[Preview] Time on Frog Island
Posted on May 7, 2022 by Dennis Gagliardotto(@LyonHart_) in Previews, Switch
It seems with every passing year we get more and more creative minds in the indie space expanding certain genres and what it means to perceive gameplay within them. One of the more popular areas of growth and reach we’ve seen in recent memory is through the guise of simulators – whether they may be farming sims, life sims, etc. – and how their flexibility can create such a creative playground for forward-thinking ideas that make for cathartic, memorable, and almost addictive experiences. Time on Frog Island, formerly known as Trading Time: A Croak Tale, is next up in a slew of releases in an ever-growing genre that seems to push ideas and the concept of sims forward with each new title – however inspired they may be by the giants of the genre – and it’s a pleasure to have had an early look at the game on Switch to see just where the minds at Half Past Yellow lie and how they’re making their version of what it means to be stranded on an island and having to start from scratch.
From Don’t Starve, Cozy Grove, Hokko Life, Little Dragon’s Café, Animal Crossing and more, we’ve grown all too familiar with the concept of being stranded on an island in these artistically driven farm and life simulators and having to start with very little or nothing at all. Time on Frog Island cultivates upon the foundation of similar games that came before it while emphasizing the commerce side of things, but with a lessened focus on making profit and more about creating connections through trades and bartering. The game summarizes itself as a “spaghetti network of trades”, and that couldn’t be a more precise elevator pitch of what you’ll be getting into right when you step foot on the island for the first time after washing ashore. Dialogue is left to a minimum, where words are substituted by icons and images that represent a character’s emotions and requests, and it’s up to you to deduce what it is your new amphibious friends are asking for and where exactly to find the items being requested.
We’re only restricted to publicizing the first hour of the game, but with Time on Frog Island – Prologue available on PC, you can get a good idea of what you’re looking into for the rest of the game even in the full build. The basis of going around the island at your leisure is really what shines most, and though it’s tempting to want to help anyone and everyone immediately, once you can teach yourself to take it slowly, enjoy the sights, and explore the island little by little as you look for resources, you can really appreciate the atmosphere and the philosophy behind the design. I initially played through my first hour trying to rush and see everything, but once I quickly found myself exhausted that’s when I took a step back and realized that the game is just not mean to be enjoyed this way, especially since it doesn’t ask for much of an investment from the player and simply wants you to go at your own leisure. After restarting and going in with this new mindset, I had a new found appreciation for the game where I felt immensely relaxed and could keep better track of where things were, and considering you can only hold one item at a time, you’re pretty much limited to only taking care of one task at a time anyways.
Time on Frog Island isn’t just about becoming an impromptu errand boy, though, as every time you sleep for the night at your makeshift camp you’ll be hit with quick flashbacks and memories containing moments indicating the people you knew and are remembering, the life you had, dreams, and more. It gives a bit of a backstory to your main character without explicitly stating what’s going on and once again relying on imagery to convey its narrative. While it’s initially vague, pieces start to naturally form as you’re moving forward and also getting acquainted with everyone in Time on Frog Island. Even with a narrative structure that starts off as mysterious, it almost feels like a way of accepting how things were and how they will be moving forward as you introduce yourself to the frogs in the society around you.
The items scattered are not in places you would immediately expect, so exploring is key not only to find what you need but familiarize yourself with the landscape around you, which has been nourished in a multitude of ways by the amphibious folk that live there. Some areas of the island has clearly been used as a farm, while others are a shopping district, a place to fish, housing, a forest-y area, and more that all give the island a clear and structured feel without needing to use a map. Items you find won’t always be for just the sake of delivery, but can come from the environment and be used as ways to help utilize movement and growth of the space around you. For example, there would be random patches of mushrooms growing on the ground sporadically throughout the island, and while picking one up doesn’t really do you much good, it *can* be used to drop into tiny plots that then quickly grow a large mushroom head for you to bounce off of and reach a higher area that is either inaccessible or simply used a shortcut. Likewise, grabbing a spare canvas from a painter you meet immediately after landing shoreside and jumping with it can allow you to glide – not a conventional use for a canvas, but it certainly helps!
The island itself is mostly structured in a way that can ease navigation and, while large enough to enjoy the aspect of exploration, it never feels overwhelming. Even with a day and night cycle in place, the time goes by at an extremely reasonable pace, and it’s usually recommended to sleep every night that way you can advance the story and sort of refresh some of the resources and events around you so you can experience more content as you go. The island is also split into ways that are cleverly blocked off where, through your network of trades, you’ll eventually come across something useful that could help repair, say, a bridge, or gather enough rope to help with climbing. While I wasn’t able to access these other areas during my first hour of gameplay in our early access preview of the build, I was immediately excited as the prospect of being able to uncover more when the initial starting area seemed to have a healthy offering of trades and things to see that get you acquainted with how the game works and the utilization of the features and mechanics implemented. Time on Frog Island does very little to tell you what to do and/or how to do it, but that level of mystery and feeling like you yourself are stranded on this island and trying to get your footing added to the overall appeal of the game. It’s innocently cryptic, and it uses that form of gameplay and storytelling much to its benefit added to the leisurely pace at which you can progress.
Naturally with an early build of the game comes the occasional bug or glitch that can come in the form of poor texture streaming, egregious performance, lack of visual fidelity, absurd collision detection and more, but first impressions of Time on Frog Island were rather pleasing all things considered, though I did find myself on a few occasions having to exit and relaunch the game thanks to becoming quite literally stuck between a rock and a hard place with no way to jump or maneuver. Obviously with the release still being two months away at the time of this writing, I’m not too worried about this becoming an issue that will be taken care of as more polishing continues to be done before its retail launch, and admittedly it was my own curiosity trying to reach places that were likely meant to be inaccessible that got me into those immovable situations. The save system is thankfully also forgiving enough that I never really felt particularly stressed or upset about having to reset, and what’s even better is, to my knowledge, every object I found that was needed for someone or something else was always in the same place, ridding the unfortunate element of a sporadic and randomized system that can cause for frustration to players.
Time on Frog Island respects the user’s time in many ways, and it’s engaging enough that it seems like it will undoubtedly have a very happy following and player-base looking to get into a new game that they can relax with. The Switch version through early impressions seems like it’ll be a mostly optimized and competent enough experience that those that choose to go with that platform will be pleased with their purchase and time with the game, meeting and helping their new amphibious friends. I’m undoubtedly excited for what Time on Frog Island has to offer when it’s fully released, and it’ll be a fantastic summer game to relax to.