Exploration is something that I have always enjoyed within interactive media, as it is a fantastic way for getting players immersed in a unique world and forcing them to think about how to proceed. Combat is not an uncommon element, but I also admire those that just focus on the abilities you have for traversing around and solving tasks, as long as the environments are not barren wastelands. The title for this review actually caught my interest due to a cute trailer that I wish I could have as my alarm clock and its free prologue that made me hopeful for the full release. After finishing the main instalment though, I am not entirely sure how I felt about my time spent on this strange island.
Sweet, but not savoury
Playing as a sailor on the open sea, you get shipwrecked on what is dubbed Frog Island. From there, your objective is to simply fix up your boat in order to continue your voyage and carry a plant to its final destination. However, this will require you to ask the inhabitants for help and certainly; they will need something in return for them to conduct their generosities. With this in mind, you are encouraged to uncover this small place and chat with the colourful locals.
You will come across a farmer struggling with crows, a tavern keeper missing ingredients, and a diva who is quite the spoiled brat to name a few. None are what I can call deep, though the game never tries to make the overall tone so either. It is all rather comfortable with everyone being charming if not necessarily memorable besides their visual highlights. This correlates with the landscape too, as it will contain a tiny town, a mountain with religious statues, and even a mine. Regrettably, they are minimalistic and barely serve to move your journey forward.
What is the strongest aspect of this tale is whenever the protagonist goes to sleep, since he will then dream about his past that connects to the plant. It is truly an endearing and sad plot, making the purpose of your key mission feel significant. Unfortunately, it is easy to forget anyone on this island because of few and short interactions that never make them evolve or leave an impact. There is nothing wrong with being cute and heartwarming, but it does not excuse underwhelming personalities.
Story Score: 5/10
Backpacking without the essentials
Due to being all about exploration, it is surprising that Time on Frog Island does not have much to offer in terms of traversing. You can basically walk and jump, with the latter never being used for strong platforming. It is definitely functional for getting over gaps or climbing up mountains, but far from challenging or interesting. The main focus of this adventure title will be talking to people around and trading with them in order to get the items you need for leaving this place.
I will give credit that this is done fairly well. You do not have a map in this game, which can admittedly get you quickly lost in the first couple of days due to areas being somewhat stretched. Luckily, there are signposts to indicate where establishments are and the inhabitants even point you towards where you might be able to find some of the stuff you are searching for. While I still questioned the layout of this world towards the end because of how some sites look eerily similar, I simultaneously adore the idea of using your sense of direction and asking for support when needed.
Unfortunately, it becomes a chore when you realise that you can only carry one trinket with you, forcing you to backtrack to other locations just to be able to help multiple residents. This is incredibly tedious and feels like a way to only artificially lengthen the campaign. Especially since this is a project that can be beaten within an hour if you know what to do, double the amount if you do not. It sadly becomes worse when you discover that there is a day and night cycle, where the NPCs go to sleep and you need to do so for making the time pass and get onwards with your tasks.
Even this is unnecessarily convoluted, as you need to find a camp and three blocks of wood in order to make a fire to rest nearby. There are a few selections of these scattered around, but they do nothing but hinder your progression. Despite the fact that rainy and sunny hours affect plants and creatures in neat ways, the days are too short to get a lot of missions done. Speaking of, there is no log in this title for tracking what quests you have, which makes it so you have to remember them or talk to those who gave you them in the first place.
All of these issues are bothersome, but I do like aspects of the key concepts implemented here! It harkens back to the days when you needed a pen and paper to record what was going on and where you were. This does not excuse the parts that can consume an excessive amount of time, but it makes me appreciate that I had to be invested in this world. I also commend the developers for at least making the sailor vaguely remind himself what he needs to do for finishing the main objective.
Yet, it is a shame that the upgrades to your avatar are not needed at all to leave this island and even acquiring them does take up so much time that they do not feel worthwhile in comparison. Throwing stuff was never needed either and I cannot help but notice that there should have been more to the quests. Some will have you tinkering with the environments, but most are about picking up something and carrying it to a person. It is quite limited, but if scavenger hunting does sound appealing in a project that does not overstay its welcome, this one can serve you well. Just be ready to take notes.
Gameplay Score: 5/10
Cute, if nothing else
Discussing any game using limitations is difficult, as it is not always clear if it is to replicate an era of technology or to create a distinct style. Time on Frog Island is one such entry, as it is reminiscent of a smooth 64-bit system, yet conveys stronger details to make everything shine. This makes it problematic to properly analyze, though I will complement it by stating that the inhabitants are all visually iconic. The blacksmith with a strong upper body, the fisherman with cool tattoos, and the bearded guru should give indications of the charm this title brings on. All of it is surely traditional, but they have elaborated details to make them adorable and I love how they use pictures to represent dialogues and emotions.
Regrettably, the landscapes fare worse. Despite having nice textures to the grass and the water effects being solid, the areas are rather familiar than interesting. You will see peaks covered in snow, forests holding huts, and beaches that have crabs walking around. None of these is intriguing, due to lacking enough set pieces to be inviting. There is something here, like a mine to find minerals in, but not enough to make them memorable or even believably structured.
The audio is adequate though, with pleasant chimes for picking up the things you find and the charming gibberish voices of everyone. Furthermore, hearing the wind blowing, rain pouring, your own footsteps, creatures reacting to you, and anything environmental, add to give this island a friendly atmosphere that is easy to get immersed by. Even the music is just as delightful, with calm tracks focusing on light echoes that have enough variety and subtle use of instruments to be comforting. I also appreciate how it changes depending on your location and weather, making it give an appropriate tone for each occasion. Be they spooky or whimsical, all of the melodies are executed in an uplifting and fitting manner.
Presentation Score: 6/10
Merely fixing the boat is not a big deal, so it is good that there is some extra content here to make the exploration more gripping. This is where you will discover how giant leaves can make you glide, potions offer both temporary and permanent upgrades, and even hidden secrets such as one referencing enlightenment. All of these require experimentation and studying the different sites, forcing you to have a keen eye and do more than just bring one item somewhere.
While there is not a ton of mysteries to uncover, there is enough to give you two additional hours of playtime depending on your skills. Some can be tiresome and resort to the problems the main campaign holds, but I do love the potentials that are shown here with more emphasis on creative platforming and even races that will need decent planning. Although, the rewards are nothing more than icons and achievements representing your accomplishments. One could claim this is more about the journey than the goal, but the former is too short to make it feel sufficient
Extra Score: 6/10
This is somewhat frustrating, as Time on Frog Island offers a solid trip that is hindered by debatable design choices. Some could be argued for making the player pay attention, though multiple ones were just tedious ways to prolong a brief adventure. It has a simple charm and while not a diverse place, gives one that is worth uncovering after you have found the essential tools for leaving it. By consisting of primarily fetch quests, it really depends on how easily cute frogs and a soothing atmosphere can carry a small experience for you.