Reviewed: November 10, 2005
Released: September 28, 2005
I have a bit of a soft spot for Frogger. I was nine years old when Frogger hit the arcades and I distinctly remember Frogger as being the first game I mastered. Now remember, I was only nine years old, so “mastered” meant that I actually completed a level. But then again, Frogger required the gamer to navigate not one, but five defenseless frogs across a half-dozen busy lanes of traffic, as well as a treacherous river filled with evil turtles, snakes, and alligators – well, that was quite an accomplishment for a nine year old. And I remember calling my friends over to witness the affair.
In 2006, Frogger is going to be twenty-five years old, so Konami has delivered a new game to celebrate the affair. Can Frogger: Ancient Shadow live up to the classic we all grew up playing?
Frogger: Ancient Shadow follows the story of a youngish Frogger, who is out to find the mysterious shadowy figure that his girlfriend Lily recently saw creeping around the swamp. The story sees Frogger through twenty-eight levels of tile-based puzzle gaming as he tries to discover just what, or who, this shadowy figure is. Sound like a kids game? Yeah, it does.
The only problem is that Frogger: Ancient Shadow is so infuriating, so complicated, that I don’t know of any kid – or adult for that matter – who will really enjoy the gameplay involved here. I hate to be so blunt, especially towards an old friend like Frogger, but this game is really a test of your mental will, not the nostalgic romp through the swamp that it promises to be.
The major problem that has hampered all Frogger games in the past – from the original arcade title, to the two late nineties 32 bit sequels (Frogger 2 and Swampy’s Revenge), through 2003’s current-gen title (Frogger Beyond), and even including the knockoff title Zapper! – is the overly complicated and confusing controls that come with tile-based movement. Sadly, Frogger: Ancient Shadow has done nothing to fix the problem and renders this game a controller-smashing class in aggravation.
Tile-based movement may have been all the rage back in the early eighties, but in 2005, 360º analog movement is pretty much the status quo for twitchy action games. Now, I can understand that Konami is trying to keep a certain level of retro-feel to their game – which is fine and dandy. I could easily deal with the strictly X-Y hopping movement if it weren’t for the confusing jump mechanics which require you to be pointed in the right direction and to use the proper type of jump for each given situation. This sounds easier than it is people. I will explain why:
First, let me explain the difference between hopping and jumping.
Hopping is a single-tile move between adjoining tiles that is performed directly using the D-pad and can only be done in X and Y directions (no diagonal moves). Frogger can hop in any of the four directions at any time.
Jumping comes in two forms – vertical and horizontal jumps. Vertical jumps send Frogger up on the same tile – to reach objects that are above him. Horizontal jumps are used to leap over obstacles – water hazards and the like – by sending Frogger over the adjoining tile and onto the following tile.
Now here’s the kicker…horizontal jumps are performed only in the direction Frogger is pointing – regardless of the d-pad position. What this means is that you either have to enter the tile from the right direction to have Frogger pointing towards the obstacle, or you have to land in the tile and then pivot him and 90º increments using the shoulder buttons until he lines up. This sounds like it should not be that big of a big deal, but believe me, it is. Anyone with even an ounce of gaming experience from the past twenty years is going to have major issues with the control scheme. Cheap deaths because Frogger – the frog – fell in the water even though the D-pad was positioned right when the jump button was pressed, will irritate anyone.
Really, the controls are what ruin the game, because otherwise it is a fairly commendable children’s title – full of a cutesy story, twenty-eight puzzle-based levels that can be finished easily within a night, and a complete party-styled multiplayer offering. Plus, for those of us thirtysomethings, there’s a wonderfully ported version of the original game to remind us of our childhoods.
Regardless of my feelings regarding the broken control scheme, I should at least explain the level design.
Frogger: Ancient Shadow finds Frogger hopping around small obstacle-filled environments with the main purpose of getting from point A to B, and collecting coins and health power-ups along the way. Most of the puzzles involve some feat of obstacle jumping (traps, platforms, water hazards), or enemy avoidance through hopping – but a few offer a some interesting uses for Frogger’s sticky tongue, which is employed for a number of unique tasks - from flipping switches, to retrieving objects, to swinging across obstacles.
The twenty-eight levels take part in seven different worlds around the swamp. While that may sound impressive – it’s actually a bit misleading. Most of the world can be cleared in a matter of a few minutes, as long as you don’t kill yourself too many times das a result of the awkward controls.
The multiplayer offering is really Frogger: Ancient Shadow’one saving grace – supporting up to four players in arena-based Crash Bash styled party games. I have a feeling Frogger: Ancient Shadow’ multiplayer modes might make for a fun sleepover game for the younger games – especially since the Xbox is fairly lean in that genre.
Graphically, Frogger is a fairly acceptable offering, especially considering the isometric perspective. Most of the textures and objects are reused many times over, but neat little touches like shadowing and particle effects will catch your eye every now and then.
There isn’t a whole lot of motion happening onscreen, but if something does move, the lack of animation makes it appear a bit more like a 3D-shaded sprite than any polygonal model. While that is would be unacceptable in most modern games, in Frogger I am willing to give a bit of leniency.
The audio may feature Dolby surround, but you would be hard pressed to notice given the visual perspective. The music is fairly enjoyable in a non-abrasive ambient sort of way, which is sometimes not the case with games trying to recapture the old days of gaming.
The voiceovers are quite competent, but the expression and emotion does tend to sound somewhat forced at times.
The entire game of Frogger: Ancient Shadow can easily be completed in a single sitting, which is pretty much all you will be willing to put up with to play the original 1980’s version and realize that now – 25 years later – Frogger really doesn’t hold the same charm it once did.
The multiplayer additions are actually the silver lining to this dud, but they still cannot make up for the tired gameplay of the main story.
Frogger was a great game for its time, but the constant attempts to revive the series just keep falling flat. While I do appreciate some of the more conceptual features of Ancient Shadow, the control scheme left me frustrated to the point where the game became more a lesson in aggravation than it was the nostalgic hop back to my childhood I was expecting.
I appreciate that Konami thought enough to include the original 1980’s Frogger in the game, but it hardly makes it worth the $30 price tag. Rent this with a coupon.