Review Score: 4/10
November 2, 2005
From my games blog, the story of my odyssey with Frogger: Helmet Chaos on Nintendo DS:
"Picked up a copy of the new Frogger on (what else? Nintendo DS. It's a game I've wanted to check out for a while, because of its retro gaming appeal, and also because it just looked promising and it's almost completely swept under the rug.
I've played for a little while, and my overall opinion of Frogger keeps swaying back and forth. I don't know right now whether I could recommend it, and that in itself is very frustrating, because the core of the game is really quite good. There have been a number of attemps by Konami to revive the Frogger name ever since that disastrous Playstation title, so perhaps they've finally figured out how to make the old frog work in a modern action-puzzler.
I think the reason I want to like this game is because it reminds me so much of Chip's Challenge. Chip's was one of Epyx's first launch games for their color handheld, which became the Atari Lynx. Heck, Chip's Challenge is one of the best puzzlers, period. It's also, as anyone who's devoted a couple hours to it, brutally hard. I don't think I've ever solved more than a couple dozen levels, and there's over 150 total, not counting a few bonus levels. Now that's a puzzle game.
Frogger on DS follows a similar vein, albeit far simpler; kind of a "My First Chip's" for the kiddies. There's a lot of hopping about islands and caves and green medows, avoiding cleverly-drawn bad guys, grabbing coins, and moving blocks for the millionth time since Sokouban. Hard to believe the most copied videogame of the last 20 years is...Boxxle. How did that happen?
So, anyway, I think I'm on the third world, but I'm not sure, and this touches on one of the real flaws with the game. Apart from the cut-scenes (aided with horrible Disney-esque voice acting), there's nothing to tell you where you're going from one level or world to the next. It's just POOF! and you're in the brown stage. Then POOF! and it's the dark green level.
After I finished one level, I was taken to a couple of bonus screens, bumbled through, told I couldn't pass forward, and then taken there anyway. Sounds undescriptive, yes, but that's the impression of the experience. All I know is that I didn't have enough coins to give somebody. No clue who he was, what he was after, or what the whole point to the exercise was. Maybe he was just homeless; God knows if that were the case, I'd only be too glad to help him.
It's a strange thing to me, because world maps have been standard ever since Super Mario 3 and Super Mario World. You think a game that included a butt bounce would also feature those things. So that's a strike against Frogger.
Now, the levels themselves are a lot of fun. There's a good variety of challenges and puzzles that left me stumped for a moment or two. The box promises 30 levels in total, and each one is sufficently large enough that I'm not feeling shortchangedd. At least, not yet.
Everything in Frogger looks great, and it's a good showoff for the DS' polygons. There's a lot of color and shading, the animation is really good, and it all churns along smoothly at 60fps. And, it needs to be said, it's funny to watch Frogger wipe out when he smacks into a wall.
There are also a number of unlockable items to collect, all standard issue in the post-Soul Calibur world, and a number of multiplayer mini-games, including a couple variations on the original 1981 Frogger. Are any of these mini-games any good? Well, some are and some aren't; I really don't expect any of them to become the next Bomberman or Monkey Ball, but you never know. Most likely, never will anyone else.
So, at this point, I'm leaning slightly in favor of the new Frogger, but there are two monstrous flaws that may just kill it altogether. First is the life gauge. Your health is measured as four hit-points in a green heart. Standard issue, yes. However, you only have one life. One life per game. Now this is where it gets wierd. Anytime you are killed by, say, falling into water and drowning, you simply lose one hit point and restart from the last save point. Figure that one out. I drown and continue, minus one hit point. I get knocked out by a rolling hedgehog, and it's game over.
Currently, I'm stuck on a boss battle which is completely unnecessary (does an action-puzzler with a clunky-moving frog need a boss fight?), completely frustrating, and completely unfair. I'm up against a giant Robotnik tank, armed to the teeth with half a dozen different attacks, and you're only supposed to outlast it. Oh, don't forget the screen is scrolling...slooowly. This frog isn't good at dodging, I'll say that. The kicker? Some attacks will hurt you, and some will knock you out, which starts the whole battle over from the beginning. I have no idea what triggers this.
Yuck! It's the Zookeeper Quest Moder, all over again! If I can get past this part, then hopefully the rest of the game will settle into a good rhythm and actually be fun. I'll be disappointed if Frogger falls apart, the death from a thousand cuts, because it should have been better; all of these stupid problems could have been avoided."
After some time, and a few attempts to give the game another chance, I finally gave in, and realized that, despite my best hopes, it was not meant to be. Frogger: Helmet Chaos is a sloppy, unfocused game. These are the ones that always frustrate me; if only a few more hours of playtesting were allowed, if only the developers discovered some insight, if only the Frogger name would stop being dragged through the mud like yesterday's trash. If only. A lot of hopes and dreams in this world come down to those two words.
And just think, I could have picked up Super Princess Peach instead. BOOO!!!