Frogger: Ancient Shadow Review
Frogger: Ancient Shadow, for the PlayStation 2, and Frogger: Helmet Chaos, for the Sony PSP, are two very similar and very different games.
Both are 3D platformers built around the same "hop-and-dodge" gameplay and both look and sound roughly the same (even if the levels and stories are different). But, one game is boring and broken while the other is actually decent.
Ancient Shadow, the PS2 game, is the boring and broken one. It's ruined by unresponsive controls and levels that seem to be designed to point out just how broken those controls are. You can go a good five minutes performing the same basic jumps and block puzzles over and over again before you reach an interesting or challenging spot. And then you're toast because the controls aren't up to snuff. Oh look, you have to hop across a chain of breakaway platforms, turn, jump, and stretch out Frogger's tongue to grab onto a swing at the last moment. Too bad, because the controller ignored your jump input and Frogger drowned. Not fun.
On the other side of the coin is the PSP game, Helmet Chaos. It offers a diverse lineup of levels and the controls aren't fundamentally broken. You can actually jump, turn, and jump again without worrying about an input delay. Best of all, the levels mix things up a bit with jump sections, block puzzles, swing sections, and mini-games. I would've liked the PS2 game more if it had a mini-game where I had to catch babies being tossed out of a burning building. Oh sure, the PSP and PS2 games both offer a handful of mini-games, but it's the PSP version that actually integrates them into the story mode. My favorite aspect of Helmet Chaos is that the developers rarely resort to breakaway platforms to make a level challenging. They just throw in a bunch of jumps, enemies, and puzzles and leave it up to you to figure it out with the few health items and checkpoints that you find laying around. That's the way to do it, especially since health refills and checkpoints are a little more common in the PSP game than in the PS2 game.
Now, to be honest, the Frogger franchise is an acquired taste. Unlike traditional platformers, which are mostly oriented around running and jumping, the Frogger games give you a bunch of different jump abilities and challenge you to use the right jump at the right time. If you push a direction on the d-pad, Frogger will hop one space in that direction. You can push the leap button to make him leap forward an additional space. There are also buttons for performing vertical jump and tongue grab abilities, which make it possible to grab floating items, swing across tree-swings, and push and pull blocks and platforms. And if all those buttons weren't plenty, you can also push the shoulder buttons to turn Frogger to the left and right without hopping. Overall, these newfangled Frogger games feel like puzzle games that have been expanded and turned into 3D adventure games.
In terms of presentation, both games look and sound fine, though neither really pushes Sony's hardware to its limits. The environments are foresty and colorful, but there isn't much life in them aside from the characters, a few waterfalls, and some glowing fireflies. Oddly enough, the PSP game has the graphical edge over the PS2 game, and not just because the levels are designed better. There's more scenery to look at and interact with in Helmet Chaos, and the insects and animals in that game actually respond when they see Frogger in their field of vision, whereas the baddies in Ancient Shadow just keep on truckin' without batting so much as an eyelash. The audio in both games is roughly equivalent--the tunes are reminiscent of 16-bit era Sonic the Hedgehog games and there are a bunch of generic animal noises.
Each game benefits greatly from its story sequences. Ancient Shadow, the PS2 game, uses game-engine graphics to present its scenes. The PSP game, Helmet Chaos, uses hand-drawn comic book style artwork instead. Both games contain a fair amount of voice-acted dialogue. Frogger's voice is a bit childish, but his companions sound like Sean Connery and Adam Sandler, which is too cool. Although there are different villains, henchmen, and friends in each game, the two stories aren't that dissimilar from one another. In the PS2 game, an ancient evil has cast a spell on the forest, causing the animals to turn mean and the environment to become stagnant. In the PSP game, a mad scientist has put mind control helmets on all of the animals in the forest. Personally, I thought Helmet Chaos had the better story, because it has a half-deaf dinosaur carrying a giant boom-box in it.
So, curse you Konami, for releasing Frogger: Ancient Shadow, which made me scream and throw my controller, and thank you Konami, for releasing Frogger: Helmet Chaos, which I had some fun with.
10/6/2005 Lance Kwok