Frog Fractions can never happen again. Spreading virally across social media as a game you absolutely have to play blind going into it, Frog Fractions is a masterpiece of subversive design that very literally pushed against the boundaries of genre conventions and video game tropes. Since then, countless other games tried to co-opt Frog Fractions' brand of meta misdirection, but few truly “got” what made Frog Fractions so special. (I'm looking at you, Pony Island.)
But the big reason Frog Fractions succeeded evaporated once you actually played the game. The jig was up on games as vehicles for subversion, and indeed, any prospects that a Frog Fractions 2 would capture the same feeling were in vain. Instead, Frog Fractions 2 comes from a much more earnest place, a reverent blast of genre fusion that can best be described as a combination of ZZT and WarioWare. The result is a strong counterpoint to Frog Fractions, a meaty top-down adventure game bubbling to the brim with new ideas forged in extreme genre fusions.
Unlike Frog Fractions, 2 stays locked into one style of game for the bulk of the adventure. You play as a smiley face set loose in a world very clearly patterned after the essential classic game ZZT, the seminal 1991 shareware top-down adventure created by Epic's Tim Sweeney. Symbols like card suits and Greek letters represent enemies, and letters and numbers for any variety of different objects. Heck, the sword you find is two hyphens! Your objective is to find 18 different symbols (and potentially even purple versions) and that's all the guidance you're given before being left to your own devices.
That is, until you start finding Mind Stones that transport you to completely different games. Each one, which can take up to ten minutes to complete, mashes up two disparate genres to create something new and almost always strange. And then you have the special “Hell” versions of TXT World, the name of the main ZZT-like game you're playing, which warp the gameplay in extreme ways, including one which changes TXT World into a version of the game Snake with TXT World as the backdrop.
If this all sounds really incongruous, well, that's because it is. The Mind Stones have nothing to do with TXT World other than completing them gets you symbols and items. Where the first Frog Fractions managed to frenetically staple together so many different game styles in a barely coherent, often bewildering manner, 2 makes no such attempt at connecting everything in ways that make sense, twisted or no, and it's a worse package for it. It also still attempts to subvert your video game assumptions in some very clever ways, but the impact is blunted by the fact that, again, Frog Fractions already did that, and you just can't recapture that particular magic now that it's out into the world.
And yet it's really hard to compare the two because both set out to be very different. Where Frog Fractions is meant to be played in about an hour as a subversive exercise in semi-satire, Frog Fractions 2 feels like a more traditional game that can take upwards of six hours to complete from start to finish. TXT World is fairly open from the get go, and I'd be lying if I didn't say I enjoyed how well-designed everything is. Exploration is incredibly satisfying, and the different ways you can interact with the same 20 or so screens make this a top-notch non-linear top-down adventure.
The Mind Stone games, too, display the wildest creativity I've seen in 2016. Toaster Derivatives, which mixes Flappy Bird with Cow Clicker-type incremental games, is the perfect example. On paper, that combination sounds completely terrible, but the execution is so thoughtfully designed that it somehow works. Thematic fusions like Inferno Investigation, which mashes up Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego with Dante's Inferno, will make your jaw drop. Some are more interesting than good, such as LOMA Manager, a text-based MOBA, or the Obama shaving simulator. But you can't help but be excited for the future of games playing through everything.
Ultimately, the biggest thing holding Frog Fractions 2 back is that you can't do Frog Fractions anymore. The cat's already out of the bag, and we're wise to its tricks. Still, once you get past that, you'll find a tightly designed adventure game that both honors the history of gaming and isn't afraid of taking risks to forge ahead into the future, cohesiveness be damned.
The Nitty Gritty
- Interface: TXT World only requires the arrow keys and a few extra letter ones, while most of the Mind Stone games use the keyboard, mouse, and even microphone in similarly simple but pleasing ways.
- Lasting appeal: There's a lot more gameplay hours here than in the first Frog Fractions, and that includes finding all the symbols. You can wring up to eight hours of play time out of this game.
- Sound: Though TXT World doesn't have music, the Mind Stone tunes are all excellent and occasionally unnerving. And the old-school TXT World sound effects will make you smile.
- Visuals: You're going to be spending a lot of time staring at letters, numbers, and symbols in bright colors. It's all thematically appropriate and implemented in excellent ways, though.
The Frog Fractions name carries with it impossibly high expectations, but thankfully, Frog Fractions 2 doesn't even try to meet them, instead delivering a great adventure game bursting at the seams with new ideas.
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