FRAMED review — Life in comic-colour

Welcome to FRAMED, an adventure-puzzle game wherein you rearrange pictures to create a coherent story.

Rolling downnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.

Huzzah! The latest issue of your favorite comic FRAMED has arrived, full of more adventures of silhouetted criminals and their hijinks. Except… oh no! The panels are all out of order and make no sense! It’s up to you in FRAMED (in this case, the FRAMED Collection) to rearrange comic-book-style panels to help a variety of characters go about their nefarious deeds.

Levels are separated into ‘pages’, with varying numbers of frames, ranging from simple pages with only a few frames up to large, complex pages with nearly a dozen pictures to move around. Puzzles start off easily enough, having you escape obstacles like coppers by hopping in and out of doors, or sneaking on catwalks away from them. They quickly get complicated, though, like the page where each frame has several coloured doors, making it very hard to see a way for you to not only sneak past the guards, but end up on the right side of the fence at the end.

Gotta get past them checkpoints, bud.

FRAMED starts off simply, having you lay out your frames in order before clicking Go, but additional mechanics are introduced as the game goes on. Soon, some frames can be rotated, or there are pages where frames can be played multiple times, with changes made to the frame affecting subsequent plays. These added mechanics — added once the base mechanics are solidly built into your brain — open up the gameplay and provide so many more options for interesting and varied puzzles.

FRAMED’s art style is deliciously simple, representing characters with black silhouettes and a dash of white here and there to distinguish them. The rest of the frame is in a colourful, but still simplistic style, which helps make the world interesting to look at while still not overly distracting from the action at hand.

One thing that sadly distracts from the action is the two-panel scenes. These pages, for the most part, slowly move the story forward, having you simply flip two frames to make the story go. There are a few good ones, like a lock scene which helps teach you how to use the same frame multiple times, or the excellent page where you switch from the male protagonist to female. In the latter, you swap the lit for unlit flood light, which seriously made me jump up laughing to see such a well-used mechanic. There are some seriously cool moments in the FRAMED Collection, such as the aforementioned character switch and the scene where you have to work out, then input a door passcode.

‘Hey, we really need to fix that second spotlight.’

The FRAMED Collection is a compilation of both FRAMED 1 and 2 bundled together. FRAMED 2′s method of sequeling follows the metaphor of ‘more of the same cake’, although 2 does have its own little lemon twist with it, focusing more on switching characters and having levels with multiple characters who can interact with each other.

At the risk of creating slight spoilers, the final few pages of FRAMED 2 feature one of my favorite finales in gaming history. You ‘remix’ your story by revisiting old levels, changing them slightly. You might be switching out which panels are frozen, for example. This is really cool and made me remember back to the earlier parts of the game while also relying on the tricks and twists I’d added to my strategy in the later challenges.

The FRAMED Collection is one of the most interesting puzzle games I’ve seen in years, marrying simple mechanics with complicated yet simple-to-grasp puzzles. When I first played it at PAX AUS, I fell in love with this mix. Playing it again, it still feels the same: a great old adventure in puzzling.

The FRAMED Collection is available for PC, Mac and Linux via Itch. The two games have launched separately on mobile marketplaces.

I covered FRAMED at PAX US.

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