I’ve written before about the importance of a good flare up game—that is, a game that’s enjoyable to play during a chronic illness or chronic pain flare. Even better than discovering a new flare game is discovering one that makes you screech with excitement when you first boot it up, and that’s exactly what happened when I played Freshly Frosted.
The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild
PC/Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One & Series X/S
Release Date: June 10, 2022
Sidequest was provided with a copy of Freshly Frosted for PC in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Freshly Frosted is the latest game by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild, who published another one of my flare favourites, Cozy Grove. Freshly Frosted is a fairly straightforward puzzle game where you’re tasked with creating functional doughnut factories. Your goal is to link doughnut ovens with “delivery stations” by laying down a series of conveyor belts. It’s a simple setup that’s complicated by the steady introduction of various new mechanics. For example, you start the game by ensuring plain doughnuts get to a single delivery station. Soon enough, though, you need to add icing and sprinkles (and in the correct order) and figure out the correct routes for each type of doughnut you need to make. To prevent these varying mechanics and aims from becoming too overwhelming, the puzzles are presented in sets of twelve, each collection sweetly portrayed as a box of a dozen doughnuts in the game’s menu. Each of these boxes seems to be fairly self-contained in the mechanics it introduces so that you haven’t got 20 different tasks to keep track of by your third box of pastries.
That’s part of what makes Freshly Frosted such an ideal flare game. Of course, you can pick it up and put it down easily as there’s a natural stopping (or pausing) point after you complete each puzzle. But it’s the game’s reasonable learning curve that allowed me to enjoy it even while experiencing some pretty heavy brain fog. I’ll be honest, I got stuck relatively quickly—about halfway through the first box—and had to make use of the game’s hint system. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the way this system works is to show you part of the correct pathway for your conveyor belts. I only needed a couple of hints before I could figure out the rest of the route on my own, which allowed me to still feel satisfied as I completed the puzzle. It also means I didn’t spend most of my time feeling frustrated or dreading getting stuck again (something that, uh, tends to happen a lot with brain fog).
It helps that Freshly Frosted is an extremely engaging game, and entirely my jam. I shrieked with excitement as the game began because I was immediately hooked on Josie Brechner’s upbeat, retro-inspired music that I danced to (repeatedly), and I found myself drawn in by the soft, colourful aesthetic. There’s not much of a story to the game, which is in line with similar puzzle games; the only framing device is a narrator explaining that she’s daydreaming about doughnuts, so the factories you’re building are simultaneously in her head and in the clouds. The game’s rounded graphics evoke the feeling of lying on the grass on a summer’s day, or gazing out the window on a cloudy one. I consistently wanted to play more puzzles and to keep hanging out in Freshly Frosted‘s chill, pastel dreamscape.
And honestly, that’s something I’ve really needed during my latest flare. Chronic pain and fatigue can be really isolating, and that’s something I feel even more when I’m flaring up during the summer. It doesn’t help that this flare has coincided with a whole bunch of commitments and tasks that just keep getting pushed back, making me feel overwhelmed (which, obviously, only prolongs the flare). It’s been soothing to check in with Freshly Frosted, play a few puzzles, then take a nap. I appreciate the narrator’s friendly words of encouragement and that I don’t feel embarrassed to use the hint system when I need to. And, of course, playing a puzzle game like this helps me to feel like I’m accomplishing something at a time when I can barely cross anything off my to-do list. Freshly Frosted reminds me that I’m still capable; I just need to be able to go at my own pace rather than capitalism’s.
I was so happy to see a robust accessibility menu in this game, which is actually the first screen you see when you load the game for the first time. The voiceover comes with in-built subtitles, but you can turn off the voiceover entirely if you’d prefer. I was able to enlarge the UI to a comfortable size, and you can switch between holding down buttons and toggling them—something that’s necessary for me when my hands are seizing up or my joint pain is bad. In fact, the only issue I came across was getting confused in levels with lots of different types of machines. I started to mistake ovens with delivery stations, despite each machine being clearly and differently coloured. I have sensory and cognitive issues, so my brain probably just got overwhelmed with so much happening on-screen—this was the one time I didn’t appreciate the game’s pastel colour scheme. A high contrast mode or something similar could have helped me with this.
Overall, though, Freshly Frosted is a fun and absorbing little puzzle game that finds the perfect balance between simple mechanics and level difficulty. It’s been keeping me company during my latest flare and I expect it will be a reliable companion for many flares to come. I played the game on PC, but it would be a perfect fit for the Switch and for passing time on my bedbound days. I appreciate the care that’s gone into making Freshly Frosted accessible to a wider range of gamers, and the pleasant escape it provides me when I need it most.
Zainabb Hull is an editor at Sidequest, a freelance writer and videographer, and sort-of artist. They’re also a trans, queer, and disabled brown femme. They tweet into the void at @ZainabbHull.