Fran Bow is a deeply unsettling horror game tied together with a pastel pink ribbon, and it's even better the second time around

 Fran Bow indie spotlight
Fran Bow indie spotlight

Playing Fran Bow is like experiencing a vivid fever dream. You never quite know what to expect as you navigate through 10-year-old Fran's psyche, but it's always something unsettling. If it's not animal carcasses, blood soaked walls, or monsters, Fran is having to face her own demons and question everything she's ever known. Luckily, this isn't my first time playing Killmonday Games' creepy point and click adventure, so I knew what I was getting myself into beforehand.

Killmonday first released Fran Bow back in 2015 on PC after a successful IndieGoGo campaign, you see, but my first experience with the game was a few years later in 2019. It was actually studio founders Isak and Natalia Martinsson's endearing follow-up game Little Misfortune that got me hooked on the husband and wife duo's creepy/cute projects, so when a console port for Fran Bow was announced I jumped at the chance to replay it.

CONTENT WARNING: This article explores themes of mental illness, abuse, and archaic mental health institutions and practices.

We're all mad here

Fran Bow
Fran Bow

In Fran Bow, you take control of the innocent and kind hearted Fran who is trying to process the sudden and brutal death of her parents. Now in a psychiatric ward with other troubled children, Fran begins seeing visions of some pretty weird things. Using a range of point and click mechanics, players must guide Fran out of Oswald Asylum and return her home to reunite with her beloved cat Mr. Midnight. Along the way, players meet a range of eccentric characters and have some tricky puzzles to solve.

If you've played another one of my favorite creepy/cute games, American McGee's Alice: Madness Returns, you're guaranteed to enjoy Fran Bow. Both games strike the perfect balance between breathtaking worlds and nightmare fuel - in the best way. Just like how Alice can enter Wonderland, Fran is prescribed a drug called Duotine which allows her to see an alternate reality, and it's in this mode that players feel the full force of the monstrosities Fran is dealing with. Despite having played Fran Bow before, I often braced myself before Fran took Duotine, awaiting the horrors that lurked on the other side.

Spookiness aside, Fran exists in a beautifully hand-drawn world. A lot of thought has clearly gone into these environments, and I spent the majority of my time interacting with everything I possibly could just to get a better look at it. I especially loved exploring conjoined twins Clara and Mia's home, as well as the final world as it features several nods to Alice in Wonderland - everything from tea parties, clocks, playing cards, and even a photo of what looks like the Lewes Carroll character in Fran's bedroom. I'm just a really big fan of the pastel aesthetic mixed with occult imagery, and the game's designer Natalia Martinsson nailed this blend so well that it's managed to hold up perfectly eight years later.

Staying positive

Fran Bow
Fran Bow

Beneath its creepy exterior, though, Fran Bow is actually a really uplifting game. It's pretty obvious early on in Fran's adventure that the people around her don't always have her best interests at heart. Whether it's her Aunt Grace who sent her to the asylum, the doctors and nurses who just want to subdue her, or the shadow monster Remor who constantly follows and torments her on her journey; Fran has a lot of reasons to be mad at the world. But that's the thing, she isn't. Despite all of the horrors she experiences, Fran remains optimistic throughout her journey which is really inspiring to watch. The game also isn't afraid to touch on some difficult subjects, such as death, mental health, abuse, and more.

One of my favorite sections of Fran Bow sees Fran being transported to Ithersta, a world where everything is connected to nature and its inhabitants are either some kind of life-sized insect, vegetable, or plant - including Fran herself who is transformed into a tree. It's this area of the game where we get a brief break from all of the blood and guts and get to see Fran mostly at peace. Thankfully, despite all of the bad things that have and will happen to Fran at this point in the game, there's always someone to help her on her way or lend her a hand which makes the game feel as hopeful as it does heartbreaking.

Not to mention, Ithersta as a setting is absolutely stunning. The world can be experienced during all four seasons, but spring has got to be my favorite time to explore. The entire land is covered in vibrant cherry blossoms, and honestly, I would happily live there amongst the vegetable and insect people if I could. It makes a nice change from all of the frightening places we've explored before this moment.

I loved being able to dive back into Fran's world, especially now that I can do it from the comfort of my bed on the Nintendo Switch. It's definitely not a game for the faint of heart, but I can't recommend it enough if you're looking for your next spooky point and click adventure game.

Fran Bow is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch.

Looking for more hidden gems? Take a look at our upcoming indie games list.