If you’ve played Nintendo’s monochrome marvel Zelda: Link’s Awakening, then you may feel a sense of familiarity with Time on Frog Island. Specifically, Link’s Awakening’s optional trade quest that entailed swapping items with certain characters, starting with a Yoshi doll won from a claw machine.
Time on Frog Island takes the concept of ‘trading up’ items and runs with it. I’d like to think the amphibian stars are a reference to Link’s Awakening’s little-known precursor The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls, but it seems to be a mere coincidence.
You play as a seafarer who finds themselves washed up on the titular island. Their boat no longer seaworthy, the premise involves finding replacement parts by talking to the locals and taking on fetch quests. The local artist, for instance, has a large canvas that’ll work brilliantly as a make-do sail, but they won’t hand it over until you have something decent to trade.
The rudder, wheel, and rope all need replacing too – and it isn’t long until you stumble on frog-folk with something that’ll suit your needs. This gives the game an open-ended structure, allowing you to tackle any quest in any order. The only thing to be aware of is that our landlocked lead will need to build a fire and rest occasionally, with resources becoming thinner over time.
But while this may sound enticing, there’s a snag. Time on Frog Island doesn’t play like a conventional video game. There are no quest logs, ergo no reminder of your current quest, and there’s no text or spoken dialogue whatsoever – characters instead converse with thought bubbles.
These are sometimes tricky to decipher. Pictures of items, characters’ faces, and a mixture of ticks and question marks appear in quick succession and said items aren’t always easily identifiable. This result in a lot of aimless wandering, hoping to stumble on whatever it is they need, and even then, it isn’t always immediately obvious to whom it belongs.
On paper, this probably sounded like a good idea. A large, open, island with several quests to jump into at your own free will and a novel picture-based guide. In reality, you’re likely to forget who requested what, accidentally leave quests half-finished, and end up going on ‘wild goose chases’ for misinterpreted items. Adding to the woes, it’s possible to accidentally drop items, leaving you to watch in horror as the physics engine sends them cascading down a mountain. Or into the sea.
The game world also has a peculiar lack of boundaries. As there’s no fall damage, it’s entirely possible to leap off cliffs and mountain ledges back down to the ground below. While this does speed up traversal, it also takes you out of the experience somewhat, feeling akin to playing a game where characters occasionally clip through the environments.
On a more positive side, there is quite a bit to get into, including the chance to own a shack, buy items, brew potions, and complete an ancient ritual. But because there are no dialogue or quest logs, it’s easy to overlook every single one of these optional pursuits. At times I even had to consult the achievement list, of all things, for pointers.
My time on frog island, then, wasn’t entirely well spent. A pity too, as this was the only game I bought during the Black Friday sales.