The mind is a weird thing. It can be fantastic, and it can be insane. Even the brightest of people have a tinge of madness inside. Take Lewis Carroll, famed author and poet and most known for Alice in Wonderland. His children’s novel of a young girl being thrust into Wonderland in many variants- starting with the flagship novel to its sequel, Through the Looking Glass. The nonsensical adventure has been adapted into a movie by the mouse and into video games, most notably American McGee’s Alice in Wonderland and its sequel, Alice: Madness Returns. Both are darker versions of Carroll’s nonsensical novels but added more edge rather than imagination through the character of Alice Liddel. So now the question is where will there be a game that matches the dark fantasy than add onto the madness?
Fran Bow, developed and published by Killmonday Games, is a dark fantasy point and click adventure game that offers an interesting interpretation of the gothic horror genre in the guise of a Alice in Wonderland nonsensical shell. It is not something to let your kids play at night but gives a dark whimsy and spin to a girl’s journey to solve the mystery of her departed parents.
The story of Fran Bow is eerily like Alice In Wonderland is that it makes no sense but does when it is in context. You play as a young girl named Fran who witnesses a demon murder her parents. Now trapped in her own mind, Fran is pulled through different realities and must solve puzzles in order to figure out the murder of her parents and keep her sanity through the strange mind-bending realities around her.
The gameplay is simple; you are put into several scenes per area and you get the ability to walk around and pick up items or talk to people. If you have other items, you can attempt to combine or examine them closely to get additional information or more items. Combining items will be the key to pass through scenes or persuade others to give specific items you need away to you. Sometimes, you will need to go to the dark realm after taking your medication, allowing you to see a different form of the scenes you’re in. A cottage could actually be a disgusting sewer-well or a hospital could be full of shadow demons just hanging around reflections of their patients. More options open when you take your pills. When you get to talk to certain characters, either you can continue down a single conversation path in order to get information or have two branching pathways to communicate to other characters, ranging from the skeletal trickster Itward, the furry doctor Palontras, walking root vegetable people, or flat out demons looking for a doctor’s appointment. Demons are people too, for better or worse.
Between the main point and click scenes, there are mini games that you can play that is very similar to maze or retro games, like Frogger or Pac-Man. These, while like their counterparts, provides interactive break ups between the major gameplay and allows Fran Bow to delve deeper into its illogical game design and art direction, moving from a paper doll aesthetic to a simulated stop motion Claymation scene. I wish they could do more with these scenes but insofar it looks like the madness can only be limited to an independent budget; a complete double-edged sword in the independent game industry.
The soundtrack and atmosphere fits perfectly with this game- madness inducing, logic bending, and sometimes a little frustrating as the game logic doesn’t necessarily fits real world thinking when you’re combining or using items. It turns into a mess of clicking around and using items all over the place until you find something that fits in the great puzzle and you feel like a dunce. But that’s okay. Point and clicking, using items until you find something that works; that’s how the game genre works!
Fran Bow is a game that I strongly recommend if you are looking for a different sort of adventure. Veterans and newcomers alike will love the aesthetic of the game with its storybook artwork and the madness inducing story that follows suit, it’s a sleeper gem that is definitely worth its price. Plus, with Killmonday games releasing the demo to its developing title, Little Misfortune, it’ll help the developers make another game! So, what’re you waiting for? Delve into the reality bending rabbit hole.
Fran Bow is on Steam and PC for $15.99