There’s been a surge of retro style games based not on the pixel art of the NES and SNES day, but instead the era of the PS1 and Nintendo 64. The range from demakes of Bloodborne and Resident Evil 4 to show what they might’ve looked like if we hadn’t progressed from that time, to upcoming games such as the Agent 64 and Super Kiwi 64.
Interestingly I’ve noticed most generally are horror games, clearly inspired by the likes of the famous Silent Hill and Resident Evil series, which both got their start on the PS1. However Frogun takes a separate more wholesome approach to the retro style.
Publisher: Top Hat Studios
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (Reviewed), PlayStation Consoles, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Consoles
Release Date: August 2, 2022
Price: $14.99 USD
The story of Frogun is simple. You play as a young girl named Renata, whose parents are renowned archeologists that explore ancient ruins. One such expedition they find to be too dangerous for a little girl like her, so apparently just leaving her all on her own at the campsite for what they assumed to be a couple days was a good idea.
As expected, they don’t return for a few days. Eventually Renanta decides that they’ve been gone too long (and she’s way too bored of waiting) and heads into ruins to go save them. She takes the only useful tool left behind by her parents team. This is the strange “frog gun”, hence where we get the title of this game.
And that’s the main gist of Frogun’s story. It’s simple and we get into the action quickly, which I like. Those who do want more from the lore are able to do so by reading the notes found throughout each level.
There are collectibles which can be missed as optional content. But they do build upon the new world of the ruins you’re exploring, the characters you meet along the way, as well as what Renata’s parents have been doing.
And here’s where one can really see the retro inspired graphics based around the PS1/N64 era: most of the environment is flat and box-y, using simple textures as they would’ve due to hardware limitations.
The models of enemies, and most importantly, Renata seem faithful in their reaction of what games looked like during this period. It all reminds me of titles such as Mega Man Legends or Ape Escape which graced the PS1 platform.
The inspiration from classic titles of that era aren’t just superficial either. It really does play like a platformer created from that time. Jumping is simple and usually all one needs to defeat enemies. The game heavily leans on its gimmick that makes it stand apart from others then and now – this being the “frog gun” Renata grabs along for her journey.
With her tool in hand, she’ll use it to grab enemies or objects to throw, as well as use it to traverse to areas where regular jumping won’t be good enough. These two make up the bulk of what you’ll be doing throughout your journey in Frogun. So with such a simple idea, one would think it would be smooth sailing, right?
Unfortunately, this gives me one of my biggest problems with Frogun. The grabbling with the frog gun just feels inconsistent. Early on it’s not a problem at all.
The levels are simple, as expected from beginner areas as well as with how this game presented itself. But this ease doesn’t last, after all more mechanics are added throughout each stage to give players more depth, all of which I’m more than happy with.
The issue comes when the game begins to rely more heavily on chaining the grappling of walls or floating objects to bounce off of so that the players must essentially hook from one place to the next to continue on in levels.
Too many times I died in frustrating ways just because I was too high or low or I apparently was aiming just off despite there only being 4 directions to chose from. None of these platforming sections are complex in any way, yet failing them feels more like a toss-up than anything relating to my skill level.
On the bright side, dying in this game is very easily forgiven. Aside from failing one of the many goals for each level, which I’ll get to later, you simply and quickly respawn back either at the beginning of a level or at a checkpoint.
I believe most checkpoints in each level are placed fairly, so there’s little issue for it from me. However, multiple deaths does have its own punishment in regards to just playing the game.
When you “die” in Frogun, it also resets all the progress you had since the last checkpoint. Which means you have to recollect the many coins, gems, notes, and whatever other collectables are scattered across each level. After all, this game is inspired by many of the PS1/N64 time era, a lot of which had so-called collect-a-thon mechanics such as Crash Bandicoot’s level objectives or Banjoo-Kazooie.
It’s fair that it resets progress, I have no issues with that. It only becomes more apparent when after multiple deaths you realize how tedious and monotonous it is to try and collect everything. Most coins are not hidden at all, you only need to simply walk over to pick it up or use the “frog gun” to grab the many random vases floating just off platforms to collect them.
It’s not particularly interesting and you lose motivation on trying to pick up the easy stuff knowing there’s a hard section ahead that you’ve already died multiple times on to just do it all over again.
Thankfully the entire game isn’t just going through levels trying to clear them with every objective. Occasionally there are “race” levels to break things up where you compete against a boy named Jake who has what’s essentially a “snake gun” that functions the same as your own tool.
They’re quick and not bad at all. It also makes for good practice for beating levels under a certain time, another goal each level has which gives you more rewards. Although there is one race level that is truly awful compared to the rest of them when all the small annoyances add up to make one headache of a level.
Finally this brings us to the boss levels, which are mostly just normal levels with a boss battle at the end of them. There’s a bit of charm to each of them, but it’s mostly just skin deep. When we get down to the gameplay between each of them, they’re mostly the same thing.
You have to dodge their attacks for a period of time before they basically put themselves into an obvious vulnerable position. Then you strike by usually grabbing something to throw or by hitting them directly. There’s very little engagement or uniqueness between each of them in my eyes, of course, perhaps that may be due to my older age.
I realize their patterns are similar to boss battles I’d face back in the day on the PS1 with games such as Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. So Frogun certainly hits the mark with what it’s aiming to be, which is a game of that era. Good for them, but this is a weak spot in my eyes.
So this ultimately gives us a game that I find has a good charm to it. Admittedly I am biased a bit considering this fits the era I grew up with and reminds me of fun games in my youth. But I need to be fair and realize I’m reviewing a game released in 2022, regardless of its aim and I am treating it with the critical lens it requires.
With that, Frogun is a solid platformer. There’s little I can point to that I can say is outright bad outside of the wonky at times platforming. It hits the mark with its art style. I truly do feel like I’m seeing a game made with hardware limitations, outside of how smooth it runs as we are on modern hardware.
I also love the screen filters they have that imitate screens of that era too. Whenever I use an emulator of a retro console, I love trying to get that “original” look, so it was a blast messing around with that alone. Note, all images shown here are without those filters.
Frogun’s level design is solid, and when it’s going smoothly I just get into the flow of things. I did find most of the collecting of coins and items to be a grind if you end up dying and want to pick everything up again.
However once I got around to the second half of the game that relies heavily on platforming with “frog gun”, a lot of the fun is killed for me. It becomes a frustrating mess of getting through a level hoping that I don’t mess up and have to repeat a level all over again.
In a way, Frogun does hit all the marks of a classic title of the era its inspired by. This unfortunately includes both the good and bad with all the charm and wonkiness that goes along with it. I think there’s a ton of content here for everyone.
Those who enjoy completing every last piece of a game will have fun with the many different objectives in each level. Whether it’s grabbing every coin or finding hidden gems and notes, the game gives good reason to repeat levels over and over again.
With the inclusion of the timer and the goal of beating a level in a certain time, I believe speedrunners will find a good time here should they be willing practice the somewhat wonky mechanics.
There’s a good game here with Frogun, but it just needs to refine its very rough platforming, particularly with the “frog gun” before I could ever say Frogun is a great platformer that deserves to be compared to the classics of the past in a manner beyond that which is superficial.
Frogun was reviewed on PC using a review code provided by Top Hat Studios. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Frogun is now available on PC (via Steam and Epic Games Store), Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.