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PS2 Review - 'Frogger: Ancient Shadow'

by Hank on May 27, 2006 @ 5:06 a.m. PDT

Frogger: Ancient Shadow is a 3D action platformer that merges the traditional Frogger "hop-n-dodge" gameplay with platforming elements for an exciting new challenge. Gamers join Frogger at his home in Firefly Swamp, where a dark secret has recently been uncovered.

Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Hudson Soft
Release Date: September 27, 2005

The original Frogger is too ancient and slow-paced to exist on the radars of the current generation of gamers. Back when Frogger was first released, it was a simple game of observation, patience and timing, as you helped the main character, Frogger, try to cross the street or river without being run over by a vehicle or falling into the water. After playing frantic, fast-paced games such as Counter-Strike, Need for Speed, and Soul Calibur, directing your character across the street is quite dull in comparison and simply won't cut it with today's gamers.

In the previous offering, Frogger: The Rescue, Frogger was given an extreme makeover of sorts and became a platformer. Frogger: Ancient Shadow continues this trend, eliminating some of the major bugs and flaws that marred its predecessor's gameplay. For instance, boundary conditions for moving platforms have been vastly improved. Instead of falling to a horrific death if you missed a platform by half a centimeter, you are granted more leniency in Ancient Shadow.

Although you are given more wiggle room in the platforming sequences, losing lives is unavoidable if Frogger touches or brushes up against an enemy. This combination means that the skills required in the original Frogger are still relevant here; you must observe and time your movements well, instead of just winging it. Trust me – it'll save you from multiple unwanted deaths, which only fuel your desire to throw the controller at the wall. Save the controllers.

In terms of a story, Frogger's girlfriend, Lily, reveals that she has seen a shadowy figure skulking around the swamp. As all brave frogs must do, Frogger heads off to see what's going on. You platform your way through seven levels, each consisting of four stages, and gameplay is extremely linear. Frogger has four lives, which can be replenished with shiny green items found throughout the game.

Unlike a tactical/strategy game, where the entire map is visible before playing the mission, Ancient Shadow provides a locked top-down view of what's ahead. This hinders the ability to observe the surroundings and obstacles that may lay hidden, but it also means that a lot more secrets can be placed throughout the environment. There are times when this locked camera angle actually becomes a pain. In some stages, there are platforms that cannot be seen unless Frogger is moved to the far left and right areas of the path. If camera rotation were implemented, it would make solving such puzzles a cinch, so I suppose the existing setup is for the best.

The puzzles in Ancient Shadow are fairly straightforward and direct, but solving them quickly and correctly depends on how well you observe the situation, as well as how lucky you are in executing the first move. Sometimes, the puzzles can be a bit difficult, but it's mainly because of the camera, so with a few trial-and-error runs, the puzzle is solvable. Frogger can also use his tongue for several purposes, such as grabbing objects or latching onto anchored items in order to move through the environment. Some of these objects actually add difficulty in the game and prevent your character from jumping or rotating, which makes planning all the more crucial.

The trial-and-error gameplay wouldn't be so bad if the game would restart quickly, but unfortunately, it takes some time. This isn't due to a load time issue but rather the inability to skip through movie sequences when you die. I'm not completely certain if these sequences are required for the actual stages to load, but it gets tiresome to have to watch the same one- to five-minute clip each time you fail.

In the final stage of each level, you face the boss of the domain, which sounds more difficult than it is. The boss battles are pretty straightforward but tedious. Once you discover the secret of the level, beating the boss is as simple as counting to three. Finding the secret is the key. Any new skills you've gained from the previous stages can help you in defeating the boss, as well as giving you a basic idea of what type of boss you'll be facing. To mix my animated sources, "Knowing is half the battle," and Frogger: Ancient Shadow does an excellent job of reinforcing those words.

Ancient Shadow has a very simple control set: the directional pad is used to move, Triangle to jump, Square to use the tongue, and the shoulder buttons to rotate. After the first tutorial stage, Frogger gains a move that allows him to grab airborne obstacles that cannot be reached through normal means, thus adding another layer to the game.

For me, the best gameplay addition was in the inclusion of secret rooms, which contain treasure chests; finding them is not difficult (look for an "X" marking on the ground), but they are sometimes hard to crack. The treasure chests can add new moves or abilities, such as using Berry to climb walls, which in turn allows you to access more secrets. Sadly, a majority of the treasure chests contain alternate costumes for Frogger. Ever since Karaoke Revolution Party Konami has decided that a Sims-type dressing system is great fun, and I'd have to agree. How can you resist Frogger when he's wearing a magician's hat?

To extend the good wholesome fun, Ancient Shadow also offers some new multiplayer modes that can kill the time. In Bug's Samba, Frogger's slower version of Bomberman, the object is to move the bug eggs around so that the bugs will hit other players, all while avoiding the bugs yourself. Jump Rope is pretty self-explanatory, and lastly, my personal favorite – the original Frogger! Looking at it now, I can't believe I once lived for this game, but to bring back the original sure starts me down memory lane.

It sounds like Konami has kept the same voice actors from Frogger: The Rescue, which is good because they fit the roles surprising well and breathe life into the characters. Aside from the very soothing voices, the game has some really simplistic background music. It does get repeated, but each stage has its own song, so I'd suggest beating the stages quickly, which shouldn't be too hard to do, since they're rather short.

Konami has also implemented a coffee break into the game (in which you'll hear Frogger snoring), so if you leave him for too long, he will start his own coffee break and eventually fall into a slumber. He is woken from his slumber, much like a screen saver, with the touch of a button.

The anime-like trees, surroundings and enemies give Ancient Shadow its true life. Although the graphics have gotten a bit more lively, the fixed camera angle still hinders the game. A few times, the camera suddenly changes focus, and when it does, figuring out which way is up is a pain. This may be the best solution to avoid clipping, but I truly feel that Konami should implement a first-person view to allow the gamer to better observe the situation and add more to the strategic planning stage.

Overall, Frogger: Ancient Shadow has received a lot of gameplay improvements and added difficulty from the last iteration. The inability to skip through movie cinematics hinders the enjoyment a bit, especially since so much of the gameplay involves trial and error. While it's not the next hottest game by any stretch of the imagination, it is truly a fun and simple title that gamers of all ages can enjoy.

Score: 7.2/10

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