As we’ve said countless times before, the best games available on mobile and tablet are usually those that manage to balance innovation with simplicity. Beneath the deluge of awkward ports, match-three puzzlers, and social strategy games, sometimes all it takes is one unique concept to stand out from the crowd, no matter how basic.
Framed, the first game from indie developer Loveshack, is just that: a simple, albeit fresh ray of light scything through the App Store’s ever-growing tide of mediocrity. It’s original and stylish in a way that few games can boast, pieced together exclusively for mobile platforms.
The best way to describe Framed is by directly lifting the developer’s own tagline: “change the order, change the outcome.” Each level is presented as if it were a page from a comic or storyboard, made up of various noir-styled panels. The objective of the game is to rearrange these in such a way that the on-screen protagonist can move from panel to panel and safely advance to the next stage.
In your way will be a number of hazards from crumbling walls and complacent cops to all kinds of deadly drops. The key when playing Framed is to align the panels correctly, allowing the game’s enigmatic escapists to divert whatever perils await just around the corner.
There’s something very appealing in its approach to difficulty. Although some levels can be a little on the challenging side, these are usually sandwiched between much easier puzzles as well as stages that act more as cutscenes. By mixing these segments together so seamlessly, Framed manages to blur the line between narrative and action, keeping everything moving in a distinct, cohesive fashion. Maybe that’s why Hideo Kojima dubbed this his favourite game of 2014?
As you progress, the game will start to change things up a little, introducing new mechanics and panel types. Some, for instance, can rotate on a specific axis, thereby changing the direction in which it directs the play. Other panels will also come tagged with cooldown timers, effectively allowing you to use them repeatedly in order to beat a level.
Our only complaint, however, is just how trial and error the flow of gameplay can occasionally feel. During some of Framed’s more prolonged levels, you will sometimes find yourself irritably swiping at panels with crossed finger, hoping for the right outcome. It would be an easy caveat to overlook if players weren’t forced to watch each failed attempt from start to finish. Though there is a reset button tucked away in the top corner, a fast forward option would have also been most welcome.
Everything else, Framed does flawlessly, especially when it comes to audio and aesthetic. The colour scheme, though mainly consisting of black and white, also carries a palette of faded hues, bringing each of the game’s urban settings to life. Meanwhile, the noir crime thrillers of the 1930s are a constant inspiration throughout, seeping into its jazz-heavy soundtrack.
With its debut title, Loveshack has managed to position itself right next to other esteemed mobile developers such as Simogo, the creator’s of Year Walk and Device 6. Though we have yet to see what they have next in the pipeline, hopefully it will harbour the same degree of flair and consistency, cementing the multinational studio as mobile game auteurs.