Photo by: Charlie Martin
Fraymakers is looking to be the Smash Bros. of the indie gaming scene, and while it’s currently in early access, it shows a lot of promise.
Fraymakers is a platform fighting game, a subgenre of fighting games first seen in Super Smash Bros. and which has seen a surge in popularity in recent years. While many of these games such as MultiVersus and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale are made by large studios, capitalizing on the appeal of a large-scale crossover of their brands like Smash Bros., Fraymakers is a celebration of indie developers and series.
Fraymakers currently features four playable characters: Orcane from fellow indie platform fighter Rivals of Aether, CommanderVideo from the BIT.TRIP series, Welltaro from Downwell and Octodad from Octodad: Dadliest Catch. In addition to this, the game has a variety of “assist” characters who can be summoned by the fighters, including Diogenes from Getting Over It, Tankman from Newgrounds and the Crewmate from Among Us. While there isn’t much in Fraymakers at the moment, the range on display is commendable; there is representation for a wide variety of indie hits.
This is even before mentioning Fraymakers’ custom character builder. Players can program and animate their own characters and then use them in the game using a development kit provided by the Fraymakers team. This allows for even more characters to be (unofficially) represented, and the creativity it encourages keeps in the spirit of Fraymakers’ celebration of indie games.
The gameplay itself is pretty standard for platform fighters. Characters have a collection of attacks, split into “tilt,” “strong,” “aerial,” and “special” attacks, each with different variants based on the direction the player holds their control stick. The fights can range from two-versus-two teams, free-for-all or one-on-one combat, with the goal always being to knock the opponent past the edge of the stage, netting the attacker a point or costing the defender a life.
Like some other platform fighters, Fraymakers seems to take a lot of inspiration from Super Smash Bros. Melee specifically. Melee’s characters move much quicker than they do in other Smash Bros. titles, and the introduction of the air dash opened up new techniques unique to Melee, such as the wavedash.
To this day, many players still compete in Melee despite the lack of support from Nintendo, and other platform fighters have taken notes from it. Fraymakers also includes an air dash — going so far as to allow players to bind a button on their controller for an instant wavedash — but something it also carries over from Melee is how it handles the edge of the stages.
Most stages in platform fighters have pits surrounding them, and a big part of the combat is how characters can avoid falling into them when knocked offstage. This is generally done by using jumps and special moves to reach the edge of the stage, where the character will then grab the ledge and be able to pull themselves back up. However, they are not forced to come back up, and can repeatedly drop down, jump up and re-grab the ledge. Because the game gives characters temporary invincibility when grabbing the ledge, this cycle allows players to keep making themselves untouchable, and grinds matches to a halt.
Later Smash Bros. titles addressed this issue by only granting invincibility the first time a player grabbed the ledge and by preventing them from grabbing it more than seven times before touching the ground, however no such preventative measures are present in Fraymakers. In Melee, where ledges acted similarly, the character Jigglypuff is notorious for abusing these mechanics to hold a lead until the match time runs out; while there aren’t any characters like Jigglypuff in Fraymakers yet, the fact that this strategy is theoretically possible is worrying for the game’s competitive scene.
The one positive influence Melee brings to the offstage game is how it is harder to get back on stage. The moves characters have to get back to stage generally don’t cover as much space as similar moves do in later Smash titles, and players can prevent other players from grabbing the ledge by grabbing it first.
These changes make going offstage riskier, as failing to prevent your opponent from getting back can potentially cost you a life, while also making the reward for taking that risk higher by limiting a character’s options to combat it. This makes the offstage space more exciting, whereas in other games, it seems characters can usually go offstage penalty-free. This does make the game less approachable for new players, though, as not only are these recovery tools more limited, but they are also less intuitive.
Octodad’s recovery is a “tether recovery,” meaning that it grabs the ledge from far away then pulls him towards it. But because other players can prevent Octodad from grabbing the ledge if they are already on it, Octodad won’t gain any height and will just fall to his death. Similarly, Orcane needs to set his recovery up before being knocked offstage and can’t recover otherwise. These limited recoveries tamper with the normally exciting offstage game; the high risk is solely on the Octodad/Orcane players, as their opponents can prevent them from recovering quite easily.
Overall, while there are some slight concerns with the mechanics, Fraymakers provides a fast-paced fighting game experience while also paying homage to indie gaming. Despite being in early access, the game is a good quality for its $25 price range, and I’m excited to see more updates roll out and new characters get added. The game is currently only available through Steam, though a Nintendo Switch port is planned further down the line.