Funkin’ On A Friday Night
Friday Night Funkin’ is not a very complex game. You open up the webpage on itch.io or Newgrounds, press enter to start, sort through a couple of menus, and start playing. Thick lines, flat shading, minimal animation, and some simple typefaces make the game look like thousands of other Flash games out there. The premise is simple as well; rap battle against many opponents so that you can kiss your girlfriend. Yet this humble appearance and concept hide a fantastic game.
As players load into the tutorial, most will recognize the connection to Dance Dance Revolution. Two displays of four grey directional arrows — up, down, left, right — with coloured counterparts slowly crawling up the screen. When they eventually overlap, the player must press the respective directional key through WASD or the arrow keys. Very simple, something that most people either have experience with or can understand easily. Unfortunately, what makes arcade games like DDR fun for most people does not translate well to a keyboard and mouse environment. The enjoyment from DDR and more physical rhythm games comes with moving your body along to the music and dancing. When the only interaction the player has with the game is a keypad, that enjoyment gets diluted.
Thus to make up for this fundamental lack of feedback, FNF takes a page out of Guitar Hero’s book. By tapping to the rhythm successfully, the player character will scat sing or beat-box along to the rhythm to complete the song. Player motivation is tied towards contributing to the music rather than any high score, emphasized by the lack of any other motivators. The score is barely noticeable, reserved to a white text field at the bottom of the screen. There is no combo meter, no flashy animations when your timing is perfect. There isn’t even a grading system at the end of each level to tell you how well you did. The removal of distractions to focus on the primary loop makes Friday Night Funkin’ specialize in making players feel good by making music.
In the clip above, the vocaloid-style of their voices is surprisingly not artificial, but is a decidedly weird sound that makes it not as jarring when the characters quickly swap between notes. It also adds a human element that normal instruments wouldn’t have, perfect for the rap battle nature of the game.
And the music is nothing short of quality. While firmly rooted with electronic influences, mostly due to the piercing robotic vocals, the tracks always switch up in their flow and style. The first opponent, Dad, starts you off with breezy, light instrumentals to hum along to. Pico, the official Newgrounds mascot, brings hard-hitting and bass-heavy beats to rap over. Tracks make sure to never wear out their welcome, by staying below two minutes, giving all they have before letting the next one start. They’re not the most intellectual or emotional, but don’t need to be in the first place. Rhythm game tracks only need to make you nod your head along to be successful, and not a single song here feels less than infectious.
Friday Night Funkin’ also happens to be extremely accessible. In line with the rap battle nature of the game, most tracks are of a call-and-response style. Your opponent sings, complementary with the arrows needed to play it, then you sing it back with some slight differences. Players can observe the rhythm pattern, making it a little less unexpected when they eventually have to sing themselves. Occasionally, you’ll have to play a harmony role that your opponent will not sing before you, but these passages are usually simple. The game also happens to be quite lenient on you making mistakes. While some skill is obviously needed, the timing window for hitting the notes is large enough so that most players can squeak by. Most of the motivation to play comes from wanting to keep the music going rather than avoiding failure.
But just because it’s easy to get into doesn’t make it easy. Kick up to hard difficulty or face off against opponents like Mom and Senpai, and expect to fail a couple of times before passing. Rhythm patterns become more complex and come at you faster, twisting your fingers and confusing your brain. Dozens of arrows are strung together in a single passage, forcing you to move on instinct alone to keep going. Non-masochists can still rest easy — the short lengths of the track mean that failure doesn’t feel like a waste of time. Instead, it encourages players to jump right back in and try to get a little farther than last time. The game never expands past the basic tap and hold gameplay either. Mechanics that make certain rhythm games a pain to play, like sliding between arrows and alternative rhythm systems, are ignored to expand the difficulty in a way that feels natural instead. Keeping it simple means keeping it engaging.
From the lo-fi production to the unique merger of DDR and Guitar Hero mechanics, all aspects of the game work together to make a short and sweet experience. If Friday Night Funkin’ has entranced you with its addictive beats and gameplay, then it’s a good time to be alive. You can even listen to the full tracklist right here. The developers are working on more levels and even plan to do a full release on Steam and Nintendo Switch soon. In an era of great cinematic and atmospheric games, short Flash games like these remind us that games can be fun for the sake of being fun — and that’s all they need to be.