As a self-professed connoisseur of indie video games, let me tell you, it’s a very saturated market out there. In a world where gaming is just about the biggest industry around, there are thousands of small teams and developers that are fighting for your attention with a scrappy little project. So with that in mind, it can be tough to rise to the top and grab a moment in the spotlight, especially when fighting against huge conglomerates with more money than common sense. So when something out there pierces through and catches my eye, it’s truly something to behold, and that is exactly what happened when I laid eyes on Time On Frog Island.
This Animal-Crossing-inspired sandbox puzzler managed to nab my attention through its abundance of whimsy and charm, clear for all to see from even a snippet of gameplay. The promise of a compact open world where I could cause mayhem, meet some quirky locals and unravel a dialogue-free story in a title that let me loose with no handholding was truly a magnificent prospect.
However, after considerable time with this title, I can confirm that everything isn’t sunshine and rainbows, and looks can be a little deceiving. Is this game still worth your time, I hear you ask? Well, I aim to answer this and more. Here is our Time On Frog Island Review, conducted on Playstation 5.
See Also: Best Indie Playstation 5 Games.
Cute as a Button
Let’s kick things off with the reason why this game is on everyone’s radar, the visuals and overall presentation. The overall design of this title clearly shows that Half Past Yellow has looked at Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s homework and then filled in the answers beat for beat. However, I don’t see that as a bad thing at all, as the team does more than enough to create a unique setting, change the overall game format and provide a different kind of wholesome silliness.
The visuals are vibrant, the characters you encounter on the island are distinct, and the animations and sound effects add to that charming vibe which makes you feel like you are watching cartoons with a bowl of cereal on a Saturday morning. The game does a great job of creating a warm, fuzzy feeling of calm and serenity through its presentation.
The player is never in danger, the player is never put under any stress, and the island playground put before you makes you feel like anything is possible. So with regards to the presentation, I can’t fault this one.
Free Flowing Free Roaming
Then let’s get into the gameplay, and before the wheels start to come off, let’s discuss what actually works about this game. Firstly, the platforming and general traversal in this game are incredibly satisfying. Unlike other games of this nature, where you tend to plod around, and the setting does a lot of the heavy lifting, this title allows you to roam this world with careless abandon.
Do you want to jump off cliffs and float down using a big leaf as a glider? Or perhaps you want to use the petals of a flower as a propeller to run at top speed or bounce on a big mushroom to reach high ledges.
All of this is possible, and it feels like it was plucked out of a seven-year-old’s brain, and I mean that in the best way possible. This fun approach makes exploration satisfying, even in the lulls when you are struggling with some puzzles and connecting the dots, and that bodes well because would you look at that, the wheels have come off.
After you get over the cuteness and stop bouncing on big ol’ mushrooms, you’ll be tasked with solving puzzles, with the core task being simple. Find all of the components needed to fix your ship and get off the island.
To get these components, you’ll need to get to know the locals and help them with tasks that they will only articulate in the form of speech bubbles with simplistic images and symbols.
In theory, this is a cute way to cut down on UI, text boxes, and player interaction so that you can get the key info and then set off again. However, the problem is that while this works in theory, in practice, it leads to a lot of confusion.
You see, the images aren’t always well presented, meaning that players then begin searching for a needle in a haystack with no idea what they need to find.
The thing about puzzles is that players can only solve them if they have a clear understanding of the context of the situation, and are presented with logic to help them come to a natural conclusion.
The only way around this is by making the puzzles incredibly simple, and this is what Time on Frog Island aims to do. Yet, even with a guide provided by the dev team I reluctantly had to crack open, the game still wasn’t clear in its intentions.
After a lot of playing around with this game, I found that the Cartographer was a huge help and also that talking repeatedly to locals after completing new tasks would occasionally lead to new hints, but the lack of clarity means that a lot of players will miss these hints.
The Sea Is a Cruel Mistress
I won’t dwell on the story of this title because, quite frankly, there basically isn’t one. However, if you really want to dig for a central narrative, you’ll find one in the form of the little slideshow images after you sleep each day.
This shows our sailor protagonist before the events of this island adventure with his wife; I can only assume. They built a boat together, they explored the world together, sailing around merrily, and then she got sick, and with our sailor by her side, she passed away.
The next slide shows her grave with her hat resting on the tombstone. Pretty dark for a jovial little game like this, but the next slide is important.
In the final slide, you see that at her gravesite, a plant begins to grow, and this is why our sailor has an unnatural connection to his pet plant. I can only assume this is meant to be the reincarnation of his wife or something to that effect.
To summarise, it’s basically the short story told at the beginning of Disney Pixar’s UP, but with the wife reanimating as a plant at the end. It’s a cute idea, but it’s hardly A Tale of Two Cities.
In short, if you are coming to this game expecting a story to hold your attention, you’ll be quite disappointed.
Land-Locked & Softlocked
The lack of direction is one thing, and the puzzles that grind things to a halt are another, but the biggest point of frustration was hands down, the overall game build and the fact that the game is still technically rough around the edges. The refined visuals do a lot to pave over the cracks of what is, at times, an unpolished game.
The thing about creating a puzzle game is that everything needs to make sense, and if the player manages to find the solution to a problem, they should be instantly rewarded for this feat. Well, this wasn’t always the case in this game, as even with the correct solution, I would often be unable to progress.
The best example is perhaps concerning the merchant. In this game, he loses his colorful little Tadpup on the second day on the island, and your task is to find him and bring him back, simple enough.
However, the day before this, the merchant is found in the mountains trying to buy a Lantern from another character. Well, here’s the thing, in my playthrough, he never came down. The pet went missing, and thanks to again reluctantly consulting a guide, I knew I needed to return him to this island resident, yet I couldn’t, and his questline was key to ending the game. Therefore I was soft-locked and had to begin again.
Now, this would have been fine if it were a one-off occasion, but I would be soft-locked another time. Once for losing a key item in the sea with no way to retrieve it. It again speaks to the fact that without a guide and multiple restarts, I would have perhaps never got through this game, and I can only assume that those without a professional reason to stick around would have thrown in the towel long before me.
Then while we are on the subject of broken aspects of the game, I spent an obscene amount of time on a quest to platinum this game, as I have been known to do. However, it would seem that the ‘Yeet’ trophy and the ‘Sea Legs’ trophy are unobtainable at this current time. I can only hope that the developers rectify this, but it would have been nice to be the first player in the world to get 100% completion. Oh well!
Persistence Pays Dividends
Okay, so I’ve essentially told you that this game looks great, but is at its core a broken and frustrating game, so where is the value in playing this game? Well, the value comes after you understand how all the cogs turn. When you know the solution to the puzzles, that’s when this game opens up, and the sandbox qualities shine through. You then have the option to find optional side-quests and fun activities on the island to complete in the form of a Trophy Tracker checklist found in the pause menu.
You can uncover secret island rituals, zoom across the island to complete hidden races, brew potions to give you special frog powers, complete achievements that lean more into the platforming and traversal the game does so well, and there are also achievements that award players for finding ways to speedrun the game and find workarounds to the core puzzles.
The sad part is that most players will check out of this game before they get to see the value and the extended content on offer, and that’s purely down to shoddy puzzle design and a lack of direction when little nudges here and there would have gone a long way.
To put it simply, as a puzzle game, Time On Frog Island falls flat, but as a quirky sandbox game, the title excels.
So if you can get through the tediousness of these obtuse puzzles, you see what this game has to offer. That doesn’t excuse the lackluster core gameplay, but it does soften the blow.
- Cute and colorful visuals, smooth animations, and a jovial backing track
- An interesting, compact open-world
- An extensive amount of extra content beyond the mandatory puzzles
- Platforming and sandbox elements are fun to play around with
- Some puzzles are needlessly confusing and obtuse
- The game has a tendency to soft-lock
- The game is incredibly short if you don’t engage with the extra content
- Some aspects of the game feel underdeveloped or unfinished
- Broken/bugged trophies
If you managed to fix your boat and sail off over the horizon but still want another fix of island living or just some puzzle-related fun, then you might want to check out this selection of alternatives below:
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons
- Untitled Goose Game
- Donut County
- Goat Simulator
Question: Does This Game Have Dialogue?
Answer: No, it doesn’t, which is a cool gimmick but also a pain point that causes confusion when playing this My Time on Frog Island. This game uses speech bubbles with images and symbols to hint at problems and solutions. It’s a great way to reduce UI, but in truth, it could have been done a lot better.
Question: How Many Islands are There?
Answer: There are three islands you will encounter. The main island you wash up on where all of the residents live, the east island, which can be explored right from the first day onwards, and then the west island, which can only be explored when you finish the Carpenter’s first quest, and he builds you a bridge across.
Question: Where Can I Play My Time On Frog Island?
Answer: This game launches on PS4/5, Xbox One/Series X/S, PC, and Nintendo Switch on the 12th of July 2022.
Time on Frog Island Review: The Verdict
Overall, Time on Frog Island was one that was marred by some troubling glitches, some game-breaking issues, and some truly mind-numbing puzzles that had me hit my head against a wall until the solution I initially began with decided to work. For that reason, you would think that I would hop on my boat and sail off into the sunset and forget this little island forever.
Yet, for some reason, once I accepted the game as a flawed project rather than a polished puzzler, everything really opened up. When I saw the extracurricular content on offer, stopped to smell the Sunflowers on the east island, and just played around with no desire to progress, that’s when the game started to show its true value.
Time on Frog Island is frustrating; the minimal dialogue options, while cute in theory, cause a lot of confusion, the game is very easily broken, some aspects feel unfinished, and it’s extremely short when you understand how the puzzle pieces fit together. However, it’s just as beautifully presented and whimsically charming as early trailers would have you believe, and it offers more content below the surface than you would imagine if you are willing to dig for it. Not everyone will be, of course, but that’s the thing about remote island holidays; they aren’t for everyone.
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