Frog Fractions and Multi-Genre Games
Frog Fractions is a browser-based flash game that initially appears to be about completing simple actions (a frog eating bugs) to teach players about fractions and mathematics. However, this premise is quickly revealed to be a facade; the numbers above the insects’ heads are meaningless and progress can be made by spamming tongue flicks. If friends hadn’t told me that it gets better, I wouldn’t have bothered continuing. I don’t know if “better” is the right word, but it definitely gets more interesting.
If you’re still sticking around through what seems to be an overly simplistic and even stupid flash game, you might notice that the upgrades available for your frog are ridiculous. Warp Drive, PR Department, Meteorology Satellites, and Presidential Swimming Pool? And some of them cost millions of the in-game currency, a ludicrously high sum for the single-digit amounts you’ll be earning. This is the first indication that things in this game are not what they seem. Then you have to start typing in order to kill bugs? OK, I can deal with that.
Once you get the dragon upgrade for greater movement, you may notice that you can move off of the screen. Then things start to get weird. Now you’re piloting the dragon through a series of lengthy underwater passages seemingly from the less noteworthy parts of Ecco the Dolphin or Aquaria while a voiceover regales you with a Mad Libs version of the history of boxing. Nothing has gone wrong; this is supposed to be part of the game. Just run with it.
Without explanation your frog is sent on a rocket ride—dodging asteroids and eating more bugs—to Mars. Except it’s not Mars, it’s Bug Mars. Whereupon entering the game morphs into a shoot-em-up against some multiple-armed robot thing. Then you are thrust into a kangaroo court reminiscent of Phoenix Wright where a butterfly asks you ridiculous questions to which you can supply equally nonsensical answers or at least pretend to be rational. This is where it becomes obvious that genres in Frog Fractions will keep shifting whether you want them to or not.
Then comes another segment similar to the opening levels, except significantly harder. If you didn’t have a robust health meter, it might even qualify as bullet hell. All the while non-sequiturs by floating heads are filling the screen with deliberately useless information. It all exists to confuse you, and it does that job quite well. I haven’t been this baffled since trying to make sense of the US tax code.
The next section is an out-of-nowhere text adventure, a genre in which I am less than adequate. In fact, I suck at them. Even basic ones like Frog Fractions’ leave my puny brain crying for mercy. Nevertheless, the player is now required to use a completely different set of skills in order to progress. I appreciated this change of pace. Diversify or die.
The game continues to ascend in ludicrousness and obtuseness after this point. When I got to the last section about creating “bug porn” to bilk bug citizens out of their money, I have to admit that I laughed. The absurdism actually did its job and made me feel as weird as Frog Fractions’ creators wanted me to feel. The needlessly elaborate ending credits sequence is just fly pâte added to this ersatz treat.
Frog Fractions is praised for being genre-busting, and it is certainly that. But it’s not an enjoyable game. It’s intentionally frustrating, confusing, and nonsensical… and therefore artsy. You don’t have to make a good game to get indie credibility; you just need to make a game that is different, or at least perceived as being different. You can even have heavy corporate funding and still get away with calling yourselves independent. (I’m looking right at you, Journey.)
Forgive me if I sound excessively negative. I didn’t hate this game, I just wish there was a substantive foundation to all the weirdness. There is a lesson to be learned from Frog Fractions. It travels outside the normal boundaries of other flash games and delivers a strange and interesting experience. I haven’t seen a video game mash so many genres together since Bayou Billy for the NES. The creators of Frog Fractions knew it would be incredibly hard to cohesively combine all these different elements, so they instead went for the jarring and voluntarily baffling. It’s Dadaism: The Video Game, for better or worse. It wanted to create something unique and memorable compared to the scads of indie flash games that are boring platformers about losing the purity of childhood.
Oh, and Frog Fractions doesn’t truly have anything to do with math. The reviews that claim the game is actually about fractions are simply in on the joke. It’s a good joke, but not necessarily a good game. Give it a chance, bask in the absurdity, and feel slightly better about yourself.