Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge review

A change of pace can do wonders for the soul. Nobody knows this better than Cleo, the protagonist of this nature-centric wetlands restoration sim. After city life takes its toll, Cleo heads back home to help an old school friend establish a frog refuge, all the while taking comfort in the niceties that working outdoors provides. The game itself provides a welcome change of pace too, offering a laid-back experience. You won’t find much to challenge or test your mettle, but you will discover a few different aspects to become engrossed in.

The premise is simple to grasp and explained with step-by-step tutorials, so as not to overwhelm. You’re initially presented with a small, isometric, outdoor refuge with a pond as its focal point. Cleo and Axel dream of creating a biodiverse frog refuge, keen to secure the backing of the town’s mayor. To win them over, you’ll need to begin reviving the swamp-like wetlands to help restore nature and attract new species. Species of frogs, specifically. By placing certain items around the pond, various amphibians will start to appear – all of which can be photographed, catalogued in the ‘frogdex’ and tamed by feeding them an assortment of bugs.

Once tamed, frogs can then be crossbred – which involves playing a ‘noughts and crosses’ style mini-game – with the goal being to discover all 500+ variants. There’s a fantasy element to the frogs themselves; they’re cartoon-like and brightly coloured, varying from striped to leopard print. Rather than coming in all shapes and sizes, they’re identical in stature – which does hamper the enjoyment of discovering a new type somewhat – with only their colour schemes and patterns varying. Nobody can deny that they aren’t cute though, lounging around on the items placed around the refuge and wallowing in the ponds. Rather than hopping around the environments, they appear for a minute or two – giving a chance to photo and catalogue their discovery – before magically vanishing or reappearing elsewhere. They can even be named.

After the basics have been established, access to the wetlands unlocks, giving two areas to swap between – with just a brief five second loading screen to endure. The wetlands are muddy initially, requiring ponds to be placed proficiently – think along the lines of Tetris pieces – to fill as much surface as possible. Any gaps can be filled with plants, of which there are three types: berry bushes, reeds, and cattails. This will attract bugs, which can be duly fed to the frogs, while berries etc can be harvested at the push of a button. These can then be turned into goods, via a short and not particularly engaging mini-game, and sold on the stall at the refuge. Later, two helpers join your cause, one able to catch bugs and teach the way of beekeeping, while an older fellow can turn harvested items into more lucrative paper cups and notepads.

Keeping a steady cash flow is just as important as cataloguing frogs, as without cash it’s impossible to perform most actions required to progress. It can, at times, feel more like a business management sim as a result, placing as many plants as possible to secure a bumper harvest before heading to the kitchen and paper mill to churn out goods. Still, this can be quite compelling, especially when it helps fund the wetlands’ revitalisation.

In addition to harvesting, cataloguing new frogs, breeding, and crafting, there’s also the customisation aspect to take in. The refuge can be decorated as you see fit, with a mixture of items that specifically attract frogs. Items can be rotated and later coloured via a workshop – which also has the facility to save favourite colour schemes. It’s possible to place bushes, lanterns, white picket fences, and water features for the frogs to hang out in. All these items, of course, cost money – meaning you’ll have to invest time to fund an ideal frog hangout.

Mission objectives hold all of this together. Often, two quests are underway at once, giving freedom on which to tackle. These vary from increasing biodiversity by unlocking and placing a good balance of flora, to obtaining a certain level of reputation – governed by the number of frogs discovered and tamed. Crafting special orders for the wetlands society will also give a reputation boost, and these orders gradually become more demanding.

Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge is nicely presented and for the most part polished. Character portraits are expressive and well-drawn, narration occurs when turning in for the night or passing a milestone, and the cursor-driven interface is streamlined. It uses non-intrusive horizontal sidebars, and most actions are mapped to the shoulder buttons. Younger gamers may struggle initially, but if they’ve mastered Animal Crossing, they shouldn’t have much trouble. If you’re expecting the frogs to interact with one another then you may be disappointed; animation is minimal outside of cut-scenes, with NPCs standing idle and the frogs merely appearing and vanishing on the items that attracted them to the refuge.  

While Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge is easy to get into and appropriately relaxed after around 5 hours tedium did start to creep in – which was shortly after the Australian billabong location unlocked, with its own wetlands to restore and unique items to harvest and craft. The thought of spending another five hours going through the motions again made me wish there was more to the proceedings. This isn’t entirely a bad thing though, as compared to other recent chilled management sims, this is quite a lengthy experience – not wholly life-consuming, like Animal Crossing, but certainly something to invest time into for a week or so. Despite some repetition, and it perhaps feeling more business-minded than it should, it’s also easy to appreciate how connected everything is as if the game itself has its own ecosystem. Every aspect here has a purpose. I don’t know how many players will feel compelled enough to obtain a full ‘frogdex’ – a task that ties heavily into the more tiresome breeding aspect – but even if you’re merely curious about playing something more sedate than usual, this is a good leaping off point.

Humble Reeds’ Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge is out 8th June on PC, Switch and Xbox One. Published by Armor Games Studios.