There aren’t too many 3D platformers these days so I picked this up on the eShop without even looking at a review or caring about quality. FreezeME is an N64-inspired platformer in the most obvious way, directly ripping off the structure from Mario 64 and Banjo to create a non-linear 3D platformer with multiple objectives in each world. I’ve beaten the game now and had a bit of fun exploring the worlds, but the game has a lot of problems.
My impressions of the controls went through a lot of phases. At first I was impressed with the camera, it moves really fast when you put the sensitivity up to max (and make sure to press ZR until it cycles to “Manual”). I really like high sensitivity in any game that allows it. A lot of people find Mario Sunshine’s camera difficult, but to me it’s one of the best feeling cameras in videogames due to how much control you have. This gives me a pretty similar feeling, because you can quickly find a good view for any position.
Unfortunately the controls turn to shit once you start doing any actual platforming. The camera can not zoom in and out, shakes randomly at high elevation, and the movement itself is very sloppy. The jump gives you a decent amount of control, but it’s very difficult to tell where you are going to land. This is due to the simplified textures having no variety, poor collision detection (sliding off flat surfaces, grabbing thin air), and the fact that your shadow disappears at random. It took me a while to figure out what was going on with shadows, but this level made it clear.
This is like a hardcore version of Mario Sunshine if Mario lost FLUDD, his shadow, his weight, and his ability to perceive depth. The worst part about the shadow is that it’s sometimes there, meaning I had many moments where I was going to land perfectly on the platform, but adjusted away from it in search for my shadow. Nope, it just hadn’t loaded. I’m directly above this platform in the screenshot but I have an instinct to move away from it. The inconsistency of such an important visual element brings down the entire game, and this level should not have been made because it doesn’t function properly. Same goes for the slide “challenges”, some of the worst movement I’ve ever experienced. It has slopes, but no textures indicating where the slopes begin. It’s fucking awful guesswork because you’re going too fast to adjust and you have to make a mental note of the cutoff points for next time.
Even though the camera is pretty bad, the camera is also pretty good. What? I’m talking about the other camera, sitting in R’s hands. R is the protagonist’s name, I don’t know why. Maybe the framerate struggled with the rest of the letters. Anyway, the one unique thing about this game is the freeze mechanic. You can freeze moving platforms or enemies in place and this is necessary for some movement and puzzles. You have the option of holding R and manually moving the stick to aim and freeze something, or you can just tap the GamePad screen instantly. It’s nice to see the Wii U GamePad used in a way that greatly enhances the controls. I was slowly aiming with the right stick before even realising you could do this. It’s just BOOM *touch* camera shot, and the moving platform or enemy is frozen in place. With a simple touch you can freeze things and keep running which is impossible with the stick controls. It saves camera movement, stick aiming, and a bunch of seconds. Brilliant.
The whole freeze concept of the game unfortunately does not play a huge part in the core gameplay, with the occasional freeze here and there, and normal platforming for most other missions. You can use the freeze mechanic to aid basic platforming and movement, but it’s hardly ever necessary. I wish they pushed this design element a bit further, because it’s the only part of the game with good controls.
I think FreezeME’s biggest problem is that it tries to be as ambitious as Mario and Banjo when the controls aren’t nearly as good. Obviously not everyone has the resources of Nintendo to relentlessly fine-tune every element, but I think a lot of things should have been changed in this game to accommodate the difference. If something is not fun to play, it doesn’t matter how good the idea is. A lot of puzzles in this game have that awkward “I’m so clever” Indie vibe, where they aren’t difficult, just very illogical. The design gets so strange I couldn’t tell if I was doing things the intended way or not. I’m pretty sure infinitely double-jumping up a slope was not intended, but I’ve watched way too many speedruns to not notice that. In contrast to the weird gameplay frustrations, I enjoyed roaming around the hub even though there was no challenging platforming or puzzles. It could have just been a fun relaxing game if they structured it a bit differently. There would be nothing wrong with that.
Overall I find FreezeME hard to recommend, but I did enjoy it. I met a lot of the frustrating gameplay elements with laughter, instead of frustration, just because the game is so colourful and interesting to look at. The fun, exploratory 3D platformer feel is present and welcoming, but fades very quickly as soon as precise platforming comes into play. This is one of the few games I’ve played that has gotten worse with every world, with World 1 being a fun playground, World 2 being a little annoying and claustrophobic, and World 3 being almost broken. I won’t directly spoil what comes after, but it makes the controls even worse.
If you have low expectations and just want to collect things and clear a platformer, it’s cheap enough to consider. The story, soundtrack, and writing are not really worth it. It’s the expected Indie parade where they put in a bunch of unfunny jokes and have references to Sonic, Spyro, Banjo without creating a new identity. I’m personally really fucking tired of that shit. It just means in 20 years time we’ll still be talking about Banjo and Spyro, instead of FreezeME. I’m pretty sure some assets are directly copied from Super Mario 3D Land as well. Regardless, FreezeME is just a bit of 3D platforming fun and does scratch that itch from the N64 golden age. You just might need to wash the blood from your face afterwards.