Those of us who are old enough will remember Newgrounds as a paragon of 00s internet culture. And to this day, 25 years into its glorious existence, the website is as proficient a timewaster as ever. Recently, it experienced a surge of popularity that even crashed the site for a few days. And it’s all down to one particularly funky culprit: Friday Night Funkin’.
Friday Night Funkin’ is an open-source browser-based rhythm game not unlike the titles we know and love such as Guitar Hero. Only instead of 3D-rendered likenesses of our favourite rockstars, we find a smorgasbord of nostalgic animations ripped straight from the teenage years of the internet. Does this mean that Uzi-toting Pico is as iconic to FNF’s target audience as Slash? Well, we’d rather not think about that.
The game sees the protagonist ‘Boyfriend’ attempt to earn the privilege of dating his love interest, ‘Girlfriend’, through the power of music. Because if musicals taught us anything, it’s that music is the best tool for that particular job. Though the spunky little vocalist can only communicate through a series of ‘beeps’, ‘bops’ and ‘skeboops’, the game’s ‘Story Mode’ takes him through a vaguely coherent, if mind-bending, narrative.
As players sing, beatbox and rap their way through an eccentric array of colourful competitors, they must match a pattern of incoming arrows to mirror that of their opponents. With the occasional sick riff thrown in for good measure. Through his superior vocalisations (and the player’s fancy finger work) Boyfriend defeats all those who would stand in the way of true love over the course of several levels (A.K.A. ‘Weeks’).
But don’t be fooled by this cookie-cutter musical premise. There are some dark undertones that belie its playful animations. Classic Newgrounds content, really. Either way, FNF has become one of the biggest breakout successes of 2021. And to say that it has taken the internet by storm is putting it mildly.
But why has Friday Night Funkin’ so capably captivated its devoted audience? And why should you give it a try? With the game available to play on mobile now thanks to one particular mod, and with an official Friday Night Funkin’ mobile port in the pipeline we thought it would be prudent to give our two cents. And we can put it down to three ‘M’s: Music, Mods and, of course, Memes.
Friday Night Funkin’ was developed (like most open-source games) by a crack team of few people. Four, to be precise. Programmer/author Ninjamuffin99, artists Phantom Arcade and evilsk8r, and (perhaps the star of the show) composer Kawai Sprite were the brains behind the beeps and bops.
The team drew their inspiration from classic rhythm games PaRappa The Rapper, Gitaroo Man and Vib-Ribbon. And if hearing those nostalgic bangers replicated in an all-new format doesn’t warm your beans, then you needn’t worry. Because the Ableton techno-magic wielded by Kawai Sprite has definitely conjured up something entirely unique.
With their indescribable genre of music forging its own avant-garde path, it’s probably not long before it invades the music charts. Which, if we’re being honest, isn’t so bad because it kind of slaps.
Kawai Sprite’s compositions are freely available on Spotify and (practically) for free on Bandcamp. Right now, the Spotify streams of FNF’s individual songs number in the tens of millions, with Kawai Sprite raking in 1.2m monthly listeners. And that’s not to mention the hundreds of YouTube videos.
The best part is that all the stems for each iconic tune have been made available for anyone to play with. And play with them they have.
If there’s one thing that can be counted on to keep a game fresh, it’s mods. And with its impossibly active modding community, FNF is kept ‘fresh’ in every sense of the word. And that’s not to mention how impossible it would be to play on mobile if not for some gracious modders. That’s not to say you won’t still fail at Week 7 on Hard mode, however. That’s just on you.
Thanks to FNF being open-source, the tide of new content is nigh-on impossible to stop. New jams and characters are constantly being churned out and spawn regular ‘top ten’ lists just to cover the best of that week or month. Unsurprisingly, wanton modding can lead from the sublime to the ridiculous. But that, again, is part of the charm.
For instance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that literal hothead Whitty (pictured above) was a part of the original FNF cast. But his creation, including his own backstory/baggage, was the work of an entirely separate group of devs. A group with enough dedication, talent and time to decide that FNF was worth all three. And now he’s as much a part of the FNF ‘lore’ (and yes, there is a lore) as the core cast.
And you know what happens when a game boasts an array of unique characters with their own backstories and lore.
When we put the success of FNF down to the memes, we’re only half serious. Maybe 60%. What we really mean is the tight-knit community. But without the memes, would the community be as tight-knit? For that matter, would any community?
It’s no real surprise that the four websites of the apocalypse, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and Twitch, had a huge part to play in the meteoric rise of FNF. With its accessibility, replayability and boundless charisma, it was always going to rally its very own army of fanatics. And yes, the memes are therefore endless. And sometimes quite unsettling.
FNF launched as an entry to the Ludum Dare, a ‘game jam’ competition that it didn’t even win. But even in its rudimentary state, it turned the heads of enough fans that Ninjamuffin99 announced that they would expand on it. Several updates later the team revealed a Kickstarter to release the Full Ass Game. We don’t think the title needs any more explaining.
Upon launch, the Kickstarter smashed its $60,000 target in a matter of hours, and finished at around $2.2m. Which gives you an idea of just how voracious the crowd’s appetite for more funkin’ really was. Even the devs themselves were somewhat dumbfounded by the support, with Ninjamuffin99 (AKA Cameron Taylor) himself stating in an update “why did u guys give so much money u guys r weird lol!” We love democracy.
Luckily for us, the first Stretch Goal of $85,000 came with a pledge for a full mobile port. Aside from that, fans can expect custom characters, dozens of extra songs and online multiplayer, to name a few.
What this shows us is that with a bit of ingenuity, a tried-and-tested formula can always be reinvented in ways that will cause a bona fide cultural phenomenon. Now will someone please inform the match-3 puzzle game industry.