Reviewed: December 6, 2007
Released: November 7, 2006
It is hard (and a bit depressing) to believe it has been twenty-five years since I dropped that first quarter into the spanking new Frogger machine at the old Playland arcade in Flint, MI – but it really has.
I was ten at the time, and the Cub Scouts took me to my first ever trip to an arcade. While most of the Scouts were packed up around bank of Pac-Man machines, I wandered off and happened upon this game about a frog trying to cross a busy roadway and over a rushing river. I probably dropped about a third of my allotted quarters into Frogger before accepting that I was an utter failure at the game, but I did sport the bragging rights for being the first Scout to find the game.
Frogger took the relatively simple concept of getting across a busy highway, and built a solid action-puzzler that was far different than any game on the scene. The original game caught a lot of buzz, and Frogger cabinets quickly became a staple alongside Pac Man and Donkey Kong in local arcades and convenience store lobbies.
Over the twenty-five years that have passed since the original arcade title, Konami has taken at least half a dozen stabs at reviving the classic franchise to its early popularity, but the dated gameplay repeatedly failed to win over many gamers.
For Frogger’s 25th Anniversary, Konami decided to try something a bit different with their amphibian icon on the Nintendo DS – giving My Frogger Toy Trials a hefty twist of RPG. And although the gameplay remains a bit dated overall, it is definitely well suited to the handheld platform and a great way to introduce the green vanquisher to a new crowd of younger gamers.
For the most part, the core frog-based hop-and-jump gameplay is very similar to what we have seen over the past twenty-five years – and relatively unchanged from any of the games released in the past 10 years. True, there are a handful of new doodads lying around – power-ups, levers, catapults – but the hopping is all the same.
Where the gameplay really differs is in the story mode – which puts the gamer in the role of a child waiting for his virtual-pet egg to arrive in the mail. The child need the pet to he can take part in the popular Toy Trials competition scheduled the next morning.
The child finally receives the egg, but is devastated when it hatches to reveal a frog instead of something a bit cooler. At the encouragement of his best friend, the child reluctantly enters the competition with his amphibian disappointment, and through the course of events grows to love his companion – regardless of the taunts and teases of the fellow contestants. It’s a heartfelt, touching story…oh who am I kidding, it is cornier than Iowa in August, but the Toy Trials competition is a great vehicle for adding a sense of purpose to the perplexing hopping.
For starters, the gamer is allowed to assign any name to the child character onscreen – while this may seem silly to seasoned gamers, details like this really appeal to the game’s target audience (10 and under). My son Aidan named the character after himself, and was very excited that the game incorporated his name into the subsequent text boxes, always referring to the character as it if really was Aidan himself onscreen. For a four year old who is just learning to read, seeing his name pop up onscreen every few minutes really made him giddy.
The Toy Trials themselves consist of a series of separate mini-events that are accessed by traveling to different areas of the competition grounds by boat – don’t get too excited, since travel consists of little more than boarding the boat and selecting the desired destination. Each area sports one or more trial events to enter. It is interesting to note that regardless of the open ended design that the boat travel hints at, the levels themselves must be played in a predetermined order, get out of sync and arrive to an event before it’s turn, and it will result in a endless wait until you realize your mistakes.
Most of the trials take the form of the tried-and-(not so) true Frogger formula of the recent 3D titles; isometric 3D hopping and jumping through highly technical grid-based puzzles. The main problem with this gameplay is that Konami once again omitted fixing the pivot-based turning mechanics that first appeared during Frogger’s late-90’s revival, and single-handedly causes an estimated three out of four cheap deaths in the game.
For gamers who don’t know what I am talking about; Frogger requires that every turn be performed by hopping to a square, pivoting the frog in 90º increments to the left or right (using a separate pivoting button), and then exiting the square in the newfound direction. While this might not seem all that taxing in writing, in practice it is a nightmare – especially when under pressure, when preparing for a long-jump, or when sitting on rotating puzzle pieces. The result is a complete lack of fluidity when you have to hop, stop, turn and go every time you try to avoid an oncoming enemy – and you can simply forget about turning around 180º with any speed, because it just isn’t going to happen.
As mentioned, the game adds a number of interesting new power-ups and life-saving gadgets (such as an inflatable ring to save Frogger from falls in water…because frogs apparently cannot swim in Konami’s world) to mess around with. The come in handy in the higher levels, but are a bit difficult to manage while fumbling with the pivot controls. The game also throws in a few unique switch pads and catapult features that all play into the puzzle aspects of the game.
The most enjoyable portions of the game are the rare instances when Konami decided to deviate from the standard Frogger formula, and branch out into unique gameplay mechanics using the touchscreen controls. For instance; one early area requires the gamer to take control a frog in a hamster ball-like cage and navigate (roll) him around the sewers using the stylus to build up momentum and make turns. Other areas will require gamers to blow into the microphone to power sailboats – or even for attacks as in the case of the surprisingly enjoyable multiplayer mode.
It is not like any of these elements have not been seen before in various games – the hamster ball levels are similar to the snowball mini-games found in the DS Mario titles, and the blowing has been done in games like the Wario series, and Sega’s Rub Rabbits’ games. But here, they are welcome change (and nearly a necessity) for breaking up the often-frustrating Toy Trials puzzle levels.
And just in case you are wondering, while My Frogger Toy Trials was definitely geared towards the younger crowd, that doesn’t mean that the game is devoid of challenge – nay, this game proves to be quite challenging even for hardened gamers. Granted, most of the challenge is a direct result of the fidgety controls – but it is still a challenge. Save early and often, folks.
I was especially pleased with how good Frogger looks on the DS. While the game generally takes a top-down isometric perspective, the characters all have a great deal of physical expression and emotion.
The animations are natural and fluid, and the levels – although small – are quite vibrant and lively with non-playable characters ambling about, and a few odd creatures and pets milling around.
For the most part, My Frogger Toy Trials sound is very nondescript and almost unnoticeable. But upon further inspection, gamers will notice unique details like chirping birds, water rippling sounds, and pet noises. Periodically – especially in the beginning sequences – the game will throw some honest-to-goodness voice acting into the mix, which is always a nice addition to a handheld game. It’s not much, but what does play (generally the voice of the announcer) is quite impressive.
Hardcore gamers might not believe me, but My Frogger Toy Trials packs a solid value with its many challenging puzzle levels, numerous genre-crossing mini-games, and a neat little multiplayer component via wireless download.
The story is a bit corny, but who plays Frogger for a story anyway? The fact is, there is an impressive amount of gameplay packed into My Frogger Toy Trials, and that is all that really matters.
Gamers have complained about the nightmare pivot controls for nearly a decade now and Konami still refuses to change it. The most amazing thing is that way back in 1980, the original Frogger didn’t need to pivot to turn 90º or even 180º to make a getaway – he just did what the joystick told him. C’mon Konami, we aren’t asking for anything new, just go back to what it was!
Still, My Frogger Toy Trials is certainly enjoyable despite its few warts, and is one of the better surprises of the year so far.