Why did the frog cross the road? We've still yet to receive an answer, but the little guy's been doing it for 30 years. Marking his birthday is Frogger 3D, begging the question: can yet another entry really bring anything new to the table?
The answer is yes, as this title takes the little amphibian on a journey from his hometown to the casino to a warzone and beyond, eventually ending up in a bizarro space-based world. The game's best feature is its clever take on the old formula, which used to consist solely of having your character leap one tile at a time from the start of a stage to the finish, avoiding traffic and catching floating logs all the way there. Now Frogger must cross giant sushi bars, hop up and down platforms jutting out of a waterfall, cross minefields, navigate through casino chips as they're pushed about a table and more, stages often crossing into puzzler territory as much as they remain in the franchise's action-packed arcade roots. You'll also meet friend frogs upon which you can ride, including a bright amphibian who lights the way or, in one stage, powers solar panels atop cars. Another area has you ride a metal frog across a peaceful zen room, hopping on certain spots in time with the clacking of shishi odoshis so as not to disturb the peace and get yourself crushed by an angry cane.
There are around 70 stages spread over six worlds, and each has you reach three goals in a row within a time limit, the level becoming progressively harder as you progress to the second and third iterations. This difficulty, however, is where Frogger 3D goes so very wrong. About halfway through the game the challenge level ramps up dramatically, and while the first go-through is often not too hard, the second and third can become mind-numbingly so. This is thanks to an abundance of cheap shots and near-impossible to avoid obstacles, so what could make for a satisfying challenge often becomes an exercise in frustration. That's coupled with the fact that you've only three lives to work with over the three goals, so if you fail on your last attempt, you'll have to replay the entire thing, first two rounds included. Adding to the poor design is a touch of faulty hit detection that pops up every once in a while, some objects still affecting you a split second after they've passed. In a game where that's often all the time you have to make a decision, it can become quite a headache as, of course, it's one hit per life. Every world ends in a boss battle of sorts, and these are as much a mix of cheap shots and interesting level design as the rest of the game.
Take, for example, our least favourite level. Here Frogger must cross the width of a slot machine, avoiding tokens streaming down, then climb up the side to the spinners themselves. You'll then leap onto three buttons controlling the reels, trying to get three in a row (they begin spinning again if you get it wrong), at which point a platform of coins will pile up and allow you to reach the goal, with more of them launching across for you to steer clear of as well. The third goal is too far out for this platform to reach, and soon the realisation dawns upon you that you must in fact score the Jackpot and pile up a bigger mass of coins, a very hard thing to do. Frogger's not a very fast leaper, a factor that, while usually satisfyingly adding to the challenge, just feels unfair here. Of course, if you accidentally get three in a row of the wrong type, the platform won't reach all the way and you'll have to commit suicide. Oh, and those coins streaming across employ some of that aforementioned poor hit detection. Add to this the ticking clock and three-life limit and you've got something truly torturous.
However, interesting stage design makes up for this to a great degree, and you can still have a good deal of fun with the game. Often you can plan around avoiding cheap obstacles, and other times it's simply worthwhile to surpass them to try out the clever levels ahead. Many levels include multiple exits, which adds to the challenge in a rewarding way. The friend frog element also adds some entertainment value, but unfortunately it never feels like the game develops this as fully as it could.
You can grab up to three friends for a multiplayer version of this, but it's multi-cart only, an unfortunate let-down that hinders this mode's utility greatly. There's also Forever Crossing, which puts you into a retro-styled Frogger game that lets you race against a ghost of your best time, an intriguing addition that's entertaining enough to help pass the time and which includes leaderboards, though the only name that it registers is the one exclusively associated with your console. Collecting coins unlocks a challenge mode and lets you take off the time limit, though you'll have to pick up 1000 of them for each — quite a feat in itself, and the prize doesn't quite match the required effort.
The controls are easy to pick up on and very simple, pretty much involving the D-Pad alone, though it's odd that the Circle Pad is useless here. Graphically it's not very impressive, though it includes some nice 3D effects throughout. It utilises a very 1990s aesthetic, with fast-paced rockin' guitar riffs, bright colours and file saves that come in the form of big hot dogs. It's charming in its datedness, but feels somewhat out of place.
Frogger 3D balances interesting, clever level designs that will make you want to keep playing just to see more with infuriating cheap shots and a ridiculous difficulty curve that will make you never want to play again. For every level that you will love, there's one that will inspire you to break your machine in half. It all balances out to an average experience; approach with caution, look both ways and you'll be able to hop into some of the game's higher-quality aspects before your patience is squashed flat.