Review by SneakTheSnake

"Hop to it!"

We don't like to grow old. It's not very fun to do that, so many like to cling to things that make us feel young. I think that's part of why retro reboots are so popular; sure, some of them turn out to be new-school twists on old-school ideas, with graphical refinements and new-gen interface and gameplay concepts. Mostly, though, I think it's just because we thrive on the familiar and that which binds us to our childhoods. Frogger works pretty well in its vain, and it's enjoyed a whole slew of retro reboots. Frogger 2: Swampy's Revenge simplifies the gameplay structure from the original PSX game and doesn't feature the fluff of the Gamecube sequels. It's right there in the middle, between too much and too little, and it fits just right.

There's a story here, so please bear with me: it'll be quick and painless. Frogger and his girlfriend (Lilly, I think, is her name) are lazing around their favorite pond when Swampy the gator comes by and snatches up all the baby frogs from the pond. Swampy wants his own video game and will do whatever he can to crush Frogger once and for all. Clearly jealous of Frogger's success, he hides the babies in a giant sack and sneaks away while the babies fall out of a hole in the sack. Heck, I didn't even know Frogger had a rival, except for oncoming traffic!

Anyway, the story is told through small FMV cutscenes interspersed throughout the game. There's a surprising amount of FMV here - I'd say about six or seven minutes total, which is a lot for the time and for a game like this - but these scenes have aged horribly. They're poorly-rendered, poorly-directed scenes with tearing polygons, undetailed backgrounds and some truly laughable rendering. I give them an A for effort, but you'll either laugh or cringe when you watch the scenes for yourself.

They bookend the thirty-or-so levels fairly nicely. The first Frogger game for the PSX had open-ended levels, and each featured five frogs hidden in some part of a giant stage. Because of camera issues and confusing level designs, this gimmick proved confusing for players and was ultimately a big mistake in level design. Frogger 2 does away with this and instead has five frogs spread out across much more linear levels. This makes things a lot more manageable, as it's easy to point out where the frogs are, and the camera is a lot more helpful (in many cases) in helping you find paths to them. New to the game are 25 coins scattered in the level which, when collected, open up a retro-style level for play. That's pretty good incentive to collect the coins, as the retro levels are really, really good.

The standard moves from the PSX game are here too, like croaking as a kind of radar for finding the baby frogs and using your tongue to collect 1-up bugs and hopping power-ups. Frogger can't turn 90 degrees in this game but, annoyingly enough, he can still jump and double-jump in directions he's not facing. It makes things pretty confusing.

Frogger 2 is more or less a straightforward action game, the gimmick being that, just like the original, you're stuck on a grid and can only move one “tile” at a time in any cardinal direction. Every stage is designed this way, so there's no free-roaming; even when you're crossing giant chasms, going up a spiral staircase or making your way along the side of a pyramid, the paths on Frogger 2 are almost completely designed with flat surfaces in mind (save for the occasional diagonal tile, which makes Frogger slide downward). This might sound limiting , but stage designs are remarkably diverse and hide this grid layout very well. What I like the most about the stages is how rhythmic everything is.

Frogger will encounter pounding hammers, swinging axes, low-flying birds and all other sorts of obstacles on his thirty-stage quest, and they all move in a specific, predictable pattern. This rhythm is not set to the game's music (which would have been a big plus), but these platforms hardly move out sync, if ever, which makes things a lot more fair for the player. It means that players can accurately time their jumps to make it from one moving platform or the next and to expertly avoid oncoming hazards. It feels very methodical that way.

As far as difficulty is concerned, the game doesn't mess around, but I assess the game to be fair overall. There are some odd jumps, and some areas are positively packed with hazards, but the game has enough lives, continue points and continues (namely infinite) to eventually best each level, by hook or by crook. There are some especially hairy portions, though, which can prove frustrating, and these parts can be complicated by the occasional off-beat camera angle. The game sometimes thinks it's doing you a favor by providing a faraway camera angle in order to see various obstacles ahead of you. These tend to mess up with your perspective, though, and make the game almost isometric at times. It may mess with your control orientation and end up hurting your success instead of helping it. These instances are minimal, though, and the game, as it turns out, is one of those titles where each victory is a rewarding one.

The single-player mode is supplemented excellently by multiplayer options and a completely different set of retro-inspired levels. Collecting all 25 coins in a story mode level unlocks a “super retro” level, and these can be found in the main menu. These strip away the themes and complicated level designs in the story mode and focus instead on the car-avoiding, snake-teasing, lilly pad-hopping action of the 80's. This is all done with a great retro-inspired aesthetic, with black roadways, neon green arrows and retro-looking cars and lilly pads. Each of these retro levels has a unique twist to it, like using larger trucks, having Frogger move in a more labyrinthine map or having all cars come from the same direction, downward, but at different speeds.

Frogger 2: Swampy's Revenge, then, is a fairly well-rounded package. With an hours-long campaign mode, a slathering of bonus retro-inspired levels, time trials (if you're into that kind of thing) and multiplayer, the game packs more than what is expected from a retro revival. The gameplay has been refined from its predecessor into a fine sequel, one which does what sequel should do: take the ideas from the original and expand upon them.

The graphics, save for the FMV, have aged well. Sure, the character models are a little rough around the edges, but the cartoony look passes off well, and the environments are very colorful and bright. The sound is also quite good; the music is upbeat and atmospheric, and the guitar-heavy tracks for the retro-inspired levels really set a good mood. The sound effects are fine and tended to fit well in the background of the whole experience.

As far as classic reboots - and, heck, action games on the Playstation - are concerned, look no further than Frogger 2. Sure, there's no fancy-schmancy free roaming like in the 3D platformers of the day, or even 360-degree character movement like Crash Bandicoot, but the game packs enough of a graphical and gameplay punch to remain memorable, fun, and worth a play. At the very least, it's leagues above many of the more recent iterations of the franchise.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 09/04/12

Game Release: Frogger 2: Swampy's Revenge (US, 10/10/00)


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