Steve Harvey. Bradley Walsh. Phillip Schofield. Game show hosts are truly the most influential people of our time: they crack jokes met with a sensible chuckle, engage in light-hearted conversations with hopeful contestants that they probably hate, and console poor old Brenda from Swindon after she answers a question about Eastenders incorrectly. The Fox, host of Frantics, the latest phone-based PlayLink offering for PS4, may not join these true kings amongst men in terms of personality, but the title itself provides a fun enough time in its 15 madcap minigames.
Said minigames can be played a la carte, as part of playlists that you can create yourself, or in The Fox’s party mode. The latter is the main - and best - way to play the game thanks to its simplicity: winning a minigame grants you a Crown, which each count as one life in the final king of the hill-style minigame that decides the ultimate winner. Coins can also be collected throughout the course of each game and can be spent on powerups to help give you an advantage.
Things get more sinister - and more fun - when The Fox gets involved, though. Sometimes he’ll call up a player and make a sneaky proposition to them in order to mix up the match, which is a fun idea that adds another element to the mode. One time, for example, we were told to let another player win in return for a Crown, which meant that we had to form an uneasy alliance but at the same time try and stay subtle about our goal.
The minigames themselves vary in terms of quality, but for the most part are a solid offering. The two we found most enjoyable, Hot-Rod Heroes and Thrust Issues, both follow the same formula: the former having Trials-esque racing gameplay, the latter being based around jetpack courses that you need to navigate in the quickest time. The basic gameplay for each minigame has tight controls, but the fun comes in the downtime between races when each player chooses who should get each new part. Said parts can bolster or hinder players, so there’s a fun balance between trying to better your own vehicle while sabotaging other players.
Many of the best minigames are sports-based: Chair Riots is Frantics’ equivalent to curling - except it’s much more fun, since it involves rocket-boosted chairs and mines that each player secretly places before play. Heavy Metal, on the other hand, is best described as four-way football - simple, but impulsively playable - while Bomb Slingers is a Bomberman-style battle royale where everyone tries to knock each other off of the screen with explosives.
Other highlights include Tour de Frantics, a bike racer with delightfully simple controls - holding down on your phone increases your speed but stops your character from following the road - and Trappy Fields, a sort of Q*bert/Frogger hybrid in which each player has to try and grab a bowl of soup at the other end of the screen while dodging invisible traps. For the majority of the games in Frantics, phone controls are implemented really well, keeping things simplistic so the minigames are accessible while also making sure they’re responsive.
A couple of minigames do suffer from control issues though, mainly the ones requiring quick inputs. Friendless Runner, in which quick swipes are required to move left and right (as well as to jump) is often frustrating due to the inputs not registering. For the most part, though, the controls are fine.
It might not be too innovative, but Frantics provides an enjoyable party experience that Sony's PlayLink service has been lacking. It certainly isn't a killer app, but the fun variety of minigames and its (mostly) responsive controls show how much of a good time PlayLink can provide when it's properly used.