more significant: players have to earn points in order to unlock new levels, which means that you may get bored replaying the areas you just finished a few times before you can move on to new territory. More importantly, though, the guitar controller proves to be more of a hindrance than an exciting novelty.

While it's kind of nice figuring out how everything works, and the idea of playing fake "riffs" in order to eliminate enemies is fun for a while, some of the controls are quite annoyingly inconsistent. For example, the above-mentioned "jump" functionality requires wildly flailing the neck of the guitar up and down, which is a bit much when jumping is one of the most common actions in the game. Worse, any fake rocker can tell you that most models of plastic guitar are pretty inconsistent when it comes to responding to that particular gesture. 

All of this means that, more often than not, you'll find yourself yanking a plastic guitar's neck up and down, cursing as friendly-looking monsters slowly eviscerate your unresponsive avatar. And there's nothing particularly rock'n'roll about that.

(Brett McCallon is a writer based in New Orleans. He often writes about gaming for More Intelligent Life)