When most people think of mobile games, they think of endless runners, free-to-play RTS games, and endless microtransactions. But iPhone games and other mobile games are a growing industry, and increasing numbers of developers are flocking to the platform to show what they can do with limited hardware capabilities and touch screens.
Loveshack Entertainment is one such developer. Their first game, Framed, is a noir-esque, story-driven puzzle game heavily influenced by comic book storytelling. This is a game that uses the platform to its full extent, allowing the player to slide comic book panels around to change the outcome of each page. By moving the panels, you aid the hero (or villain, or anti-hero, or whatever role you choose to project onto the character) in myriad ways. For example, you can disturb a bird so that it distracts an officer and helps your character escape from police. You can also change the order of events so that your hero comes out the correct side of a door—midway through the game, you can even change the entire way you look at the story.
What's most fascinating is how—unlike many iPhone games—Framed manages to tell its story without dialog or any expository text. Everything the player knows about the plot is delivered through pictures, which are then animated to show the outcome. This creates a symbiotic relationship between story and gameplay, as they are entirely dependent on one another. Playing the game is telling the story. There are no combat sequences or dialog-heavy cutscenes. Just pure storytelling on the part of the player.
Framed's gameplay is unlike anything else. It's as if developers cut a comic book into pieces, stripped away the lettering, and asked you to put it back into order. It's more an exercise in creativity and contextual puzzle-solving than following a linear plot. The final creation ultimately belongs to the player, as their custom narrative of events drives the final outcome.
Like a comic book, much of Framed's action takes place between the panels. The player takes in the entire scene before rearranging panels to get their character away from pursuers safely—it's tricky, but not so absurdly difficult as to make the game frustrating.
The regular introduction of new mechanics keeps the game feeling fresh, even as you replay earlier puzzles. Sometimes you reorder panels, sometimes you spin panels on an axis, and sometimes you reuse panels to keep the story flowing.
Framed's unique storytelling and innovative gameplay are enough to set the game apart, but the striking artistic style also leaves a lasting impression. Framed game features gorgeous cityscapes on pastel-colored backgrounds, and draws each character as a black silhouette with white details. The stark character silhouettes create a great contrast against the sunset-colored environs, making the visual style instantly memorable.
The animations are simple but smooth; players will appreciate the attention to detail in subtle places, like a coat flapping in the breeze or the opening of a cigarette lighter. The artwork is where the game's noir atmosphere really shines, as the character designs and dubious morality evoke noir themes without relying heavily on cliché. With a genre as trope-heavy as noir, that's an achievement.
The Framed game uses original jazz music to add to the atmosphere, such as with subtle recurring character themes. It also makes for great sound effects—instead of an actual gunshot sound, players will hear a strike on a snare drum. Effects like these get the point across without breaking the flow of music.
There's really nothing else quite like Framed. From start to finish, it's a great use of the limited mobile platform, as the player uses the touch screen to move panels and craft a story out of loosely connected pieces. The innovative gameplay, incredible stylization, and attention to detail really set Framed apart from other iPhone games—proving that mobile gaming can be just as inventive and elegant as traditional platforms.
Framed is available in the App Store for $4.99.