1981’s Frogger is an important part of video game pop culture. It’s not as recognizable as other early 80s arcade characters, but the concept of a top-down view of a small creature running through traffic and across swamps is iconic. Tributes have appeared everywhere from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance to Seinfeld. But being recognizable doesn’t make a game a good one. Why should you bother with Frogger 33 years later? Because it’s still an entertaining game that challenges the player and rewards them for their expert play. And “always start with the leftmost burrow” is as memorable of a video game tip as letting the enemy tractor beam steal one of your ships in Galaga.
Everything about Frogger’s mechanics is immediately apparent at first glance. Get from the bottom of the screen to the top, avoiding dangers all the way. Despite the primitive graphics of electronics at the time, in Frogger, every object’s purpose should be discernible from their appearance alone: Cars, bigger animals, and water kill the player (yes, amphibians in real life can swim, but water has been a hazard in video gaming for decades). Jump on logs or turtles, but beware if the latter dives beneath the river. Simple, pleasant, and understandable.
Frogger is harder than it looks. The scrolling cars and logs don’t appear to be too fast at first glance, but proper timing and planning of your route is essential. And, like most 80s arcade games, it rapidly grows faster and more difficult as you progress. After playing for awhile you get into a sort of rhythm, diving between cars and across scant platforms as you get into a repetitious groove. Having played 80s games in actual arcades before, I know this feeling quite well, and how easy it is to get caught in an addiction to a straightforward but challenging game. Nostalgia has no bearing (as I didn’t play Frogger until I was a teenager) but the experience is quite a pleasant one.
The person who hired me to write this review wanted me to link to this version in particular. This one isn’t arcade-perfect; the original was set on a grid, for starters, and this remake irritatingly forces the user to switch back to the mouse to play a new game instead of simply allowing it with a press of the space bar. But for certain it suffices for those who wish to play this classic game in a browser without having to mess with cartridges or emulators.
There were many attempts at sequels to Frogger over the years, some of which retained the 2D platforming gameplay, some that turned it into an embarrassing Donkey Kong 64 clone, not to mention the plethora of ports to various consoles and computers. Most added all sorts of bells and whistles that are common in remakes and sequels of old games, but rather than expanding on the gameplay, they introduced unnecessary changes that transformed new versions of Frogger into endeavors with little regard to what made the first one so enjoyable. None improved on the fascinating 1981 original.
If you’ve never played Frogger, I just linked to a browser version twice, so you have no excuse. Play it, learn it, love it. It’s timeless, it’s good, and it’s free.