It has become inevitable that ports of mobile games will continue to come thick and fast to the Nintendo Switch eShop. If you’re accustomed or well versed in playing games on your smart device, chances are you’ve already dug deep and come across the odd gem among all the clones and shovelware. Originally released on iOS in 2014 to critical acclaim (Hideo Kojima loves it, apparently), FRAMED and its 2017 pre-sequel have snuck onto the eShop - but should you give this collection the time of day?
Pitched as noir-puzzle games, The FRAMED Collection could also be described as a pair of interactive comic books, where your objective is to evade law enforcement and generally avoid harm. While the premise might sound simple enough, the aesthetic execution and regular implementation of new, clever ideas strike a great balance between challenge, logic and pacing.
Accompanied by a smooth jazz soundtrack and sparse yet impactful sound effects, The FRAMED Collection is a very stylish package. Visually, it leans towards a minimalist approach but is nevertheless striking and vivid. As our ambiguous fugitive runs from panel to panel armed only with a fedora and briefcase, silhouettes and elongated shadows combine with excellent lighting to nail that noir feel, even if the architecture and scenery of the first game don’t ‘pop’ as much after seeing the exotic oriental skylines of the sequel.
In terms of narrative, it's a typical crime caper and things are kept pretty vague. There's no text or dialogue present, but the visual storytelling suits the style and keeps the action moving. In some instances, there are just two panels involving relatively basic tasks, like picking up an object. You can use your finger to slide and place, or the left Analog stick to move and buttons to select/deselect, with a final press of ‘Y’ to ‘play out’ the scene. The game looks and plays great in handheld mode, but has had a bit of polish and looks crisp on a big screen at the expense of more intuitive controls. While it is possible (and even necessary) to pause proceedings in some situations, it does affect the flow.
From close up shots to the manner in which different areas of the environments intersect, the characters themselves have charm and personality despite their deceivingly basic appearance. From stumbles and skittish surveying of the environments to exaggerated stealthy body language, the level of detail in each character's movements is constantly engaging. While your belief does have to be suspended when it comes to avoiding certain police officers, the game's rules and logic are at least consistent and it’s always interesting to see a scene develop.
The game starts out simple and straightforward, but it doesn’t take long before you’ll be methodically planning out your route, utilising distractions or using a disguise. You’ll be rotating paths from a top-down viewpoint on one page, only to be sliding along a precariously high ledge the next. Not only does the game introduce new ideas and mechanics with satisfying regularity, the variety of camera angles, environments and scenarios all play out with panache and urgency.
The scenes are both at their most ambitious and at their most frustrating when there is a set time limit to shuffle and use a panel multiple times to keep things going. An addition to the Switch and PC versions is a ‘fast forward’ button (X), and after seeing the same scene played out one too many times, it is certainly a handy tool to use if you know the solution is right or wrong.
There are some brilliant examples of cause and effect in The FRAMED Collection, but when using the traditional button controls instead of the touchscreen, the inputs sometimes don’t feel tight enough. ‘Real-time’ puzzles feel a bit jarring but the very nature of how you personally ‘read’ a particular scene can give you a sudden, forehead-slapping ‘eureka’ moment. For the most part, both titles have a good flow and brisk pace - almost too brisk, as each mechanic doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, and as a result, both games might be over long before you’d like.
Understandably, putting the two games side by side means there’s an obvious mechanical and aesthetic progression. The sequel is more polished and varied, but the first definitely holds up and as a package, they compliment each other superbly. As with all good puzzle games, there are regular moments of true genius that are as obvious (once solved) as they are initially perplexing.
Despite a couple of blemishes, The FRAMED Collection is a clever and stylish addition to the Switch library. Inevitably, it’s much smoother to play with touch controls, but it’s worth seeing the bold characters and more vibrant set pieces play out on a big TV. A couple of iffy puzzles and a fairly short run time for both games shouldn’t put you off too much, as there are some excellent ideas here and a refreshingly cool overall experience. If you’ve never played them before and you like puzzle games with a dash of charisma, you should definitely check them out. Hideo Kojima can't be wrong, right?