By – Jarrett Riddle

Fran Bow Review He

Ah, the joys of childhood. Waking up as a fresh, spry 10-year-old with hope in your heart and not a worry in your noggin. Then you enter the living room to find your parents brutally murdered, lying in a horrifically bloody heap on the floor. Clutching your best friend, the family cat, close to your chest, you dash into the woods near the house. Now unsure of what to do or where to go, you take solace in the fact that your kitty is still with you. Unfortunately, this small positive doesn’t last long, as you’re scooped up and dumped into a worn down insane asylum. This is Fran Bow by the creative Swedish husband and wife team Killmonday Games, and things certainly aren’t looking good for poor Fran.

In this simultaneously cute and morbid point and click adventure, you’ll need to help the curious girl escape her prison, find the cat whom she loves so dearly, and find the way to Aunt Grace’s house, who will surely take good care of her. This may take a little more effort than simply leaving the asylum and walking home, as the world that Fran perceives is quite different from that of most peoples’. Downing a pretty red pill from a bottle Fran carries around allows her to peer into a whole different reality; one filled with bizarre creatures and gruesome depictions of death. Worst of all, a hostile goat-headed apparition frequently interferes with her plans and ensures that the journey won’t be a safe one, as he likes to show up unexpectedly in both worlds.

The adventure doesn’t end with the asylum, however. Fran will travel through a plethora of bizarre landscapes on her way home, all the while uncovering bits and pieces about the identity of the one who killed her parents. Bipedal talking insects, vegetables, animals, and figures from beyond will be crossed. While many of these appear to be kind and helpful, some are obviously out to hurt Fran, both physically and mentally. Humans aren’t in the clear, either, as even in the “normal” world strange things happen often. This leaves the player second-guessing the motivations of many, and never knowing quite what to expect from one screen to the next; a location can look like a bright, happy meadow in one instance, but transforming into something sinister in the next.

Fran Bow Review 1

Like any good adventure game, numerous challenges separate story sections of Fran Bow. These include inventory usage scenarios, brainteasing puzzles, and various minigames ranging from mazes to Frogger-like events. The game is excellent with the difficulty of these tasks, as they will often have you wondering for a while, but are always solvable after using the ol’ noggin enough. Too often I play point and clicks that I can either fly through due to the lack of puzzles or over-easiness thereof. Just as frequently, I attempt to battle my way through adventures with obscure, seemingly impossible solutions to progress and end up having to keep my eyes glued to a walkthrough. Not so in this case, as experimenting and asking around enough will inevitably end with the problem being solved.

If you’ve ever played a point and click adventure, you will instantly recognize and understand Fran Bow’s mode of gameplay. Screens are traversed by either clicking on eyeballs if they are present at the sides of the area, or by moving into paths that lead elsewhere. Gathered items can be accessed most any time via Fran’s purse at the bottom left corner, and can be further examined, used, or combined with other objects from there. Looking closely at a possession makes Fran offer her thoughts on what the thing may be or how it can be used. While some of her descriptions may just be for fun or downright silly, others can provide great clues for determining what needs to be done next.

As mentioned before, locations can range from dingy buildings to blissful mountainside communities. In-between lies otherworldly lands that challenge your perception on what is real. No matter the setting, background and character art are drawn superbly. While different resolutions aren’t offered, the graphics scale very nicely up to any size you throw at it. Whether you’re playing in full-screen or the 854×480 windowed mode, the game is easy to look at.

Fran Bow Review 2

Animations for actions being performed show great detail, with the protagonist alone running, jumping, climbing, and doing a wide range of facial and bodily gestures in response to events. Of particular note is Mr. Midnight, whose realistic portrayal is spot on and despite what one may expect, never clashes with the cartoony vibes given off by other characters. Our feline friend walks, paws at objects, and even grooms himself as Fran leads the way. If someone told me these animations were rotoscoped, which is to say, traced from a video of a real cat going about his business, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least.

Some incredible original music is offered here as well, always adequately suiting the situation at hand. Whether it’s the haunting tolls of the title menu or the whimsical, childlike tunes during happier situations, the combination of video and audio lends heavily to the fantastic atmosphere. I often get feelings while playing this game that I haven’t experienced in quite some time, going all the way back to legendary point and click adventures of the 90s. Fran Bow just has a strange prevailing element of thought-provoking storytelling and artistry that pokes and prods at your emotions in ways that are hard to explain. Screenshots and video clips don’t truly do the game justice, as its a journey that should be undertaken with all the lights turned off and the speakers cranked to allow full immersion. What I’m trying to get at here is: the presentation is aces.

Other than accessing the menu, which is summoned with the escape key, the game uses just the mouse and a left button click for all activities. This is a plus in my book, as some games of the same type can over-complicate things by making the player do unnecessary acrobatics with the mouse, forcing them to drag icons across the screen or guess which button needs to be pressed given different situations. I feel like simplicity is always better in adventures like this, so the story and environments can receive greater emphasis over input confusions.

Fran Bow uses an autosave feature that does a superb job of holding your position no matter what may be happening. The first time I exited the game, I hadn’t yet finished the chapter, so part of me was worried of having to start all over. Lo and behold, when I hit Continue from the main menu I was taken back to exactly where I’d left off. This doesn’t happen just for screen transitions either; the game saves even after important events take place without leaving the area. A chapter select is available as well that allows you to replay any section you’ve already gotten through. Also, I’ve experienced zero bugs during my playthrough, and just a few typos here and there that are being routinely eliminated with patches. The developers have certainly taken their time to make sure their baby is as smooth and error-free as possible, and it shows.

Fran Bow Review 3

Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

What more can I say about Franny that I haven’t already? A dark, mysterious tale with shades of Alice in Wonderland around every corner that challenges your brain just enough without becoming tiresome. If that’s not enough, an eye-popping art style and memorable, eerie melodies make this an experience that shouldn’t be missed by any fan of great stories. At a playtime of 10+ hours to complete, this is quite a lengthy adventure made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s being offered by such a small, committed team for just $14.99. My recommendation is to visit your favorite digital retailer and purchase Fran Bow pronto, lest the goat demon drag you into the abyss.

Fran Bow Technical Summary:

Fran Bow Review Sum

  • Time Played – 10 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1920×1080
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
  • DRM – Steam, none if purchased through GOG.
  • System Specs –3.7 GHz AMD A10-6700, 768MB Radeon 8670D, 8GB RAM
  • Control Scheme – M/KB
  • Saved Game Location – SteamApps\common\Fran Bow
  • Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam, GOG
  • Demo – Yes
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