Updating a classic game for modern audiences is tricky business. Change it too much and you’ll turn off people who liked the original. But stick too closely to the original and it might not appeal to today’s gamers. For examples of perfectly accurate classic ports that are unlikely to gel with people living in the now, see Asteroids Deluxe and Lunar Lander. The Windows Phone port of Frogger, oddly enough, is simultaneously too similar and too different to make much of an impression. It’s not as bad as getting hit by a car, but Konami could have done a lot better.
What qualifies Frogger as a classic? The game made quite a splash when it debuted in arcades in 1981. Its premise and game play are fairly unique: help a group of frogs cross the highway, one at a time, and make it safely to their homes. Most importantly, it inspired a terrific early Bad Religion song.
Jump across the street and past the break for our full review.
My way or the highway
In each level, players have to get five frogs from the highway to their homes. Of course, you only have limited lives to do so – four in the Windows Phone version. The road is filled with cars and trucks who don’t think twice about running over a helpless amphibian. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t even notice if I hit a frog with my car. Hitting a turtle, on the other hand – that’d make me feel terrible! Konami should have made a sequel with turtles instead of frogs, or maybe turtles that eat frogs.
A river runs through it
Anyway, make it across the street intact and the river becomes the next challenge. The river basically consists of five lanes, with either turtles or logs floating by from the left or right side of the screen. Strangely, the game’s frogs die if they fall in the water, so gamers must hop skillfully from turtles to logs in order to cross. Pink lady frogs occasionally show up on a log; touch one and she’ll follow you to base, which is worth a few extra points.
Falling into the water isn’t the only reason for caution on the river – frogs have natural enemies to deal with. Snakes appear both on shore and logs, slithering back and forth. Otters swim around in the water, waiting to consume any frog they find on the edge of a log. Then there are alligators. Much like Pitfall!, it’s safe to land on the back of an alligator and use it like a log, but not the tooth-filled region above the neck. Gators will sometimes appear in a frog base too, rendering that base unusable until the reptile disappears seconds later. Flies also show up in bases for brief periods of time, but they are the one animal that’s safe for frogs to eat (for points).
Taking it to the next level
Just past the river are five small bases – time your jumps from the last row of logs carefully, as less-than-perfect jumps to a base also kill the pitiful frogs. Once all five frogs make it to their bases, it’s on to the next, more challenging level. Only after clearing five levels does the subsequent level get easier, but then the difficulty starts ramping up again.
Not easy being green
Frogger has never been an easy game. With every new level, the cars get faster and denser until eventually it’s a pain even getting to the river. Enemies increase in numbers and turtles start diving in the water, making the crossing that much harder.
The left-most frog base can be particularly hard to reach: the frog dies if the turtles it’s riding in the fourth lane hit the edge of the screen. You have to jump across to a log or alligator in the fifth lane and immediately jump again into the base in order to survive. But sometimes the frog ends up all the way at the left with nothing to jump on, resulting in unavoidable death. Considering how many arcade games in the eighties let characters exit one side of the screen and reappear on the other, it’s always been particularly cruel of Frogger to buck the trend.
As if there weren’t already enough ways to die, every life is timed as well. The timer constantly ticks down, killing the little green protagonist when it runs out. All of these factors combine to create too much pressure and challenge after the third level, severely limiting Frogger’s fun factor.
Not quite the arcade
Flyer scan courtesy of the Arcade Flyer Archive.
The arcade game was fairly colorful for its time and had better than average music thanks to its use of dual processors. Unfortunately, the Windows Phone version completely ditches the original graphics and music. The new art style comes from artist Emily Steigerwald. It’s generic and barely recalls the look of the arcade classic. The new music (whose composer goes uncredited, probably to his or her benefit) has nothing on the original tunes, either. The title screen music in particular gets old almost before it even starts. If these elements were optional (like in the Xbox 360 version) then their poor quality wouldn’t matter so much.
The port’s not all bad, though! Touch-screen controls often suffer in arcade ports like Pac-Man, but not in Frogger. In the arcade game, tapping the four-way joystick moved the frog one space at a time – no buttons or fast-turning involved. The touch-screen swipes of the mobile version actually replicate those controls very well.
There is also a new Phantom Mode that works just like the ghost mode in racing games. The game saves the replay data of the player’s best play through; the ghost frogs of that play through can then be played against. I suppose it could be useful for anyone who actually likes Frogger enough to want to hone his or her game.
Frogger’s Achievements match its overall difficulty. Remember, the game gets tough as nails after level four. Thus, four separate Achievements for reaching later levels (6, 9, 12, and 15) will be way too hard for most gamers to get.
Unless you’re a pattern-memorizing, high score-chasing old-school gamer, Frogger is a game that’s best played in short doses. The idea of weaving between cars and over logs is perfectly sound, but the difficulty ramps up too quickly to play for very long. The Windows Phone version’s annoyingly tough Achievements and gaudy audiovisuals don’t do it any favors either. Only die-hard Frogger fans who can overlook the cheesy new look will get anything more than a few minutes of fun from this frog. Everyone else should drive over the sucker and on to better games.
Frogger costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Hope over here (Zune link) in the Marketplace to get it.