My Frogger Toy Trials (DS) review
"If you bump into creatures that populate the map often enough, your life meter will quickly drain and your game will be over. The same is true if you accidentally hop off a tile and into a bottomless pit or into water (since Frogger canít swim). This might not sound so badóand at first it isnítóbut eventually youíll be working your way through really long stages and jumping into pits or bumping enemies is all but avoidable."
Konami created the Frogger franchise twenty-five years ago, when I was but a child and the world was a simpler place. In the years that followed, weíve seen games develop a great deal from the days when hopping across a highway and a pond counted as high-quality entertainment. Until the last few years, the Frogger series of games hasnít been along for that ride. Things have remained pretty much the same as always, until recent efforts to make the franchise hip again. My Frogger Toy Trials is the latest such attempt, and itís one of the most mixed bags Iíve ever experienced.
My Frogger Toy Trials has a premise that definitely should appeal to the kids in your family: a boy named Kyle has received a pet toy modeled after a drawing he sent into a contest, and now he can make any wish he desires come true if he can somehow lead his newfound toy to victory in a local competition. The Pokemon influence is tangible and, for small children, it should work.
When you are in control of Kyle, you basically just run around and talk to people. You can also buy special items that can be used in the action stages, such as fruit and floaties and special costumes. Iíll talk more about those in a minute, but first you need to understand that controlling Kyle isnít really all that much fun. Itís mostly a means of advancing the plot. Between each bit of action, youíll have to run around various level hubs, gathering clues and comments from your fellow competitors before getting back to the Ďrealí game.
The exploration is dull and the main game will come as quite a relief. Finally, you can do something like what you might expect from Frogger. The thing is, the action stages suffer from some questionable design choices that drain the fun right out of the experienceÖ some of the time. Other times, theyíre downright exhilarating.
In the action stages, you are Frogger, the aptly-named pet frog. Playing as the little amphibian usually means hopping your way through tile-based stages while avoiding various hazards. Early on, thereís not much to speak of. The game eases you into the overall experience, with constant question mark icons that you can pass through for clues about how to proceed. Here, youíll learn about costumes (they grant you new abilities) and items (you can use a limited number of them to restore health that you might have lost). Youíll get used to breaking stone columns, using your tongue to latch onto grappling hooks and hopping all over the place while dangerous threats like fire and butterflies swarm you.
Yes, I said butterflies. It turns out that Frogger just canít bear the touch of a butterfly, despite the fact that he is a frog. If you bump into creatures that populate the map often enough, your life meter will quickly drain and your game will be over. The same is true if you accidentally hop off a tile and into a bottomless pit or into water (since Frogger canít swim). This might not sound so bad--and at first it isnít--but eventually youíll be working your way through really long stages and jumping into pits or bumping enemies is all but avoidable.
Thatís my main problem with My Frogger Toy Trials: itís too easy to die through no real fault of your own. The reason is that the art isnít quite as clear as would be ideal. You view the game from overhead, and the frog looks almost identical regardless of which way he is facing. This wouldnít be so bad, except youíll sometimes find yourself wending your way through twisting passages where you must quickly hop around all kinds of turns. They wrap back over themselves so that suddenly right is left and left is right. If you lose your concentration for even a second and forget which way youíre facing, youíre dead meat. Itís just not intuitive.
The game design takes advantage of this unfortunate fact. Youíll often find ledges that collapse if you stand on them for more than a split second, coupled with enemies patrolling narrow ledges. The whole system does a great job of creating tension, but it can also feel cheap and you wonít be smiling when you complete most of a stage and then find yourself forced to start over because at the last second you got disoriented and jumped head-first into a pit. Iíve played hundreds of games and never encountered such a strange gameplay flaw.
Not every moment you play is based on your ability to react quickly. Frogger also finds occasions where he must switch costumes to proceed. For example, a stone column might stand in the way. The only way through it is to dress as a chicken and peck it to rubble. Later stages find you swapping suits all the time, and you can also gain new costumes later in the game to return to earlier areas and snag collectible items. That adds longevity to a game thatís already lengthier than you might anticipate, and forces even young gamers to use their heads now and then. Such diversions are definitely welcome.
Fortunately for My Frogger Toy Trials, costumes arenít the only thing the developers got right. Thereís a puzzle mode, for example, where you push around blocks and hop your way to goals with all the time in the world to spare. Such brainteasers are good fun, and a welcome diversion from the more action-oriented stages. Another mini-game finds you racing along the surface of a pond while riding on a leaf. Progression requires that you blow into the DS microphone, even as you use the ĎLí and ĎRí buttons to steer. Itís tough at first, but it gets to be quite fun. You can also play mini-games from the main menu, if youíd rather forego the story mode.
At the end of the day, though, each moment where you really start to enjoy yourself is overshadowed by those inexplicable situations where the controls and graphics fail you. Itís quite possible to have fun with My Frogger Toy Trials, in any of its available modes, but thereís no consistent tone. Itís not a bad game, nor is it particularly memorable. It just exists. Next time, Konami, give me back my highways and ponds.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 13, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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