Time on Frog Island is like a playable fever dream in the best of ways. It places you in the role of the captain of a little sailboat who finds himself marooned on a strange island populated by a frog society. His only hope of getting off the island is by successfully mingling with the frogs and getting them to help him with the various goods he needs to fix up the ship. That’s really all there is to the story, aside from the brief dream sequences that fill in how the captain came to the island. The real draw here is in the charm of how the narrative is conveyed, such as how everyone speaks in gibberish and pantomime to get their point across.
Gameplay in Time on Frog Island could be most closely described as sandbox with some light platforming and puzzle elements. The main objective is to repair your ship with various missing items, all of which have to be sourced from interacting with the extensive trade network between the residents of the frog population.
For example, to get rope for the rigging on your ship, you need to trade with the fisherman, who asks for a feather in return. To get the feather, you have to talk to the village chief, who asks that you get a specific flower. To even talk to the chief, however, you first need to deliver a love letter for the guard. On and on it goes, making for quite a few detours before you’re finally able to get back to the original item you were after.
Sometimes the frogs will give you hints that point you in the right direction for their item, other times you’re given nothing to go on. If you can’t find a specific item being requested, sometimes it’s in your best interest to just shelve the request for a bit and go find someone else who needs something, as this will help you cover more ground and may result in you stumbling across the item you originally needed. The only flaw in this setup, however, is that sometimes you have to complete specific trades to unlock access to later ones, which can lead to annoying bottlenecks when there’s nothing to do but scour the island and hope you get lucky enough to find it somewhere.
The world itself is simple enough to explore, and it’s periodically dotted with some light platforming puzzles organically integrated into the landscape. Jump on a large mushroom, and you’ll be launched higher than you could normally jump. Grab a giant leaf, and you can glide short distances. It’s nothing all that challenging, but these little obstacles help to break up the lengthy back-and-forth that comes about from running all the errands. The whole game is quite literally just you zipping to point B, picking up an item, and hauling it on back to point A.
There is some light progression along the way, which helps to make your journey feel a little more enticing than just one enormous fetch quest. For example, once you’ve helped the fisherman, you can then use the new lure he makes to catch things in the ocean. Or, after you help the carpenter out, you can eventually have a house to display your favorite collectibles. Some of these unlocks even have gameplay benefits, such as when you have the tavern keeper show you how to make a brew that enhances your jumps. Time on Frog Island certainly isn’t about chasing unlocks and powering up your character, but we appreciated having little things like this to give a sense of advancement beyond just watching your ship slowly come together as you add new parts to it.
It’s important to bear in mind that Time on Frog Island requires a rather specific mindset to be properly enjoyed. Looking at things objectively, it only takes a few hours to get your ship together and those few hours are spent engaging with a glorified ‘walking simulator’ as you simply traipse around an island and pick things up or put them down. Coming into this expecting the gameplay mechanics alone to satisfy will leave you disappointed, but the main draw here is how Time on Frog Island makes you feel. There’s something replenishing in playing a game that doesn’t make many demands of you and lets you take things at your own pace, which is something that Time on Frog Island excels at.
However, that isn’t to say there isn’t room for improvement. One big drawback is that there’s no map or other means of tracking the positions of important elements like items or frogs. The island isn’t huge, but it’s certainly large enough that it’s easy to get turned around and forget the specific location of an item you found a little while back. At one point, we absentmindedly set down a key item needed for a certain trade and still haven’t found where we put the silly thing; there’s no way to know where it could be now other than coming across it by chance. Perhaps the missing map is to encourage you to take things slower and not approach this game as a checklist, as many players are wont to do, but the downside is that it feels like a lot of time is being unnecessarily wasted when you can’t fulfill requests because you keep getting lost or can’t find the thing you’re looking for.
This lack of a map ties into a larger issue with organization that plagues Time on Frog Island. For example, you don’t have an inventory to stow important items that you don’t need now, but may need later, so you have to either remember where everything is, or carry items one by one across the island to a designated spot that’ll be easier for you to return to. Additionally, there’s no quest tracking system, which can make it difficult to remember which frogs you’ve helped, which ones still need help, and in what order they need to be helped. Again, it could be argued that the point of no map, no quest tracking, and no inventory is to push you to wander more and thus stumble upon new encounters, but this wandering often feels more frustrating than interesting. Sometimes you just want to actually make progress and not spin your tires for half an hour.
Visually, Danish studio Half Past Yellow nails an intentionally simple, low-poly aesthetic. Each frog has a distinctive design to help make them a little more memorable and the island itself feels as lush and alive as you’d expect of a strange tropical place. Though the color palette feels a little muted and there aren’t any major visual surprises—of course there’s a ‘snowy mountain’ thrown in there—we felt that Frog Island hits on a clean, simple style without coming across as cheap or low-effort.
Time on Frog Island is a charming and intriguing game, but whether it’s an enjoyable one will very much depend on how you approach it. The silly frog characters and the little society they’ve developed can be cool to interact with, and there are plenty of surprises to be had as you get deeper into the trade network, but the deeper in you get, the more Time on Frog Island turns into a one-trick pony. Running errands for frogs is good for a little bit, but the lack of a map or any effective means of managing requests means that even this sole task is made needlessly more difficult. We’d give this game a light recommendation, as the chill vibes and the charming atmosphere do a great job of making Time on Frog Island worthwhile, but bearing in mind its frustrations, you might want to wait for a sale.
This story originally Appeared on nintendolife.com