Did you hear the one about the rotten classical musician? He was de-composing! Geddit? He’s like- and- never mind.
Music isn’t the only thing being resurrected in Frederic. The game brings the romantic composer Chopin back to life, more than 150 years after he died. Emerging intact from his coffin in a Paris cemetery, he’s surprised and baffled to find a world changed beyond recognition.
So what’s the meaning of all this? Chopin’s been summoned forth to save 'music', because the heavens above reckon he's the last great practitioner. Whether that’s true or not is open to debate, but it certainly makes for a deliciously whacky premise.
Chopin hops into a golden carriage and travels the world, doing battle with specialists in other musical genres like hip-hop, bluegrass, and rock. In one duel, for example, a greasy sheriff breaks out the banjo whilst Chopin starts tinkling the ivories. Only one man walks away unscathed.Piano Man
The core of the game is rhythm-action, modelled very closely on the mechanic of Guitar Hero, where a sequence of notes descend from the top of the screen. Tap the screen in time with the notes, try not to make any blunders, and you rack up the points.
You win duels by nudging a meter along the top of the screen. Too much red and your opponent is getting the better of you. Keep it in the green zone and you’re on track to victory. Pulling off combo moves will also unleash attacks on your rival to further throw him off his game.
There are nine duels altogether, and to reflect the different musical styles Chopin’s music is remixed and mashed-up accordingly. And they all sound pretty good: the chiptune version of 'Waltz No. 17 in A Minor' for stage five is especially catchy.
The controls make ample use of the screen, with touchscreen keys that are responsive enough to keep pace with the music, but it does grow complicated in the later stages. Initial finger taps devolve into a knotty tangle of digits sliding across the glass.
In the background, meanwhile, the game camera pans across a scene with the duellists and the surrounding landscape. Hit a bum note too many times and Chopin looks up from his piano in consternation. Elsewhere, there are visual jokes that rely on cultural stereotypes for their impact.Rock Me, Amadeus
Which raises the secondary feature of Frederic. It’s as much a motion comic as it is a rhythm-action game. The hand-drawn artwork is rather impressive, but the storyline contains heavy-handed commentary about global politics which some players might find irritating.
In a scene set in Ireland, for example, Chopin encounters a pair of Polish migrants - one a construction worker and the other a busty nurse. They start to speak, but then they’re hurriedly chased off by an Irish leprechaun making pithy asides about the Irish debt crisis. It’s weird, quite frankly.
The rationale behind it is that Chopin is a Polish national hero, and Forever Entertainment is a Polish development studio. It celebrates the achievements of its countryman while also passing judgement on the mess that rapacious commerce has made of art and culture (and, by extension, the world).
The end result is a sweeping narrative that’s rather muddled and sometimes confusing (perhaps in part because of the English translation), with a broad sense of humour that often misfires.
But, while its story is a source of quizzical bemusement, Frederic remains a delight to play. And it may even inspire you to further investigate the music of the great man himself.