Ah, the power of bartering. Or, rather, the indomitable nature of the fetch quest. In Time on Frog Island, players take control of a bereaved castaway who must make a chain of questionable trades with the freakish inhabitants of an island in order to repair his wrecked ship. And it is delightful.
The island your adorable (and somehow gruff) sailor boy crashes on is peopled with a small but diverse community of frogs. Your first encounter will no doubt be with a delightful artist who has made off with a bit of your property in order to paint a still life of it. To get that object back, the artist only requests something else to paint.
This sets you off on an endless chain of discovery and trading across the island and puts you on a path to interact with every one of the island’s inhabitants, all of whom have their own specific desires you’ll need to satisfy before you can wrest from them, say, a rudder or a top sail. A builder frog has lost all his tools, which seems straightforward, but the leaf-bearded monk on the hill is frustrated with the constant ringing of the church bell, and you can bet that he’ll somehow make that your problem.
Developed by Danish development team Half Past Yellow, Frog Island is a game that wears its collaborative “game jam” aesthetics on its sleeve, capitalizing on its central mechanic — trading — rather than overcomplicating itself. The game eschews language, combat, or character advancement, and notably isn’t interested in making you craft items (as so many similarly cute games are).
That simplicity might turn some too-serious players off, but it’s anything but a detriment. Every request from a frog on the island provokes a peaceful, if driven, exploration of the island. There’s a delightful burst of serotonin when a frog requests an item you’ve seen, or when a solution otherwise clicks in your mind, and it’s these simple bits of puzzling that make up the backbone of the game.
On the other hand, there are moments of frustration when it feels as if you’ve come up against a trading wall. In the way of transitive trading systems, you might need an item from Frog A, but to get that you must get an item from Frog B, who needs something from Frog C and so on, which means that there is one all-important ‘key’ item that you become dependent on.
This was precisely the situation my partner and I found ourselves in regarding what we lovingly named “The Bespectacled Boy.” The relief upon finding our boy — and the cascade of progress that followed — was so immense that any of the frustration in trying to find the four-eyed freak was immediately erased in a wave of giddy excitement.
Which illustrates one thing this game is great for: date night puzzling, or controller-pass collaborative play. With no complicated mechanics or key-moment plot twists, it’s a game you can share.
The largest concern with the game is how quickly the player might zoom through it without those bottlenecks; it’s fully possible to patch up your ship and sail away before you’ve uncovered the island’s secrets. This, of course, would be a grave mistake. . . and yet the game never feels quite big enough to support constant exploration.
If the main complaint against a game is that you wish you could spend more time in it, then the game has already overcome an obstacle that a lot of cute indie games run up against. In a market of quick, interesting-if-not-engaging Nindies or Day One Game Pass games, Frog Island manages to feel much larger than its simplistic gimmick lets on.
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