Fran Bow – The Mobile Version – Part 1

It’s no secret that I love Fran Bow. So this is not so much a review of the game itself as, again, a review of what’s been done with the mobile port. Jeez. I’m only two reviews into my freelance career as a game reviewer, and so far it’s been all mobile ports.

I shouldn’t complain, though. I think it’s great that adventure games are coming out on mobile devices, because a) mobile devices are very well geared to adventure games, and b) it means that adventure games are now (potentially) being played by people who would otherwise go, “I’m too busy to play adventure games.”

In fact, it means you can easily squeeze in half an hour of games like Fran Bow over a lunch break, which is exactly what I did.

One time, I had spaghetti.
One time, I had spaghetti.

Fran Bow lends itself well to a mobile format because it’s a single-click adventure game. Now, I know what some traditionalists are going to say: Single-click interfaces are boring. They assume too much on behalf of the player.

Well, that’s true to an extent, but when you’re playing on a mobile device, you don’t want to fiddle around with icon bars or verb bars or, god forbid, verb coins. It helps speeding up playing the game, it frees up the limited screen real estate for the graphics, and it also lets you focus more on the story than the mechanics of the game.

Another thing that helps speed up the game is that, for the most part, you can quickly exit a room by tapping the eyeballs at the ends of the screen. Yes, these were also present in the PC version, but that doesn’t make it any less useful when you’ve got a lot of walking around to do and not a lot of time to do it in.

This is not to say that the game is simple or “casual” by mobile standards. Those of you who have already played Fran Bow know that it is an old-school pointy-clicky affair, and that most puzzle solutions come from stealing people’s shit, combining it with other shit you’ve stolen along the way, and perhaps talking them out of/into helping you.

Some are less grateful than others.
Some are less grateful than others.

So, overall: The game controls just as well as the PC version — possibly because it is exactly the same game. No amenities have been added; at least, none that I could readily see. If you liked Fran Bow on your computer, you’ll like her on mobile. Or, like me, you can use her newfound mobile presence to nudge people who normally don’t play PC adventure games into playing the game.

Now, I say the game itself remains virtually unchanged. But here are some things that might raise an eyebrow or two:

Save games. Yes, my pet peeve rears its head once again. You don’t actually get those in the mobile version. You get a “continue” button.

Basically, if you close the game down, it saves your progress. You then re-open the game at a later date, tap “continue,” and continue onwards. You don’t get to reload to a previous point in the story, because … yeah, I’m repeating myself here. Point is: No savegames. At all.

This is kind of alleviated by the second eyebrow-raising thing, which is that Fran Bow on mobile is now an episodic affair.

Come on, relax, it can't be that bad ... can it?
Come on, relax, it can’t be that bad … can it?

This is why this review is entitled “part 1.” ‘Cos I beat part 1 of what is now a 5-part affair. Each part is a stand-alone app, and they each retail for about 17 Danish kroner, which in US$ is what’s colloquially known as “two fiddy.”

This means two things:

  1. You have to buy all 5 parts to play the entire game (duh). So that’s about $12.50 US, which adds up to roughly what the entire game costs on Steam or GOG, anyway.
  2. You can play the game out of order.

The last point is what kind of alleviates the lack of save games. You can start any chapter you want at any time. This still means you have to play the whole part through from the beginning if you choose to start over.

So while it does act as a stopgap measure for not having save games, it’s also a little annoying at times, because some puzzles have multiple solutions (such as getting the key from the incredibly creepy and perverted guard who wants a kiss and a lapdance from you), and I’m the sort of person who likes to go back and try different approaches because I’m lonely and sad that way.

Ostensibly, the reason for splitting the game up in 5 parts is that the game “wouldn’t work” as one full game, according to Killmonday Games, and I’m assuming they mean that they couldn’t get save games to work.

Update: Isak Martinsson, the programmer of the game, commented on the real reason why it’s in parts:


Really, it's not that bad! Calm the fuck down, will you?
Really, it’s not that bad! Calm the fuck down, will you?

One last little gripe I have is that there are no hotspot indicators. This tripped me up once. I kept tapping on a table full of foodstuffs and kept getting the same generic messages, and I’d forgotten that you’re supposed to specifically pick up a cupcake that’s on the table. Some see hotspot indicators as cheating; I say, if they’re optional, then go for them. Especially on a mobile platform, being able to quickly identify hotspots without squinting is key to reducing frustration and pixel-hunting.

Killmonday do advise you when you download the app that the game is probably better suited to tablets than phones, but other than that fucking cupcake I had no problem navigating the game or reading the text on my LG G4 Android phone. I even had no problem traversing the hedge maze at the end of chapter 1, which I was dreading because it’s essentially a stealth arcade sequence. But it controlled very accurately and didn’t give me any trouble.

Yay for me!
Yay for me!

So, apart from the absent save game feature and the lack of hotspot indicators, Fran Bow is every bit as gruesome and endearing as it was on the PC. Only now you can bring it with you everywhere.

I like to use the mobile version as a demonstration when showing other people the game, and the 5-part-release plan actually works in this favor: People who are “unsure” can choose to just get the first part and see if they like the game or not, instead of having to buy the full game up front.

Overall, a good port with just one or two technical whoopsies that really won’t stop you from enjoying the game.

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