As we’re currently in a retro revival trend for fifth gen console games, specifically platformers, there’s no shortage of options for a nostalgic buzz. What makes Frogun stick out from the pack, though, is that it doesn’t have the same sort of inspirations as the majority of the crowd. Instead of Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, or one of the PS1’s major platformer hits, Frogun is more interested in giving a new stab at the attempts of the middle market, particularly Chameleon Twist. The end result is something that feels unique while dressed in old school aesthetics.
The game has you playing as Renata Hops, the daughter of a pair of archaeologists. Her parents have gone missing on a dig, and Renata has taken it upon herself to go find them, going deeper into mysterious ruins. Helping her out is her friend Frogun, a frog that is also a gun, though he trades bullets for shooting out his tongue for a variety of uses. Standing in their way are strange intelligent bugs of various goofy personality types, along with a rival treasure hunter named Jake, not to mention his snake helper Snatch.
Frogun‘s greatest assist is easily its absurdly high amounts of charm. Renata is a cute lead with a lot of fun expressions and idle poses (including dabs), and the bits of writing scattered throughout never take anything too seriously. Everyone is a living cartoon in one way or another, with a lot of groan worthy dad jokes. It’s kind of perfect for a parent to play with their kid, helped by the extremely stylish graphics and art design.
Frogun specifically tries to capture a 32-bit aesthetic, seemingly taking notes mainly from Mega Man Legends and games with similar flat color shading looks. At the same time, it uses modern graphical touches and techniques to plus the style further, resulting in a satisfying mixture of high fidelity and expressive designs. The levels match up well, sometimes with platforms and structures floating in the air, sometimes starting you on the ground of an area, with simple sky boxes in the background to give a bit extra color. The music is simplistic, aiming for a 16-bit style, and varies overall. Some tracks feel unfinished, but others are satisfying and moody, matching the cute charm of the game well.
The game proper is a fairly simple platformer, with Renata having a fairly short and low jump for simple gaps and to bop enemies on the head. She also has a pretty unremarkable walk speed. This is not a game where you’ll be pulling of high skill momentum tricks. Instead, the titular Frogun acts as the core mechanic. You can use it to stick the tongue to walls and reel Renata in, grab items and enemies to toss them, and activate switches. You even have an aim mode where you can more precisely position Renata to make a proper shot, complete with a cross-hair that shows exactly where the tongue will go and tell you if it will hit. It sounds simple, but the game gets a lot of mileage out of these simple skills, properly changing things up the further you go.
For example, the volcano levels have slugs you can’t tongue due to them being too hot, and another kind get introduced soon after that briefly set themselves on fire to make it harder to hop on them. The snow levels have flies hidden in snowmen, who will surprise you when you break their hiding place. Swamp levels will have rotating lily pads, with a missing slice in the platform. It goes on and on like this, keeping things interesting and challenging your understanding of your move set.
There’s also a focus on exploration. You have full control of the camera, allowing you to see hidden secrets in the levels, like items just out of sight, or challenge areas to get a skull item. Every level has rewards for completing various objectives, like finding every coin or completing under a targeted time, which can unlock upgrades and extras on the level select. This is where the replay value really hits, as the game offers plenty of reason to replay levels to unlock more things and get the percentage up. There’s even a hidden speed runner time, where you nail the level extremely fast with minimal to no mistakes.
To spice things up, Jake and Snatch will pop up for a level in every level set, challenging you to a foot race to the end of the level. They’re pretty fun little shake ups, testing your ability to save time with your froggy buddy, pretty easy once you get a feel for your movement and skills. The bosses don’t fair quite as well. They’re fun in concept, but fighting them is either very simple, or oddly frustrating. The second boss is a stand out for this, a spider that will charge at you and start summoning tornadoes that cross the stage. The tornadoes feel a bit too random, even destroying enemies that fall you need to damage the boss sometimes.
Frogun is a great deal of fun, best for speed runners to mess around with, but also a great introduction to platformers for younger players. It feels like it could you a tad more polish in a few spots, but the personality on display makes up for it a good deal. If you’re looking for something a bit slower but still mechanically satisfying, or just a good bit of nostalgia that doesn’t simply copy the greats, this is a great option.