Grand Theft Froot

A game by Frooty Game Studios for Xbox 360, originally released in 2011.
Grand Theft Froot is odd amalgamation of seemingly disparate designs. On the one hand, the game stars a slender female character with a bright blonde ponytail, but the character herself it not physically attractive. The environments are made of chunky old-school tiles, yet the characters are smooth and rounded. And, the game appears to be a platformer/shooter, but it is actually a sidescrolling action-RPG with character customization elements reminiscent of the Deus Ex series (although not to that level of complexity). Much of the game’s appeal comes from the mixing of these genres.

Grand Theft Froot begins with a few tutorial levels to introduce you to the controls and your primary goals. You begin without a weapon, so that you may focus on platforming and collecting coins, many of which are tucked in out-of-the-way alcoves or hidden behind tall grass. Once you gain a blaster, you learn about its recharging energy meter, as well as its two types of projectiles. Players can fire quick shots, or slower shots that pack 2x the punch but drain more energy from the meter. Once the meter is depleted, the player cannot fire again until a sufficient amount has been replenished, which occurs slowly over time. There are a couple of ways to go about powering up your weapon as well, but we’ll come back to that in a bit.

In true RPG fashion, shooting an enemy will cause a number to appear above its head, indicating the number of hit points lost by incurring damage. The same occurs when the player character is damaged as well. This gives players vital data about how many shots it will take to destroy each type of enemy, how much damage their weapon is capable of dealing, and whether it is best to unleash a couple of strong shots – thus depleting a bigger chunk of the energy meter – or knock an enemy off with a quick weak shot.

There are several enemy types in the game, each of which will turn to attack you when hit. So, it’s not just a matter of taking them down quickly, but also understanding how they will respond once they take notice of you. Some, like the slugs encountered early in the game, will rush across the ground to attack you. Most enemies have projectiles of their own, so you’ll have to dodge their shots while continuing to unload your own. Fortunately, your weapon fires all the way across the screen, and even off the edges, so it’s possible to take out many enemies from afar if you are paying attention to your surroundings, but you will be forced into some up-close encounters later in the game.

Each level has a certain amount of “Froot” that needs to be collected before you can access the exit. In some cases, the Froot can be accessed with just your shooting and platforming prowess, but it is often tucked away behind locked doors. In order to open any of the doors, you’ll need to find a key card (referred to as a hack card in the game), which allows you to open a single door. Any card can be used on any door, and sometimes using the cards in the correct order will allow you to access secret files or hidden caches of coins. There are 10 secret files in total, spread across the game’s 40 levels, each of which explains a bit more of the story behind the game.

Coins are spread throughout the levels in several denominations. Coins can be used for making purchases in the shop, which has 4 types of items available for sale. The first and cheapest of these items is the health pack, which restores a bit of your energy automatically when your health reaches zero. You can stockpile up to 6 of these. At the start of the game, health packs will be the only thing you can afford, since the other items are more than 10 times the cost, but the other items have a much more drastic impact on gameplay.

First off, there’s a Regeneration Unit that is far more helpful than the health packs, since it restores your health meter completely when it reaches zero. It can only be used once per level, but becomes active again when you go to the next level. Even though it’s expensive, its cost is more than justified when weighed against the number of health packs it saves you from purchasing. Secondly, there’s a Tactical Blaster which doubles the amount of damage done by your weapon, allowing you to defeat enemies and bosses more easily. And finally, there’s the Shielding Unit, which is very expensive, but greatly reduces the amount of damage taken by your character.

It takes quite a while to build up enough coins to purchase the more expensive items, but as you encounter tougher enemies, it becomes clear that these items will eventually be necessary for survival. The question to the player is: which item best suits your play style? Do you go for the blaster, hoping that you can destroy your enemies before they destroy you? Or, do you take a more defensive approach in hopes that health restoration or shields will allow you to power through the challenges? And it’s not just the items that require the player to make decisions about his character’s development; this is done when leveling up as well.

There are 4 meters to which you can apply points on the level up interface. Each point applied makes for a modest change, but the differences become more pronounced over time. For instance, a player who applies all of his points to health upgrades will have different advantages than the player who applies his points to damage upgrades. The upgrade categories are as follows:
  • Health: longer health gauge
  • Damage: blaster causes more damage
  • Energy: energy meter recharges more quickly
  • Agility: increases movement speed and jump height

Of all these abilities, it’s the last that’s most interesting in terms of the game as a platformer. At the start of the game, your character’s movement speed is fairly slow and her jump height is below average by platforming standards, but both of these attributes can be increased in small increments. The game does warn you that you will eventually need to apply some of your points toward upgrading agility, lest you become stuck later in the game. But in addition to completing the game, you will need an increased jump height and movement speed to access some of the optional paths that lead to hidden files. And of course, it’s also easier to dodge your enemies and navigate the environment when you can move more quickly and jump higher. Jump height is a crucial mechanic in any platforming game – and many action games in general – so it’s rare to see a case where the player is able to affect it in a meaningful way, let alone that the upgrade is (semi-) optional.

As with any RPG, you can return to previously explored areas to farm for resources, which in this case, means replaying previous levels to grind for coins and experience. If you’ve bypassed enemies, or squandered your money on health packs, you may have to resort to resource farming. In no place is this more clear than in your encounter with the first boss. If you haven’t purchased any of the more expensive items from the shop, you may find yourself hard-pressed to survive the fight.

You will retain any gained experience if you are killed within a level, but any coins you collected will be lost, so if you plan to farm for coins, you should select a level that you will be able to easily complete. There are a number of levels that have lava or spike traps lining the floors, and falling into them will cause you continuous damage until you manage to make your escape, assuming that you have enough health remaining to make it to solid ground. Often you must navigate over these spikes and lava while riding on moving platforms and being shot at by rockets, making it doubly difficult to retain your perch.

The single biggest design decision that will negatively affect your gameplay experience is that of the rocket launchers. Rocket launchers are indestructible, their projectiles push you back when you are hit, and their firing patterns are semi-random. This randomness adds a level of unpredictability that affects the pace of much of the experience, especially given that rocket launchers are the primary obstacle in most levels. You may time a jump to avoid a rocket, only to find a second rocket close behind. Occasionally, rocket launchers will be stacked one on top of the other (they only fire horizontally), and both may fire simultaneously, leaving you nowhere to jump to dodge, especially from a moving platform. Conversely, when climbing a ladder in front of a row of rocket launchers, or when grabbing an item from directly in front of a rocket launcher, the pace of the game is slowed as the only safe time to move is immediately after a rocket has been fired. If you meet with an unfair death in Grand Theft Froot, rocket fire is the most likely culprit.

There are a couple of other minor gripes to be had regarding the game design. First off, enemies remain stationary for a moment after they are killed, which makes it somewhat difficult to tell if they have been killed. This may cause you to waste some of your precious energy by letting off another shot while they go through their slow death animations. Secondly, all of the game’s story notifications and dialogue bubbles appear over the top of the game screen without pausing it. Most of the time, these sequences happen right at the beginning of the level, before you have encountered any kind of real danger. But sometimes you’ll be attempting to fight enemies and jump over spikes while various windows pop up and obscure the action.

Aside from the potentially inescapable pits of spikes and lava, the levels are well-designed. There are 10 levels per area, and each area has a different theme. As you approach the end of one area, some of the themes from the next will begin to appear, helping to tie the game world together. In many cases, the individual levels wrap back in on themselves, allowing you to see alternate paths or offering hints at a way to access a hidden area.

There are a few seemingly odd level design choices, such as areas where you are required to sacrifice a bit of health in order to access a secret. Normally, this type of thing would be unforgivable in an action game, but when considering the optional health upgrades and items, this is really more about taking advantage of the upgrade system and having a properly balanced character. Players with weaker characters may not be willing to sacrifice their health, while players with stronger characters will have no trouble charging in to find a potential reward.

Grand Theft Froot was created by Frooty Game Studio, based in Brisbane, Australia. The development team consists of a husband and wife duo, and this was the studio’s first game.