I’ve long wondered what it would look like for a platform fighter to be the Smash Bros. of indie gaming.
Over a span of two decades, the Smash franchise has gone from a large intra-Nintendo crossover to a celebration of gaming as a whole. But as diverse as its roster has become, indie games have only barely begun to have a presence in Smash—and only really with titles that have been wildly influential, like Minecraft and Undertale.
Fraymakers is not the first to step up to the plate, but it’s definitely gotten the furthest. It promises a diverse roster that emphasizes not just the big titles that acknowledge how messy gaming history can be, and that it’s not all about the major names—at least not in the way one might normally think about.
I first heard about Fraymakers through its Kickstarter, and there are three reasons I ultimately decided to back the project. First, as mentioned, it’s something I’ve wanted to see for many years. Second, it’s being developed by McLeod Gaming, the folks behind Super Smash Flash, a fan-made Smash clone that has its fair share of supporters (though admittedly I’ve never played it). Third, one of the Assists in the game is the Newgrounds tank.
It’s that last point that I think really encapsulates the Fraymakers mindset: Newgrounds—which was built on interactive Flash games before the format became obsolete—was not always home to especially great games. However, they were a source of entertainment for many people. The imperfections of these amateur works made them all the more charming. Now it’s out on Steam early access with a handful of playable characters, and here I am trying out out.
I’ve said a lot about wanting to see an indie Smash, but truth be told, I’ve never played many indie games—no, not even the one you’re probably thinking of. But that’s also precisely why I love the concept. It reminds me of the first time I played a Super Robot Wars game; I barely knew certain robots, but discovering and learning more about them is part of the fun. I recognize Octodad and Orcane from Rivals of Aether, but do I know who CommanderVideo is? Nope. Now I’m curious, though, and I can sense the love and care in how they try to capture the essence of each character, each of whom feels noticeably different.
Of course, all the fun references in the world can only take a game so far, and it’s ultimately gameplay that’s king. In this regard, Fraymakers feels at home for anyone with a passing familiarity to Smash, leaning towards the famously long-lived and highly competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee, but with some quality-of-life improvements seen in other games. For example, wavedashing does exist in Fraymakers, but also controls can be customized to fit individual preference, much like in later Smash games. There are even control options, like “d-pad movement” and “double tap to dash,” meant to help people who might have issues with analog sticks. Overall, the game doesn’t stray terribly far from its inspiration in terms of mechanics, but there are a few changes such as replacing the air dodge with an air dash meant primarily for extending combos instead of as a defensive option.
One thing definitely in Fraymaker’s favor (say that three times fast) is that the act of fighting itself feels satisfying. Characters have a sense of weight and gravity, hits have impact, and the controls never feel mushy—issues I’ve had with some other platform fighters like Brawlout and even Multiversus. The only time I did have issues was when I was using a controller that was less than ideal; once I switched to something better, everything pretty much clicked.
In terms of tournament viability, I did go online to see what that’s like, and proceeded to get mauled by people who had a better idea of what they were doing. There is definitely combo potential and all that jazz, I can tell that much. While you can’t force a competitive scene to happen, the fact that Fraymakers feels inherently good to play probably bodes well for it.
Ultimately, I’m mostly eager to see more and more characters with relatively unique play styles. The current four demo characters have varying levels of unorthodox elements, with Octodad surprisingly being the most standard despite the purposeful awkwardness of his source game. There are already more characters announced, and I look forward to trying out all these cool faces I only know from watching other people stream.