Anyone into portable gaming the past few years may be familiar with the glut of Frogger remakes that surfaced on the Game Boy platform -- Konami really capitalized on the old-school appeal back in the day producing nearly a half dozen different Game Boy titles in only a couple of year's time.
After taking a short break with the Frogger franchise, Konami has once again brought the retro-style gameplay to the handhelds with Frogger: Helmet Chaos. Both the Nintendo DS and the PSP get the same portable Frogger experience -- apart from a slight difference in visual presentation and mini-game line-up, the two games are identical in design with the same story and level maps. Because the gameplay combines old-school mechanics with much more contemporary control the design may feel overly clunky and limiting, but anyone that's practiced in the Frogger ways most likely won't run into these problems. Either way this new game doesn't do anything new that previous Frogger remakes haven't already done, but it's still got some fun and challenge in its design.
It's just a little surreal to see a simple toad go from a few pixels to a fully articulated, talking anthropomorphic amphibian. Much like how Namco gave a yellow pizza personality in umpteen Pac-Man spinoffs and sequels, Konami has done the same with Frogger. Over the years his goals have evolved beyond the simple "crossing traffic" task, and in Helmet Chaos he's trying to save his friends from a mind-controlling head device that an evil crocodile's pushing on the critters of the land. Honestly, the story isn't really necessary or integral to the action, and the way it's implemented in the game is a little clunky: it's nice to experience fully spoken cartoon-style voice-over especially on the limited cartridge medium of the Nintendo DS, but players have to manually advance the accommodating text while it's being spoken. And because of this the text just ends up getting out-of-sync with the speech during the cutscenes.
But the game's not about the tale, it's about the action. And Frogger: Helmet Chaos is, at its core, classic Frogger action. For a quick recap, Konami offers a close representation of the original old-school arcade game in the new 3D engine as a mini-game -- the Nintendo DS version spans the vertical orientation across both screens, whereas the PSP version requires players to tip their system 90 degrees and play that way. This basic idea has been moved over into a much more "explorable" environment for the full-blown Helmet Chaos adventure; players move in harsh up/down/left/right increments to move the frog along the level designs. Since players might have to turn in place, the frog can rotate with the L and R shoulder buttons, a control that might not feel intuitive right off the bat, but it's an integral part of the gameplay and necessary to learn if you're going to survive. Players can also bound across one-tile gaps with a button-press, as well as leap up in the air with another button. Combining the airborne leap and a tongue-whip will activate a vine-swing in places to reach other parts of the map.
The overall goal is to "simply" get to the end of the map, but the amount of enemies and hazards along the way will make that task a lot more difficult. But this is Frogger, and the enemies wander around in set patterns to make them a little easier to read and avoid. The secondary task is to collect the hundreds upon hundreds of gold coins strewn around the levels; players can choose to ignore this goal, but then they'd be missing out on all the extras and unlockables that Frogger: Helmet Chaos has to offer. At the very least, the game design is brimming with additional content that's heavily focused on the multiplayer aspect, especially in the single system download function of both the Nintendo DS and PSP systems. You only need one copy of the game to take advantage of these modes, which makes it much more appealing for players to participate since it's not an additional purchase to play.
This is the first time the Frogger series has gone 3D on a handheld platform. Previous portable versions were strict 2D, top-down designs, but with the power of the PSP and Nintendo DS, the designers have been able to offer up a more console-like 3D experience. This 3D engine allows the developers to move the camera around the environments a bit more realistically, as well as create unique creatures and enemies that animate fluidly. The game moves at an impressive clip on both systems, but the PSP wins out with a cleaner visual style and a wider view of the action; some levels require some forethought to know where to go, so it's a shame that the designers didn't use the 3D engine further and throw in the ability to pull the camera back to get a better lay of the land.
Apart from the PSP's cleaner visuals and additional in-game speech as well as the Nintendo DS system's faster loadtimes and cleaner save game interface, the two portable renditions are virtually identical to each other. The Frogger design is a bit on the limiting side for the console -- it's always worked better as a handheld-friendly design, and as long as you're willing to accept its more simplistic gameplay and cute character designs it's a solid for these more advanced portable systems. Frogger: Helmet Chaos is a game that modestly compliments the library instead of stocking it with a must-have title.
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