Out of all of the games I’ve played recently, I find myself most surprised by Frogger: Ancient Shadow. The game is a pleasant return to old school platform games, albeit with a slant towards children, and at its core is a fondness for simpler times. Current games stake their claim to fame on bleeding edge graphics, or explosive environments, or all the nifty things that can be done with physics. But the newest Frogger game eschews all of that by going back to basics.
This reviewer was honestly stunned to find himself engrossed by a game geared towards children for no better reason than its simplistic game play retained the basic guiding principle of what made the original such a memorable game – it keeps things both fun and simple.
The new Frogger series is obviously aimed at the wee folk among us, but it remains difficult to ignore that the latest game is an extremely fun way to relax. While there are conceits to the current gaming age with level bosses, who prove to be the most challenging part of the game, each level is pure platforming bliss. It’s surprising to find oneself enjoying a game which presents very little in the way of challenge, but is so easy going and relaxing that it immediately takes the edge off of a stressful day. Frogger Ancient Shadow manages to get right what so many higher-budgeted games get wrong, and it does so in its own charming manner.
While Frogger Ancient Shadow may be focused on the gameplay of old, it certainly is not focused on the graphics of the new. The game has a cartoonish look to it that almost begs for cell-shading. Characters are all exaggerated and the environments tend to be silly plays on each of the different world themes. The rampaging elephants in the Serengeti part look like they belong more in Return of the King than Frogger, and the natives are all comedic riffs on tribal Africa complete with blowguns and grunting. Frogger himself, along with his compatriots, have about three different moves a piece, so one is led to believe the animation budget for the game was not that high.
On the flip side, there is really no need for flashy graphics when the gameplay is as solid as this. As such, Frogger Ancient Shadow does not lose sight of what matters. The environments are clear enough to see what is going on at all times, yet still provide enough of a challenge so that younger gamers won’t burn through it as quickly as older ones. The environments all have a good amount of life in the backgrounds, and it’s cool to watch every thing that happens on a level while Frogger is taking a breather between jumps.
If you can get past the fairly awful music, Frogger Ancient Shadow has a decent sound scheme. The music is a reflection of each unique level, but is pretty bad when taken as a whole. I can appreciate what the developer was trying for, but it’s like the target was to the left and they took a shot while aiming at the right. It’s a clear miss, but the good news is that it’s possible to completely turn it off.
The voice acting and sound effects keep with the children’s theme of Frogger Ancient Shadow with everyone overplaying their roles except for Frogger himself. He sounds like a kid that’s out on his own adventure, which is appropriate given the story. His friend Lily has spunk to her voice, especially so when she mocks the fact that they’re living in a video game. There is the elder frog who sounds like he’s riffing on both Sean Connery and Patrick Stewart, the Cajun fisherman who tries to remind one of the late Justin Wilson, and a rather annoying vendor named Mohan. Something about him just bugged me, but he’s the only one that truly grated on my nerves.
The controls for Frogger Ancient Shadow are exactly the same as 2003’s edition save one vital area – the thumbsticks are disabled in the new game. Whenever My Fair Lady would play through the last Frogger game, my most frequent advice was to ignore the thumbsticks and just use the directional pad. Apparently we weren’t the only ones to do so, and developer Hudson Soft just took it out completely. As such, the only way to move Frogger is with the directional pad. Otherwise, the control scheme is uniform with the 2003 installment.
The L1 and L2 buttons rotate Frogger to the left and the R1 and R2 buttons both rotate him to the right. Hudson Soft did put another feature in that’s both helpful and unique, because gamers can remap the individual square, triangle, X, and circle buttons to whatever they want them to be. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall another PS2 game that allows for controller remapping other than with pre-designed schemes. The default settings have the X button for jumping, the triangle for a vertical jump, and a double-tap causes Frogger to break cracks in the ground, and the square shoots out Frogger’s tongue. It’s cool to have the ability to change this even if you’re happy with the default settings.
Frogger Ancient Shadow will not be deemed difficult by anyone that has played games for more than five years. It surpasses 2003’s Frogger’s Adventures: The Rescue by keeping the puzzles consistent with the environments. For example, when Frogger goes through a swamp level and later a Serengeti-themed level, the puzzles are based on swamp or African themes. One of the problems I had with the 2003 installment was that there were robots on a rooftop for no better reason than someone in marketing probably thought robots belonged on a rooftop. Random things like this happened because the story featured a mad scientist, but it never felt organic to the Frogger world. With this new game, the puzzles make sense based on the environmental themes and it’s wonderfully fun. This is a game I managed to burn through in a weekend, so experienced gamers won’t find it too difficult.
The bosses are suitably large and imposing, and the arenas are well used by them. The boss challenges are actually the hardest part of the game, taking an otherwise easy series of levels and capping them with a massively tough fight. I want to personally strangle whoever thought of the second boss, the lion, for capping a fun series of levels with a boss that was insanely tough to defeat.
The story setup is simple – Frogger hears a rumor of a shadowy figure in his swamp and goes out looking for it. Along the way, he encounters several old and new characters, jumps across tons of environmental puzzles, and adds to his collection of accessories and trophies. It’s very simple, very basic, and tons of fun for the whole family. There is a lot to do and see on each level, and each series of worlds has its own unique environmental theme.
Other than a relaxation aid or a child’s toy, there isn’t a whole lot to find on a second or third run-through of Frogger Ancient Shadow. While it’s a fun diversion for the most part, the majority of the collectibles can be picked up during the first time you play the game. It’s a game I’ll keep in the library for the future though, and pull out whenever I wind up in the annual gaming malaise. It may not look as stellar as some top-tier titles do, but it keeps the fun of the original Frogger intact. The Challenge mode also is a good way to continually test oneself by setting a fast level run-through time and then trying to break it. When all else fails, the original Frogger itself is on the disc somewhere, but it’s up to you to find it.