FRANTICS is a member of Sony’s PlayLink family, a collection of simple multiplayer games for PlayStation 4 that requires each player to have a mobile device — phone or tablet — with a free companion app installed. It’s a straightforward party game starring animals made of clay.
These creatures compete in several short mini-games, including a race along an obstacle-laden linear track, a parachuting contest that challenges players to be the last to release their chutes, and a quest to be the last one to not slip off of a gradually shrinking platform of ice. Players tilt and tap their mobile devices to make their characters move around, sometimes jumping on, bumping into, or even punching adversaries to earn an advantage. Players who’ve lost a round can still be part of the action by using their device to sabotage the actions of the remaining characters. Sessions are won by earning the most crowns for winning mini-games, which can include using coins collected during play to buy more crowns near the end of the game. Frantics is designed for up to four people to play as a group, but kids can also play by themselves and practice against computer-controlled opponents.
Frantics has a very unique aesthetic which isn’t seen too often in video games: clay. While it is clearly rendered clay as opposed to stop-motion captured, the result is still pleasing to the eye. Some mini-games have characters dying in brutal fashion, such as skydiving without opening a parachute. But since they are made of clay, each animal simply splats into the ground in comic, rather than tragic, fashion. Whichever graphics engine is running under the hood renders Frantics smoothly, and no hiccups were detected even when playing with a full match of four players.
In order for Frantics to even work, each player is required to have a compatible mobile device, whether that is a smartphone or tablet. For our testing, we used two Motorola Z2 Force phones, a Samsung Galaxy S8, and an older decommissioned ZTE ZMAX. Essentially, as long as the device is on the same WiFi network as the PS4, and isn’t too ancient, it’ll work. Developer NapNok Games has made obvious efforts in easing the connection experience, since there is even an option to turn the PS4 into a Wi-Fi hotspot for everyone to connect to in the rare event that a home wireless network is not available.
Requiring the use of a smartphone or tablet is something that wouldn’t have worked even one console generation ago. But these days, almost everyone who has a PS4 likely has a compatible device lying around. A quick search on the Google Play Store shows that each PlayLink game has its own dedicated app. While this will keep things simple when launching into a game, having a single PlayLink app that loaded in assets depending on the game currently being played could have simplified things even more. As it stands now, people who buy-in to all PlayLink games will quickly see their app drawers expand as they download more and more of these dedicated apps.
Having mobile devices as the controllers allows for a simple yet intuitive control scheme. Some games are controlled by simply tilting the device, occasionally tapping an on-screen button to perform an action. Other games control by swiping on the device’s touchscreen, and one even controls a bit like Angry Birds, as the player chooses a trajectory to launch their characters in rolling office chairs on something like a mini-golf course. There are some creative uses of the many sensors and input methods available on today’s smart devices, which allows for non-gamers to play without having to worry about which button to press.
For those looking for a fun party game, Frantics fits the bill nicely. It’s not the deepest game out there, but then again this is targeting the casual demographic. Requiring the use of a dedicated app on mobile phones or tablets is a double-edged sword, as well, but the execution is simple and reliable. For about $20 USD, Frantics will provide gamers and non-gamers alike something entertaining to do at a get-together without burying their face in a small screen.