Frog is dead. But it’s just the beginning for Frog, as God (represented here as a giant frog), has plans. God wants to turn Frog into the grim reaper, because there are frogs around the world that need a damn good scything.
We love this premise, as it gives the platforming a morbid goal. Rather than reaching the end of a level and jumping on a flagpole or spinning a noticeboard, you are literally harvesting someone’s soul. Swoosh, dead. Proper metal, that.
It’s not the only thing that’s endearing about A Frog’s Job, a pocket-sized platformer from the specialists in pocket-sized platformers, Ratalaika Games. Everything about it is likable and really rather playable, and the thirty minutes or so that we spent with it brought no regrets whatsoever. Well, aside from it being only thirty minutes long, of course.
Let’s begin with the presentation. It’s hard to pin down why we like it so much, as it’s not technically impressive. There’s the hint of N64 games and Mode7 environments to the graphics, as the 2D levels feel like they have been carved out of the side of a larger 3D world. And the zoomed-out perspective and fish-eye lens give the levels real tactility, which only enhances the feeling that you are tinkering with a diorama.
Frog is a cute little fella (the grim reaper hood looks grand on him), and the music trots along at a merry place. Many games would coast along on these successes, delivering some by-the-numbers platforming and then slap a £4.99 price tag on it. But what impresses us is that A Frog’s Job is not content to tick some boxes. It has some real ideas, and goes about executing them well.
Each level isn’t more than a screen in size. As mentioned, your aim is to impale a frog at the end of it, so the challenge is getting there. The usual platforming shenanigans stop you: platforms move about, spikes look threatening below, and the odd enemy walks on its patrol route.
The very first mechanic that gets tossed your way is a time-stop. We were worried, as the time-stop is only used initially as a means to make the platforming easier. That platform moving around too much? Press X to time stop and hop onto it, before tapping X again to restart the flow of time. In that guise the mechanic is gimmicky.
But A Frog’s Job begins to have fun with it. Crates tumble out of portals, so you have to pause time as the crate is just at the right height. Switches appear, so you can time when the crates drop out of said portals. The levels combine some precise time-stopping with more precise platforming, and even chucks in some timing too, as you press switches in sequence at exactly the right time. Getting to the little, trembling frogs becomes something of an art.
A Frog’s Job doesn’t stop there, either. As you move through the biomes, new mechanics start layering onto the time-stops. You gain a kind of spit projectile, and that projectile can be stood on. So, you guessed it, you hoick out some spit, stop time, and then use said spit as a makeshift platform. Now you’re thinking with spittle.
Certain switches make blocks phase in and out of reality. Pause time while they are in either state and they will stay that way, so you begin treating the time-stop as a kind of save-state. When enemies can walk over those switches themselves, doing the job for you, you have all the ingredients for some fiendish combinations of puzzling and platforming. And so it proves to be true. The level-designers know what they’re doing, and they leverage everything at their disposal.
In come the buts. A Frog’s Job was over before we were really done with it. It’s a common criticism of these budget titles, and to a degree you can wave those criticisms away: after all, it’s a £4.99 game and an hour of enjoyment is about right. But we were having fun, dammit, and we never truly felt that the mechanics had played out fully. We felt that there was plenty in the tank for A Frog’s Job 2.
We’d have taken some more frills, too. A Frog’s Job is crying out for some collectibles – anything to get us going off the beaten track. There are some really good levels here: would it have taken much to drop in some coins or stars to pick up? The same is true for any additional game modes, time trials, high scores or multiplayer play. This is lightweight in terms of different ways to enjoy A Frog’s Job, and it’s definitely an opportunity missed, especially since the core is so solid.
And for all the plaudits we’re wheeling out for A Frog’s Job, it’s still a rather simple platformer. The time-stops and spit-platforms are contrary and fun, but they’re not quite enough to push the game into a 4 out of 5. With a modicum more ambition, it might have got there. Some multi-screen levels, littered with checkpoints and exploration might have been one approach. A hint more complexity and challenge, with a few more levels sprinkled on top, might have been another. As it stands, it’s a tongue-length short.
But no regrets, as A Frog’s Job is almost everything we want from a budget platformer: crisp graphics, sturdy levels and innovative gimmicks in the time-stopping and phlegm platforms. All it needed was a lick more ambition, and A Frog’s Job could have been a contender.
You can buy A Frog’s Job from the Xbox Store