Posted on June 11, 2008,

XBLA Hors D’oeuvres: Frogger 2

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Yes, XBLA Hors D’oeurvres are back. If you’re not familiar with the concept, they’re a weekly feature where I play the latest Xbox Live Arcade game – in trial form – for no more than 10 minutes, and then summarize my impressions of the game based only upon that.

I don’t know if I should phrase it as being “lucky,” but the trial of Frogger 2 allows you to try out both time attack and story mode. After what I had written earlier, I had to immediately try out story mode and hope the the screenshot I was referring to was an aberration. Instead, I was treated to some extremely-slow moving text (which thankfully you can speed up) telling me the written-for-a-baby story of how Frogger can’t swim and an alien who crashes its UFO and is now sad because some of the parts fell off and have gone missing. Naturally, Frogger is heroic, can speak, and isn’t frightened by the prospect of what’s essentially a capsized UFO and its occupant. He’s going to come to the alien’s aid in the only way he knows how — by turning into a carrot! (Wait, no. That’s the plot to a Rob Schneider movie. Apologies.)

Aside from those story elements of the game — which are just as horrifying as I expected them to be — it’s still the same basic gameplay from the original Frogger game, only now you’re traversing much more complicated levels (in that there are impassable boundaries that you have to go around) and various items to pick up. (Although time attack mode is much more no-nonsense, with nothing but basic beat-the-clock gameplay.) You’ll run into enemies like snakes and bees, but for all of the layers of complexity it’s added, it doesn’t feel like a deeper game than the original, and actually feels like a step backwards.

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The beauty behind Frogger is its simplicity. You can see the entire level; you can see your obstacles moving from side-to-side; you see Frogger and your goal. The only difference from level to level or session to session was the introduction of enemies like snakes and crocodiles and different variations in traffic. You always knew what to expect, but at the same time you were never able to establish a routine you could pull off with your eyes closed.

That’s where Frogger 2 fails in my eyes. The levels — whether you’re playing the story mode (where you might be compelled to pick up items) or not — aren’t the same as that one simple, perfect layout. And it’s understandable; these days, gamers expect hours upon hours of content and more — more levels, more guns, more enemies, more everything. So what the developer did was oblige and give more levels and modes than the basic Frogger game. And because of that, it fails, because no single level or combination of the levels I played in the trial game could come close to the magic of the traditional Frogger level.

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If you look at a strategy game like Civilization, for instance, you’ll see that many of the game’s tasks were streamlined over time. From Civ III to IV, a number of the excruciating micromanagement bits became automated because they were simply superfluous. The lesson learned was that adding more complexity to a game doesn’t necessarily make it deeper.

That’s exactly the problem Frogger 2 faces. True, it might be impossible to, as I said, capture the magic of that original Frogger level. And that’s clearly not what the developer tried to do, because that setup had already been done so perfectly that there was nowhere to really go with it. But this new direction just didn’t do it for me. You could argue that if they made a game that was entirely derivative from the original, it’d get knocked for not trying to do anything different. And you might have a point. And maybe it’s just me, but this just doesn’t feel like what a game entitled “Frogger 2” should have or could have been.

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