By Leah McDonald / July 20th, 2022
|Title||Time on Frog Island|
|Developer||Half Past Yellow|
|Release Date||July 12th, 2022|
|Genre||Adventure, Puzzle, Platformer|
|Platform||Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Google Stadia|
Picture this: Your boat is caught out in the open ocean during a raging storm, and you are eventually knocked unconscious. You wake up to what remains of your precious vessel strewn across a quiet beach, sail torn, ropes snapped, rudder and wheel missing. As you slowly climb to your feet in the shallows, a crab walks past. You follow it up the beach and find… a giant frog painting a picture of you lying on the beach in front of your wrecked boat. Wait, what? To make a surreal situation even worse, neither you nor the frog speak the same language, and so all communication must be made through pantomime.
Welcome to Time on Frog Island.
This charming, if sometimes esoteric (okay, often esoteric), puzzle game drops players right into the action, asking them to work out the barter and language systems without a moment to waste. The painter frog’s canvas is your sail, you see, and you would like it back from them. But to get it back, they want a blue worm. There are no blue worms on the beach, so you’re off to explore this moderately sized island in search of one. Along the way, you will inevitably get lost and meet an assortment of other frogs, each of whom could also use a helping hand in return for helping you. I found it a clever and intuitive way to engage with the main mechanic of the game – namely, bartering – while also emphasizing exploration of the island – both of which were my favorite parts of this short, but sweet, adventure.
First, let’s talk about the frogs. There are about a dozen in total, and range from the painter frog at the beginning to a farmer who hates crows, a lumberjack looking for an axe, a diva who wants something shiny, a priest who could really use a cold drink, and even an aspiring merchant who really wants to make currency a hip thing to use. Most of the frogs live in town at the center of the island, which spans six distinct areas: the beach, the farm, the town, the nesting ground, the mountain, and the flower patch. Paths litter the island with little signs that give clues as to what you’ll find down each: a fire if there’s a camp nearby, fruits for the farm, etc. You will absolutely want to familiarize yourself with these signs, because there is no map on Frog Island, and no other way to get your bearings. Thankfully, the island isn’t all that big, but it’s big enough, especially when frogs want you to run the length and breadth of it to grab them an item. Some frogs have multiple requests, such as the chef and merchant, while others you’ll only really need to interact with once to get a piece of your ship. All of them talk the same way as the painter, using simple images in speech bubbles to get across their desires. Some of these are much easier to figure out than others.
All the frogs engage in the barter system – except the merchant, who will barter with you at first and then give you a coin, which you can use to purchase other items from him directly; and the lumberjack, who for some reason wants coins to build you a house. The barter system is incredibly straightforward: The frogs will show you an image of what they want – a sunflower, lets say – and you need to go explore the island until you find said sunflower and run it back to the frog. I mean this literally: You will run across the island with the item in your hands, and you cannot use any other item while doing so. This is a one item, one trip system, and you can never upgrade to a pouch or satchel, or other carrying device. At first, I was completely fine with this, since it made sense. I’d just been stranded on this island with nothing, of course I’d only have my two hands. But, you can never barter for a pouch, and can never build yourself a basket with the items on the island. This became incredibly aggravating when a frog wanted more than one item at a time (I’m looking at you, chef). I made so many trips to the hatching grounds to get eggs. So many trips.
While I loved both the exploration and the barter system, and I get that the game is meant to be a chill, leisurely experience, being able to only carry one item at a time ended up marring the entire thing for me. It was especially frustrating because there are some fun, clever ways to move around the island that require you to pick up the native flora. For instance, there are little pod plants growing throughout the island, and if you pick it up and use it, your guy will run super fast until the petal propeller falls out. Giant leaves sit near conspicuous perches, and you can use them to float long distances. Both of these items would make the task of running errands for the frogs both faster and more enjoyable, because they are legitimately pleasant feeling modes of transportation. Unfortunately, since you have to pick them up, you cannot use the plants at the same time you’re transporting something. You can drink special concoctions you make in the kitchen, but those all require multiple items that you – again – have to grab one at a time. It felt very much like an instance of gameplay that complemented story, but that hindered play.
Speaking of story, there isn’t much to be had. You get little flashbacks in the form of static loading screens every time you sleep (we’ll get to that), which give a general sense of why you were out sailing in the first place. I actually found these really well done. The story, as it were, only lasts long enough for about five or six days before it repeats, but since it’s presented as your character dreaming and/or reminiscing, that didn’t bother me so much. Sleeping, on the other hand, was a pain. You can only sleep at campsites until you build your house, and there are only three campsites on the island. In order to use a campsite, you have to gather firewood. None of this is a problem in and of itself. But the day/night cycle feels incredibly short, and when paired with the above one-item carrying rule, it feels like you can’t accomplish anything before your character gets tired and wants to sleep. The frogs all go to bed at night as well, so you can’t just power through. Sleeping is also required in order to create drinks or finish quests, so if you want to do multiple quests in a day, you really need to hoof it. None of these systems bothered me on their own, but I really, honestly, wished I could just carry three items by the end instead of one, and every gripe I had would have been addressed.
Not a gripe in the least are the visuals. Time on Frog Island has a vibrant, colorful, cartoony style that is incredibly charming. All the frogs are unique, the items they request are (usually) visually distinctive, and the world just feels comfy and cozy. The island’s various regions all look gorgeous, and I especially loved the hatching grounds at night. The visual style of this game is impeccable and I have nothing but love and appreciation for it. I played on PC with 2560×1440 resolution and at high quality, and the game just popped. It also ran smooth as butter. You should not have any problems playing this on any decent gaming rig. The game does suggest playing with a controller rather than mouse/keyboard, so I tried both, and the controller is a smoother experience, though targeting was imprecise regardless of which control scheme I used. The music was fitting, but mostly just set-dressing and didn’t leave much of an impact on me.
Beyond the frog quests, there are a handful of things to do on the island. Ancient ruins dot the landscape, among them are little running gates that when stepped through initiate races. These are where you’ll make the most use of your drinks and island transport items. You need to run from one colored gate to its pair somewhere on the island within the allotted time, which is way easier said than done because you have no map to get your bearings, and some of them are frustratingly positioned. You can also collect special items to unlock secrets, garden, and even take your treasured plant for a walk. I played for about seven hours and completed almost all the frog quests and a few secrets. There isn’t much in terms of replay value outside a couple achievements, but there’s also no time limit on how long you can stay on Frog Island before you need to set sail again, so at least enjoy your stay.
There was a lot I liked about Time on Frog Island. Exploring, meeting the frogs, and engaging in the barter system were all lovely; so was the visual design of the game. Mechanically, only being able to carry one item at a time for barter ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth, and overshadowed a system I genuinely enjoyed. Figuring out how to communicate to mutual benefit made my linguistic-loving heart pitter-patter. I just really wish I could have eventually acquired a pouch or something to make hauling items back and forth less tedious. A map would have been nice to keep track of where items could be found, but the island isn’t so large that it was a deal-breaker. This is, overall, just a very charming game with a great premise that ended up floundering mechanically. These issues might not be as big a deal for you, and for $19.99 USD, I think it’s a safe buy.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
AdventureGame ReviewHalf Past YellowMerge GamespuzzleReviewsTime on Frog Island