I’m not a frog, but over the past few hours I have become pleasingly frog-like. I can croak like a frog, I can perform a froggish sproing-jump, and I can even thwip my tongue out of my mouth and grab items with it, or use it as a grappling hook to pull myself up cliffs and swing myself from ledge to ledge. As a tiny human sea captain in adventure game Time on Frog Island, I’ve spent so much time here (on Frog Island) I’ve become an honorary amphibian.
The original name of Time on Frog Island was “Trading Time” and that still fits the game like a glove. Shipwrecked on a colorful island that’s home to a society of bipedal frogs, I’ve been frantically running around trying to trade things with them. To fix my busted ship I need stuff, and they won’t give me that stuff until I bring them the stuff they want first. And while it initially feels like just a collection of simple fetch quests—bring a frog a feather and it’ll give me some rope—the charming inhabitants and the slowly revealed secrets of the island made me think maybe I should forget about my broken boat and just live here forever.
Hop to it
The frogs of Frog Island have occupations—painter, fisherman (fisherfrog?), bartender, handyman, bishop, and plenty more—but they don’t exactly speak. They make noises and communicate in word bubbles that contain pictures. My little ship captain doesn’t speak either, but grunts out his own picture-bubbles. It’s a wonderfully simple communication system, where I’ll interact with a frog and it’ll say a picture of what it wants in return, leaving me to scurry around trying to find it. That can be tricky when they ask for an item I’ve never seen on the island before, or that I can’t even identify.
It’s not always a straightforward trade, either. For instance, there’s a merchant in town with a wheel that would fit my ship, but in exchange he would like me to bring him a lamp. The current owner of the lamp is a frog monk trying to meditate on a hillside above a church, but the church bell keeps ringing and disrupting his contemplation. So to get my wheel I need to make the monk happy (a feat that winds up taking a bit more work than just quieting the church bell), which will in turn make the merchant happy. My own happiness comes from feeling clever that I’ve solved each little trading puzzle, with the secondary benefit being I can fix my ship up a little more.
A small but enjoyable complication is that I can only carry one item at a time, and since I’m such a tiny little sea captain I have to hoist each object above my head to carry it. It’s a funny sight to see myself hustling at top speed across the island, with a giant mushroom or a block of ice or a wriggling crab held above my head with two hands, and even after hours of scampering it never stopped being fun to watch.
The island is also much bigger than it initially appears, and even after dashing back and forth across it a dozen times carrying flowers, driftwood, gems, bones, tools, eggs, and other items, I kept stumbling across entirely new regions: snow-covered mountain ranges, sprawling beaches, several smaller islands off the coast, and an area unreachable until you help a frog build a bridge to it. It’s exciting to discover each new area to explore, especially when those zones have new items to pick up, carry around, and find a use for.
A few items give me a speed boost while I’m carrying them, like a beehive (which presumably makes my sea captain run faster out of fear of being stung) and a plant that deflates like a balloon, rocketing me along for a few seconds. At first these just seem like cute features meant to speed up my scurrying, but thorough exploration eventually reveals there’s a purpose for these power-ups: challenging unlisted quests that have nothing to do with my ship. Those froggy attributes I mentioned earlier, and spots on the island where you can grow mushrooms into bounce pads, become key to speedy travel as well.
The sidequests aren’t labeled or explained, which made me feel like I was absorbing information about the world and piecing it together, bit by bit, rather than being told exactly what to do. There are enough of these little activities scattered around to happily keep me from attending to my actual quest for hours.
Some days it rains on Frog Island, which at first seems like just a bit of extra atmosphere, but water (both from rain and rivers) plays a part from time to time as certain items on the island change form when they get wet, complicating some quests and making me wonder how else I can experiment with different items. That’s a big part of what makes Frog Island compelling: wondering just how much I’m not being told, which encouraged me to keep exploring and investigating. Once I discovered how to go fishing (it’s not done in the usual way) I made a point each day to try a different item as bait. And there are so many different items on Frog Island it kept me busy for ages, even if the fish (and other things) I caught were very rarely part of a quest.
Time on Frog Island isn’t a game to rush through, especially since waiting a day (or fast-forwarding time by resting near a campfire) is sometimes required for certain tasks. There’s also a bit of sea captain backstory to be uncovered, which is only revealed if you choose to sleep at the handful of campsites. The captain’s story is told in static images, one each night, but explains how you got to the island and why the potted plant you brought with you is so gosh darn important you automatically hug it when you pick it up. And don’t worry—once you fix your ship and sail away, you can still keep playing after a short cutscene and the credits roll.
The art, the charm, the little secrets, the creative activities, and the peaceful nature of the game makes me wish there were five times as many frogs to trade with on Time on Frog Island. It probably only took about four hours to complete the main quest, and I spent another four checking off achievements and trying to find anything I might have missed. I’d happily have played another dozen hours. Time on Frog Island is time well spent.