Developer: Twinbeard Studios
Release date: October 24, 2012
Platform: Computer (Flash)
** Warning: Spoilers may be present in this review. If you haven’t played this 6 year old browser game yet, I suggest you do. It takes less than an hour to beat the game, but will have you thinking for days.
Frog Fractions is a hard entity to pin down. It’s definitely a game – in fact, it’s a conglomerate of many games inexplicably linked by two things; frogs and fractions. That was what I was told going in. However, after 30 seconds of playtime, it becomes clear to the player that this game is not about fractions. While my limited maths skills did not improve during my entire play through of Frog Fractions, I instead go a unique experience unlike anything I had played before.
The man character, “Hop” must prevent Zorkmids (various insects) from attacking his fruit by licking them. If his indignity meter fills up, he dies. It seems simple in plot and design, with quick adjustments on a very popular type of game. While flash games can be tedious after a few minutes, the addition of skills which change the type of play style made it fresh and new, up until my frog was sitting on the back of a dragon. From their, my perception of this game, along with games in general, shifted radically. After multiple play-throughs, what makes this game so special became incredibly apparent, and is something I’d like to discuss today.
In Frog Fractions, creator Jim Crawford wants the player to question the confines of a game, the limits of a genre, and ultimately, its ability to interact with the real world. At the start of my journey, it took me ten minutes to figure out I had the ability to dive underwater, an experience that occurred due to my own curiosity. I was certain that I would collide with a barrier. Why? Because, using past experience of flash mini-games, players are unable to go down. Crawford wants us to unpack the idea of game structure, and whether or not it’s necessary for an engaging and fun experience. He does this by understanding what a player’s expectations are going into a game, and then turning it on it’s head.
“Wouldn’t it be funny to have a court scene where the main character must become a citizen of mars?”
“Yeah it would be funny.”
“Imagine having a DDR section within a game about catching bugs!”
“That would be hilarious!”
“Haha, how absurd!”
Most creators would end the conversation there, but not Jim. If it’s able to evoke an emotion within the player, why not run with it? This unique way of creating games makes it feel inherently more human. In a surreal way, it feels like the player is having a one on one conversation with the creator through this game. Each step of the way, Crawford presents a new obstacle to confuse and intrigue us, leaving the player with a further enticements to continue. His humour is prevalent throughout the game, not just through his wit but by the structure of the game. The random cuts between genres act as more of a joke then a story telling device.
While I found some parts of the game especially unnecessary, almost to the point where they were not very enjoyable, I reminded myself that it’s impact on the game’s plot wasn’t what makes this game so special. The rewards for exploration are mostly gags, but that does not detract from their importance; they ability to adjust expectations is a more powerful rush than any tangent reward. Crawford wants to prove to us that a game doesn’t have to rely on preconceived rules in oder to flourish. Frog Fractions can be described as an interactive experiment. It’s randomness is not synonymous with incoherence. A relatively well linked story line is present, even when a shoot-em-up section turns into a walking simulator. Crawford aims to create a fun and different experience in where a player’s preconceived ideas are challenged while simultaneously providing an enjoyable experience. An that, he does exceptionally well.
Frog Fractions is undoubtably a unique experience. It’s a game of critical thinking more than anything. While it may seem simple, with it’s cutesy graphics and promise of numeric learning, it really made me think. I questioned the necessity of certain mechanics in contemporary games, while exploring implicit rules that are set up in certain games. I would have finished the game purely for the humour (that’s what I thought made the game viral initially), but the unorthodox method of story telling really set this game apart. To tread on such a fine line between random coherence and total randomness is risky as it is, but to find the sweet spot is even more impressive. Though, I don’t think he would have felt pressure over it. After all, Jim Crawford set out to make a fun game which would illicit discussion between players. And he succeeded. I implore all readers who have even the slightest interest in games to play Frog Fractions. I guarantee you have never player anything like it before.
4/5 Stars – Great!
Image sources: http://twinbeard.com/frog-fractions/, https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2014/03/frog-fractions-2-wants-to-surprise-players-that-already-expect-the-unexpected/, https://www.kotaku.com.au/2016/12/how-frog-fractions-2-stayed-a-secret-for-two-years/, http://aggronaut.com/2014/07/20/frog-fractions/