Frantics review: I’m using tilt controls!

Credit: Sony
Credit: Sony /

Sony continues trying to make PlayStation Playlink a thing with Frantics, a sort of vanilla Mario Party minigame set played with phones and tilt controls.

Title: Frantics
Developer: NapNok Games
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PlayStation 4 (controlled on iOS and Android)
Release Date: March 6, 2018 (purchase code at Amazon)

I’m cheering for Sony’s Playlink service to become a thing; I really am. I’m already a huge fan of the Jackbox Party Pack games, which pioneered the idea of groups of friends using their phones as controls and input devices in party games. On the surface, Sony’s taking things to the next level with games like Hidden Agenda and Frantics. Hidden Agenda used the format for a choice-based, group mystery with competitive elements but suffered from a lack of replayability. Frantics turns up the dial by actually asking players to use their phone as a tilt and slide-based controller. It’s a great idea in theory, but it falls apart due to poor game pacing and repetition sucking much of the fun out of the process.

In Frantics, one to four players (with AI players added as needed) compete in a series of minigames run by a quippy fox whose mouth movement never matches what he’s saying. There are a total of fourteen games to play, and you can play them individually or in a party setting where either you or the fox chooses a set of games to play. The parties culminate in a showdown where your wins are converted into lives for a final minigame.

Credit: Sony /

Fourteen games is not a lot of games for this kind of format, and by my second run through the main party mode I was already seeing repeats. This is exacerbated by the fact that a few of the games are basically just a variation of the same tilt-based “hit your opponent/item in a certain direction” game. Two others repeat a weird convention of choosing upgrades for your opponents’ vehicles while they choose upgrades for yours, then racing one another with either jetpacks or cars. The rest are distinct enough from one another, and include a bouncing game where you have to avoid sharp objects, a game where you have to fall and pull a parachute at the right time, and a soccer game where you win by not having goals scored on you, but you scoring goals yourself doesn’t really matter.

The AI varies wildly between stupidly unfair and just plain stupid.

I highly recommend just immediately shutting off all tutorials for everything. Sure, you might not know exactly how to play some of the games and will have to figure it out as you go from hints the fox drops and what control scheme appears on your phone. But the tutorials are some of the worst I’ve seen in a game like this. They’re narrated in a slow, cheery voice in a tone better suited for instructing small children in the ABCs. Parts of the instructions are repeated for no reason, and then, once you get into the game, the tutorial will randomly interrupt you at points to tell you things you really wanted to know about the game five minutes ago. It completely destroys the pacing and, frankly, didn’t help me understand the games much better than I could just by figuring it out as I went.

Credit: Sony /

Frantics is intended as a party game, but I’m skeptical that it’s really a party game for adults. The childish tone of the tutorials and the finicky nature of the tilt controls effectively alienates the audience I usually invite over for Jackbox or even regular Mario Party. I think this might be a decent game for families with children, but if you don’t have four people to play you might struggle anyway. There’s no way to turn the difficulty level on the AI up or down, or even to avoid the AI altogether if you don’t have a quorum. That’s a pain, too, since the AI varies wildly between stupidly unfair and just plain stupid. It’s anyone’s guess which one you’ll get.

Credit: Sony /

The ideas and aesthetics (including sharp, claymation visuals) behind Frantics are solid. I love the idea of using my phone as a controller for different styles of minigames that I can play with friends, and to its credit, Frantics uses the tech admirably and consistently. When I lost, I never felt it was because my phone was a terrible controller. But as with both Knowledge is Power and Hidden Agenda, Frantics doesn’t go far enough. There aren’t nearly enough games or game modes, and there’s no glue holding the thing together. In other similar party games, I immediately understand my objective and why I want to reach it. In Frantics, you’re just a goofy animal doing things because a fox said to and … crowns? I don’t know. You can win crowns. The best part of the game by far was when he “called” me to give me a secret mission through a voice clip on my phone that my friends couldn’t hear. It was a rare surprising moment in an otherwise underwhelming game.

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Families with video game-age kids might enjoy Frantics, but if you’re looking for another proper party game for more (or even less) than four people, this isn’t it.  I love the ideas Sony’s pushing with Playlink, and I wish Frantics went further. A more robust set of games in this style and using this tech with better pacing and drive would go over well, but it looks like Playlink titles will have to go back to the drawing board again to find the formula for success. There’s just nothing frantic at all about Frantics.

6. <em>Frantics</em> is a novelty by virtue of Sony’s continued exploration of how phones can be used as controllers on a console, and I was impressed with how well that tech worked, but that’s mostly where my interest ended. Frustrating tutorials and a lack of options made a small set of already middling minigames a chore to get through, even with friends involved. A few rare moments of fun did not stop us from breathing a sigh of relief when we were finally done.. NapNok Games. . Frantics

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.