Alright, this is the last one!
‘Frog Fractions 2’ – a review
Yeah, Frog Fractions 2. I warned you. Not all is lost though. You still have a chance to play Glittermitten Grove. As I see it, knowing Frog Fractions 2 is part of Glittermitten Grove will not utterly destroy your experience. However, in this review, I will indirectly explain why that is, and that will indeed destroy your experience. Play the game. Also, if you haven’t already, play the original ‘Frog Fractions‘. Your experience of that one will get destroyed very soon if you keep on reading. Have fun.
“Review” is somewhat of a bogus term, because besides being a true homonym, it is also a semi-homonym (a term I just made up) when we talk about it in the field of art, including video games. The original meaning of it is a critical appraisal of a piece of art, be it musical, literary, optical, interactive or any combination of it. As in: «What is or isn’t good about this piece and why?». The far more common meaning nowadays though is a review in the sense of a value assessment, analyzing the value proposition. As in: «Why is or isn’t this product worth your well earned cash?». This review is the former, not the latter. In praxi, it is impossible to examine the value proposition of Frog Fractions 2, because explaining why it might or might not be worth your money directly lowers the value the game has to you. So the only thing I can say in that regard is: «Buy it», which I already did. I obviously can’t promise you will get enough enjoyment out of it for the asking price. However, if you ever wondered why you enjoyed Frog Fractions (link above, play it if you haven’t), Glittermitten Grove will be worth your money. Why? I can’t say without lowering the value…
The story of the original Frog Fractions is quite interesting and respectable, indeed. With no marketing budget and almost exclusively word of mouth, it got an outright insane amount of exposure in a very short time frame about five years ago; October 2012. However that’s the respectable part. The interesting part is the footprint it left. Many who did experience it consider it one of the best flash-games of all time and others — me included — also consider it to be one of the greatest games of all time, despite barely being 20-60 (results may vary significantly) minutes long, and furthermore — and this is where it gets really interesting — not exactly having great and deep gameplay loops. But that footprint isn’t made by a foot, it’s made by a stump. It’s missing details. It’s missing the why and focuses purely on the what…
For the longest time I struggled to explain exactly why I think it’s a great game. I can’t really claim it’s good because it’s subverting your expectations as a player, because there’s a bunch of games that did that which I didn’t like. But that’s the first thing that plops into everyone’s mind because of how most people were told about it; It’s subverting player expectations. However, now that I experienced Frog Fractions 2, I know what it is. The thing about Frog Fractions 2 is that as soon as I realized that I was playing Frog Fractions 2, the point about subverting player expectations became almost null. In the beginning, the only way it could have subverted my expectations in a major way would have been by not subverting my expectations. Which would have been hilarious for a while — just make a game that is purely about a frog actually teaching fractions — although chances are it wouldn’t have been a great game overall if it did do that. That’s not to say Frog Fractions 2 didn’t still manage to subvert my expectations in the end; It did. Frog Fractions (1) subverted player expectations alright, but that’s a tool to achieve what made the game great, not as the reason it is. In reality, it is about evoking feelings.
Now that’s a stupid thing to say. In the end, every game is about evoking feelings. It’s the reason we play games. Because they are fun, or sometimes touching, thought-provoking, mind-opening, or sometimes even because they aren’t fun; Because we want to experience accomplishment to make them fun. But those are not the feelings that Frog Fractions primarily causes. Arguably the feeling of “accomplishment” is comparatively weak in Frog Fractions, because the game isn’t very hard (for the most part). And the fun isn’t purely caused by the game directly — as I said, the gameplay loops aren’t very deep — but rather by the setup. The feelings it mainly causes however are related to mystery; discovery; uncovery. It’s the satisfaction we get from experiencing something we don’t know anything about. The way it causes those feelings is by using a trick. A trick that uses your prior knowledge of other games against you to make you realize you don’t have any knowledge of this game. It’s like when you make The Boy Who Cried Wolf and the boy cries wolf over and over again and then you end the story without ever letting the wolves attack the village in the first place — It’s a trick that you can only pull off once.
It’s hard to put a proper name on those feelings. If I had to I would describe it as a mixture of surprise, astonishment, wonder and amazement, howbeit that still falls short of what I mean. So I’m not going to name that feeling. However I can attempt to tell you exactly what and how powerful of a feeling it really is with a rhetoric question, the answer to which is that feeling: Why did we fly to the moon?
There just isn’t anything out there that does this quite as good as Frog Fractions and there are very few games with a post ’00 release date that do this at all. Hob does it with it’s world-building and storytelling. ‘Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons’ — a game that I personally consider the game-equivalent of a coffee table book (but this is a story for another day) — does it with its storytelling as well. But the big difference here is that Frog Fractions does it primarily with its gameplay. And that’s rare now. Almost every game nowadays has an initial guideline in the form of tutorials and/or an intro that already answers questions you didn’t ask yet and/or has that guideline by being a game in a very iterative genre. But it was different when I grew up. Many games didn’t have any initial guideline by missing multiple of those points. They managed to evoke that same feeling, albeit on a smaller scale. This is also something where I fundamentally disagree with Frog Fractions’ developer. In his opinion, the major reason(s) old games managed to be more mysterious was because the communicating crowd was smaller as the internet wasn’t omnipresent. And yes, but no. Sure, it was a factor that managed to make games mysterious that weren’t already inherently mysterious, but there is such a thing as “inherent mysteriousness” and a couple decades ago games pulled that off quite commonly:
- ‘Super Mario Bros.’: You are some plumber helping mushroom-people to rescue their inexplicably human princess. On the way of doing that you eat mushrooms that are presumably not people (but they move, so who knows?) to become stronger and kill other brown mushroom-people by jumping on their heads. The world’s generally accepted transport system is a bunch of pipes, some of which have warp-capabilities. I mean yeah sure, plumber and pipes kinda makes sense, but how often have you seen a plumber entering a pipe? It’s never explained that (or why) jumping on other dudes kills them but you die from touching anything unless you touch it with the bottom of your feet. It’s never explained 100 coins make a 1-up, or what a 1-up even means. Nothing is explained, everything has to be discovered.
- ‘Flashback’: You try to escape on your hoverbike from some dudes in green trench coats shooting at you, and you don’t have the slightest clue why. They shoot you down. You wake up in a jungle. You eventually find a holocube with yourself in it, but you don’t even explain yourself anything, not even that you wiped your own memory. You just tell yourself to find some dude named Ian in New Washington. On your way random people and little robots one- and two-shot you left and right with no explanation on how you play against that. Apart from the fact that you are in a jungle you start out knowing nothing, because everything has to be discovered.
- ‘Legend of Zelda’: You are some guy in a green tunic who’s supposed to kill some mighty pig-sorcerer by going through a bunch of dungeons and collecting stuff and things, but you don’t know any of that yet because (almost) nothing is explained, everything has to be discovered.
- ‘The Secret of Monkey Island’: You are blonde and you want to be a pirate. Have fun.
It’s worth noting here that apart from Super Mario Bros. (and even that one is questionable) these games didn’t invent their genres. The genre of cinematic platformers was already well developed and explored at the time of Flashback’s release, the genre of point&click adventure games in the case of Monkey Island even more so. You don’t necessarily need to re-invent anything, but you do need bring something new to the table. Monkey Island for example had an anti-hero and no failure states regardless of what you did. You get into it thinking you are solving puzzles and making choices in dialogue, but it ends up just being punchline after punchline. Dialogue “choices” are just there to write several punchlines to the same joke and even the solution to practically every single puzzle in that game is just another punchline with your trial of getting there being the setup for it.
Flashback gives you a pistol from the start, but can’t just run around blindly shooting people. You gotta surprise them, or throw stones at auto-turrets to trigger them and kill the bad guys. In the beginning it’s practically a stealth game. And there’s backtracking. Then you learn that it’s a game about shape-shifting aliens. And then suddenly it becomes an exploration-game; Talking to people, getting a work-permit and delivering parcels. And then it becomes a game about blindly shooting people. And then you infiltrate some complex and it’s a stealth game again. And then you enter a game show. And then it’s all about aliens again. And boy, the ending is not happy, it sucks. It was so unlike any other cinematic platformer, when you read reviews of the time you can practically read the sentence “I don’t know what to make of this, but I gotta come up with some arbitrary reasons why this is good because it’s amazing…” between every other line, which coincidentally isn’t very dissimilar to Frog Fractions.
That’s why I cherrypicked these two examples. They have a direct similarity to Frog Fractions. While their core genre was already well explored, these games do what Frog Fractions is basically built on, just on a smaller scale; They have gameplay twists that throw your preconception of their own genre right out of the window. Flashback goes from stealth to exploration to action-platformer to exploration to stealth to action-platformer, and those respective parts play fundamentally different even though nothing about the controls or gameplay mechanics changes. Monkey Island though – oh, Monkey Island though:
Monkey Island has a pretty lengthy section in the middle where it turns from a point&click adventure game into an insult fighting game that’s purely based around making (and learning) the correct dialogue choices, and that twist is as absurd and unexpected as the twists in Frog Fractions. On first sight it might not seem like much of a twist; You are still pointing and clicking to progress in the game so the whole insult-fencing feels like a natural fit. In fact however, it is a crass opposite to the rest of the game. From the start of the game you learn that your dialogue choices don’t matter and don’t have any tangible effect on your progress within the game. But then the game throws that convention right out, and you suddenly find yourself in a minigame of substantial length where the only thing that has any positive effect on your progress in the game is picking the right piece of dialogue. Furthermore, choosing a wrong answer to an insult has a negative effect and makes you lose ground in the duel you are currently in.
Q: Isn’t this supposed to be a Frog Fractions 2 review?
Q: Then why are you going on and on about the original Frog Fractions?
…to understand how Frog Fractions 2 can be good and why it is or isn’t, we need to understand what made Frog Fractions good. Because Frog Fractions 2 had to solve a problem, the cause of which was a major tool in making Frog Fractions good in the first place. How do you make the game a surprise and mysterious even though you know that almost every single player of your game expects mysteriousness and expects to be surprised? How do you subvert the expectations of players that are expecting their expectations to be subverted? The answer is: You don’t, but you do. You are not the same, while being the same. Monkey Island wasn’t good because of the insult-fencing, it’s rare that things are good due to one single ingredient. But it was the longest lasting joke in the game, itself being a shell for countless other jokes, many of which weren’t even made by the developers and just emerged from players not having the right answer to an insult. Frog Fractions wasn’t good solely because of that one twist in the beginning. These things were tools to elevate the game, they were not the elevation itself. Insult-fencing wasn’t the highpoint of the game, but it was impactful enough that when Monkey Island 2 came around, people were excited what that game’s iteration of insult-fencing would be. Spoiler alert, it didn’t have one. It did however have this guy:
And adding this guy was genius. That whole minigame feels similar to insult-fencing on first sight, because it’s immediately obvious that making progress in the game is limited by making the correct dialogue choice. Where with insult-fencing you had to learn counter-insults via your insults being beaten with those very counters, now you already have the answers and just gotta choose the right one. You just gotta figure out the logic behind the fingers. Or do you? So you go through it, fail a bunch of times, then you have a theory, test it, it works, next round, didn’t work, theory wrong, start over. So eventually you’ll pick up pen and paper and write stuff down to figure it out, because damn, it seems hard. And then all your new theories also turn out wrong. Maybe you’ll go back to your earlier theories under the assumption that the logic behind the puzzle changes after each successful answer and that one of your theories was right for the first answer. And if you still didn’t get it, you’ll eventually leave under the assumption that you gotta learn the right answer from someone else, like with insult-fencing. At which point you’ll feel like an idiot, because whenever the other (NPC) guy does it, the answer is between one and five and it’s hard to imagine Guybrush doesn’t know how to count higher than five.
And that’s the whole point of it. All it’s there for is to subvert your expectations of a deep minigame akin to insult-fencing. Well, that and to insult your (as in: the player’s) intelligence. What Monkey Island 2 managed to do with this puzzle is to be the same without being the same. It makes the appearance of being a minigame about answering with the right text, like insult-fencing, although now it’s based on math and logic. But it’s neither a minigame like insult-fencing nor is it based on math, and the logic is so stupidly simple, calling it logic is insane. Where winning in insult-fencing makes you feel like a smartass, winning in this puzzle makes you suddenly realize you were a dumbass all along. Frog Fractions 2 needed something similar. It needed to change the premise of the game without changing the premise of the game. It needed something players wouldn’t expect. And the choice it seemingly made is so stupidly obvious that you might end up feeling like a dumbass for not expecting it.
So once you find Frog Fractions 2 inside of Glittermitten Grove, you will be greeted by your first minigame called ‘TXT World’. It appears to be an ASCII adventure-game, not unlike ‘Kingdom of Kroz‘. You play it for a bit and eventually find some items and a key. It’s a nice little throwback, like the text-parser game in Frog Fractions, but chances are you don’t expect much of it, you just play it to get to the next minigame, which comes in the form of ‘Toaster Derivatives’, a mash-up of Flappy Bird and a clicker game. And then you play that, having the time of your live because it’s just so stupidly dumb and ridiculous, and once you figured it out you’ll get far enough to collect the CP437 equivalent of the ‘|’ symbol. When you eventually die with that, Toaster Derivatives ends and you get thrown back into TXT World, at which point you’ll realize that you just collected a sword and that TXT World is still going. Frog Fractions was a linear rush of randomness loosely held together by two components: A frog (the player character) and bugs (as in insects, not programming bugs). Frog Fractions 2 neither has bugs, nor does it have the frog until the very end (and even then, it’s an NPC). And more importantly, Frog Fractions 2 isn’t a rush of randomness at all. It’s a drip-feed of randomness, and it’s not linear. It isn’t loosely held together, it’s held together by a semi-persistent open world game. Not a minigame. TXT World is not just a world you zip around in to find the next minigame, it’s part Metroidvania, part Sokoban, part maze, part puzzle, part open-world adventure, and a tiny part roguelike. And the sum of these parts leads to a gameplay loop that is arguably deeper than all of Frog Fractions’ minigames combined. It’s an actual game you have to beat, with an actual difficulty curve. While it certainly contains jokes, the game itself is not a joke. It’s not even commentary. It just is a fully fledged game which lasts until the very end. And once you find out it is, it is what you expect Frog Fractions 2’s attempt to ensure the mystery of the first game to be, and that might just be the greatest subversion of player expectations in the history of video games.
Frog Fractions had a bunch of games, mechanics and “dialogue” that I consider commentary. It made jabs at upgrade systems, the practical lack of failure-states in modern games, walking simulators, text-adventures, and so on. But it’s all just “fun and games”. It’s shallow commentary. The point is usually to make fun of systems for the sake of making the player have fun, not for the sake of outright demeaning these systems itself. As I see it, the least shallow commentary in Frog Fractions is in the judge section. It’s something I mentioned earlier, the fact that you are not really making choices in most point&click adventures when you go through a dialogue tree. In that judge section, you will win regardless of your answer, which — once you realize it — makes it a game of “which answer will get the stupidest reply”. That’s not to say the absence of “real choice” is a bad thing, as I said, it works out well for games like Monkey Island because it’s a chance for the excellent writing to shine. But Frog Fractions wasn’t released in 1990. It was released 2012, a year where the gaming community at large realized that many of the games which embraced player choice and claimed that your actions really matter in the long run had superficial choice at best. Because choices don’t matter if the outcome is the same.
Illusion of choice
Frog Fractions 2 is actually quite similar to that; For example, it has a fun jab at the Dark Souls soapstone message system by implementing a similar system which allows players to leave messages for other players, except all the options for these messages are deceiving or useless (and usually both), which is a surprisingly accurate portrayal of how the system in Dark Souls ended up being used. There are also little jabs at moba-communities, clickers, the “gameplay” in Frog Fractions (1), useless age-restriction systems, et cetera. And then, there’s yet more commentary of how the concept of choice is used in many video games, and this time it’s more of a stab than a jab. Actually that’s somewhat of an understatement. I see it more like a giant middle finger to developers of those games and the players who are intrigued by these “choices”. Available from the start, there’s a building/room/closet/dresser (it’s ASCII graphics, gimme a break), and when you enter it, it turns out to be a character creator:
Choosing your face color is a meaningless choice alright, but that’s just customization and player-expression, not commentary. However, you can scroll all the way down, and after 16 colors for your face there’s another option called »Import Mass Effect 2 Save«. And the game’s not kidding here, you can import an actual Mass Effect 2 save. When you do, the game will not only approximate your face color from Shepard’s face color in that save, it will also greet you with »Welcome back, Cdr. whatever your name in that save is Shepard« and summon an additional NPC lower down on the screen. Talking to that character will reveal that Shepard apparently ordered some donuts and the dude or dudette will give you a rundown on how the crew’s effort to get said donuts went down. That rundown tends to be surprisingly long and in-depth and will almost certainly end with »Anyway, we only managed to get X donuts and I ate them«. The whole thing turns out to depend on the state of your Mass Effect 2 save, which characters you met and recruited and which are still alive. So it’s a meta-puzzle where you have to play Mass Effect 2 and make save files (or be lame like me and flag character deaths with a hex-editor). To my surprise, once you get up to 10 donuts, you will actually “win” this mini-“game”, which in turn makes that person leave and drop your reward for going through all that hassle of making “meaningful” choices in the space opera RPG of Mass Effect: »some super soapstone« [sic] that allows you to leave the message »We’re in space and space is the place!«. Ergo, your reward turns out be an additional but ultimately meaningless option for the game you are playing, similar to the option of being able to choose your favorite flavor of ice-cream as the primary color for the practically universal ending of a three-episode 120+ hour long space opera RPG that seemingly embraced impactful choice. I initially expected the joke to be a lack of payoff, but the payoff that this section of the game ended up having became the longest stupid grin of my more than three decades spanning life. For now…
It should come as no surprise to anyone that most of the minigames in Frog Fractions 2 are short. Regarding scope, they are essentially equivalent to games from a game-jam. If the goal was to have them evoke the same feelings as Frog Fractions, they can’t outstay their welcome. Each game needs to be something new and unknown to be discovered and once the player “gets it”, it’s has to either have an imminent ending or a discernible ending that can be achieved with the skill of “got it” or it has to have an unexpected gameplay twist. Otherwise, you risk the player’s feeling of wonder about what’s up next getting lost in a drag. That’s not to say Frog Fractions 2 doesn’t have quiet time. It has plenty of quiet time via gating your progress TXT World and, subsequently, by having players explore at their own pace with new tools after most of the minigames. Some people consider the original Frog Fractions a downward spiraling rollercoaster that never stops with ridiculousness, but even that game has a substantial amount of quiet time. The underwater exploring, that is quiet time. The text-adventure, quiet time. The difference is that in Frog Fractions 2, you realize when quiet time is and you expect the quiet time, whereas in the original you expected to get snapped out of quiet time at a moment’s notice. While I do think this is the one thing that was better in the original, you can’t really repeat how this worked out. It’s like when you make The Boy Who Cried Wolf and the boy cries wolf over and over again and then you end the story without ever letting the wolves attack the village in the first place — It’s a trick that you can only pull off twice.
That being said, the majority of the minigames hold up surprisingly well. In Frog Fractions many of them were underdeveloped versions of other games that already existed. In Frog Fractions 2 however that’s only really true for a small subset of the minigames. Many of them are indeed original minigames, some to the point where they arguably turn into what I’d call actual games, and then some that aren’t minigames in the first place — Is a math test a game? But I don’t want to make a lengthy argument about what qualifies as a minigame or game or original game or not a game, and neither do I want to make a slog of a read with deeply explored game mechanics for games which are primarily designed to be short burst surprises. So instead we will go through the whole list as it appears in TXT World and give each one a Twitter “review” with score (as in 280 characters, including the score):
- Age Gate: Arguably not a game. Starts with a one-armed bandit microgame to enter your age, and when valid turns into an unexpected test with comical relief via the partially mundane and partially absurd questions about trivial and/or surprisingly specific knowledge of the past. 5/10
- Barber Pole Position: Microphone based. You modulate the pitch of your voice to a specific frequency to make a car go fast. It has simultaneous multiplayer for up to four people and I think that’s the joke? I played this with a muted ukulele because neighbors, so you can play it as a music game. 4/10
- Biker Chicks: Tron crossed with Frozen Synapse. Up to four players prerecord their next five moves, which then get resolved in order for all players simultaneously. Has 55 unlockable characters with different special moves. I’d pay for and play this if it was an online competitive game. 9/10
- Chess Invaders: Chess, except it isn’t turn based. It uses an active time battle system instead. This is such an obvious idea that I’m surprised no one did it before, especially because it works out amazingly well. I’d buy it if it was a full game. Heck, I’d buy this as a minigame. 10/10
- Frogs LCD: A Tiger Electronics style LCD demake of the Missile Command level at the beginning of Frog Fractions. This is literally just a vehicle for a throwback joke and a jab at LCD games, nothing more, but also nothing less. 2/10
- Inferno Investigation: It’s essentially a short version of the old ‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego’ video game, set in the inferno portion of the Divine Comedy. Features one of the best video game music tracks I’ve ever heard. I wish this was longer because I love the subject matter. 7/10
- LOMA Manager: Text-based management sim of one team in a moba-match. All you can do is choose a set of five players and replace any of them with others during up to three timeouts per match. It’s about making decisions based on reading a (hilarious) log. More interesting than it sounds. 6/10
- Shaving Story: A JRPG with the sole goal of shaving Obama during different portions of his life under a very strict time-limit. This is as amazing as it sounds and instantly goes from 0 to 100% after the first text box, then goes to 250% during a twist in the middle. I shed plenty tears. 8/10
- Sound Test: It’s actually a sound test. One Mr. Potato Head out of four-and-a-half chicken wings.
- Souls LCD: A Tiger Electronics style LCD demake of Dark Souls. It’s astonishing on how accurately this portrays Dark Souls as all you can do to win is to learn the enemy patterns and dodge timings to “git gud”, which is practically the main portion of Dark Souls’ gameplay. 5/10
- SPAXRIS: Super Passive Aggressive Xenomorph Roommate Irritation Simulator. Take turns with your Alien roommate to mess with her stuff or shared stuff in your apartment to bully her out. Fun, great writing, but limited replayability. It’s also very random due to your roommate… 7/10
- SPAXRIS New Game Plus: …moving randomly. And yes, I could cheat here because SPAXRIS New Game Plus is the same thing with a slightly different room setup and a teleporting Slenderman as your roommate. Basically an excuse for more great writing, same qualities and limitations as the first one. 7/10
- Toaster Derivatives: Flappy Bird crossed with Cookie Clicker. Fun idea. It’s going to be the first mini-game you discover and it makes you really sure you are playing Frog Fractions 2 in case you didn’t know yet. However, once it “clicks” (sorry) it’s way more trivial than it initially looks. 5/10
- TXT World: Well, it’s the “main game”. I like the way it opens up further after opening up further, prior to opening up further after initially opening up quite a bit. I like how annoying the sword is, I like how genre-spanning it manages to be, there’s little that I hate about it. 8/10
- Bomb/Cop/Snake Hell and Gauntlet: All of these are spins on TXT World and take place in the same “universe” (as in map), so I consider them it part of the “review” above.
Then there’s the initial startup game, Glittermitten Grove. It’s, well, a game. It’s substantially more developed than the games from the list above, but on one hand, I feel like it shouldn’t be part of the review, because it mostly serves as a shell for Frog Fractions 2 to live in. Literally, it’s in front of the beginning and it’s there after the end, ending itself with a Futurama reference. It’s not even made by the same developer. Neither is Chess Invaders, but the latter is part of Frog Fractions 2 whereas Frog Fractions 2 is part of Glittermitten Grove. Point being, this is not primarily a Glittermitten Grove review. On the other hand however, I’m in the lucky position where I did experience a decent chunk of the game for what it is. I initially didn’t know Frog Fractions 2 was a part of it, and I didn’t even know Frog Fractions 2 was a thing. I had a slight suspicion due to the way a friend recommended it to me, but that suspicion actually went away for a while when playing it, because Glittermitten Grove is a considerably deeper game than it initially appears to be — it’s pretty close to Frog Fractions in that regard — which makes me want to at least broach the game a little bit.
What looks like the game-jam version of a relaxing city-builder-simulation-thingy with fairies on first sight turns out to use physics based game-mechanics that make it one of the hardest games of the genre to play effectively. Every building you can build has to be build in a tree, and every tree, every branch, every leaf is a physics object. You actually have to balance out trees when placing buildings, because branches can (and will) break off and subsequently destroy your buildings. Furthermore, the game simulates sunlight. Trees will only properly grow with enough light exposure, they will only grow leaves and food like berries with proper light exposure, and other trees/leaves/branches will block light. You can only make sparkles (the game’s version of mana) with prisms via light, ergo the most effective place to build prisms is in the uppermost branches of a tree with ideally no leaves, but those branches are weak. And then there are seasons which directly affect the amount of light and food produced. It’s not uncommon to have 90% of your fairy population just leave in your first winter due to starvation, because you just expected a relaxed game and didn’t properly prepare. You probably won’t die — as far as I can tell your last fairy never leaves you — but the game will become a slog. It’s hard to play effectively, because there’s just enough things you need to handle and plan at any given time. Lastly, there’s one more thing that I’d classify as its own minigame; A puzzle at the end in which you gotta talk to a frog:
I never meant to cause you any sorrow
There’s not a lot of things to say about this one as a minigame, but there’s a lot to say about this as an ending to a journey. During the course of TXT World you collect different symbols, which either lie around in the world itself or are rewards for other minigames. They get added to your inventory and each of these triggers a fully voiced excerpt of what is probably best described as a radio mockumentary about the band KoЯn. These excerpts come in what I personally consider as varying shapes of hysterical, and up until you get to that frog you will think that all these symbols are, are collectibles to uncover the whole KoЯny (ehehe) story, especially because you can collect two of each symbol: a yellow and a purple one. But they turn out to be “froggish” words which allow you to communicate with the frog at the end. Figuring out what these words mean is primarily what this puzzle is about. Once you do, you can get the frog to push over a yellow ‘≈’, unsurprisingly the froggish word for water. Collecting this allows you to tell the frog to jump into the water, which subsequently allows him to find a purple ‘≈’ and picking this up initializes the end of the game: One last escape sequence in TXT World, then the (infinitely long) credits roll with your Glittermitten Grove world in the background. You get back your Glittermitten Grove buttons for pause/play/speed and speeding up the credits to “a lot” makes them eventually end and throws you back into your Glittermitten Grove world, in which year after year will pass in a matter of seconds due to the speedup, eventually leading to the year counter overflowing and rolling over to zero, presenting your world as a planet during its Hadean eon as a giant ball of fire.
I thought this was really smart. There’s obviously a bunch of symbolism going on here; Frog Fractions 2 literally ends how Frog Fractions began: With a frog diving into water to uncover something deeper that you absolutely didn’t expect. It’s a metaphor and the game goes full circle. The ‘≈’ symbol is purple and it means water. The game is hidden in a game about fairies. A fairy tale about a frog, the frog turns into a prince. Rain is water. Purple Rain is a Prince song about making someone laugh at the end of the world. Your fairy world literally ended, the game is over and you had fun. A nice metaphor. But what if that metaphor is just a metaphor for something deeper that you didn’t expect? What if I just make this stuff up as I go? What if a proper review of Frog Fractions 2 needs an unexpected twist to enable you to understand what makes Frog Fractions 2 excellent even though you think it missed something and is just a collection of mediocore to good minigames without that one twist, that one twist that you so desperately want and need, that one twist to rule them all, to bring them all and in the darkness bind them, and when will this sentence finally end?
What the frog finds at the bottom of the pond in Frog Fractions and Frog Fractions 2 is not what you expect, yet it is something that is so stupidly obvious that it shows you how blind we really are when we are consuming media because we let experiences control our expectations instead of letting logic control our expectations. The countless fruit lying on the floor of the pond of Frog Fractions are a surprise because they are of no surprise. When you find them, you have already seen countless fruit falling into the pond, it only makes sense that they are there. What exactly is a pond? How much of a surprise is it when someone finds water inside a pond? When will you realize the reason the hand puzzle in Monkey Island 2 is considered a puzzle in the first place is the raison d’être for Frog Fractions 2? Why are you still under the assumption that this is a review of a video game? Where does it all break apart?
Who are we?
We are what we think, we think what we believe, we believe what we learned, we learn what we repeat, and we tend to repeat what we like instead of repeating what we reason. We all live in a cycle that is hard to break. Consequently, most video games reside in that very cycle. They are inherently modernistic. They feed into the psychological tropes that we expect, because we like them. But we don’t reason, we don’t question why action X gives us Y points we use to purchase weapon Z from a menu that gets beamed into our inventories, we don’t question why character G is still in the same spot four hours after character Q gave us quest H while claiming that you are running out of time to save world V, we don’t question why a plumber’s shoe soles kill anything and we don’t wonder if they make black-boxes out of that material in the Mushroom Kingdom. We don’t wonder because games give us no room apart from the room to suspend our disbelief.
Yes, games can be mysterious, games can be partially unknown, and while many of them give you space to wonder about the games world, they rarely if ever make you wonder about the game itself. Because they are games. Games are defined by rules, and the more iterative games become the more of those rules are initially known, because they repeat what we like, because what we like will sell. Frog Fractions is still a game. It is inherently defined by rules. But these rules are designed in a way that makes it impossible to preemptively know about them. It acknowledged the modern conventions and successfully went past them by being more like games used to be a long time ago than games a long time ago even were. It surpassed being merely a game and became a metamodernistic piece as well. And how do you repeat that? You can be the same without being the same, which Frog Fractions 2 did. At which point it acknowledged the metamodernistic conventions set in place by its predecessor and went past them by being more like Frog Fractions used to be than Frog Fractions even was. Which is exactly the point where I will go full on insane by claiming it surpasses being merely a metamodernistic period piece and becomes a postmetamodernistic piece as well.
Understanding these words isn’t crucially important to understand the point. These words itself aren’t crucially important, and many of these periodic movements and what exactly they encompass are also infinitely discussable. You might think I’m throwing them around to sound smart, but there’s still a point for using these. So postmetamodernistic is a term that we have to invent and define first. If metamodernism (in the way I’m using it here) is the intercession of modernistic and postmodernistic tenets, postmetamodernism (“that which comes after the metamodernistic”) is a term to differentiate oneself from — to mark the departure of — the intercession of modernistic and postmodernistic tenets. Frog Fractions is a game that is impossible to comprehend without knowing other games. The base it is built upon only exists because other games exist, and it only works because you played those other games. Besides being a game that is self-referential, it’s a game that is referential of other games and referential of your experience playing those games. The vast majority of the experience you will have when playing Frog Fractions depends on your experience playing other games. And that is the whole irony that makes it a postmodern — and subsequently metamodern — game.
Frog Fractions 2 stands up to the same examinations. In combination with Glittermitten Grove, it works as a metamodernistic game in the same way its predecessor does. It’s the same. But without that combination and if evaluated as a sequel, it’s not the same. It all purposefully breaks apart. It is clearly making an effort to differentiate itself as much as it can from its predecessor; It’s not linear, it doesn’t have a discernible protagonist nor does it have an antagonist, most of its content is completely optional, it has failure states, it has original games, it has challenge, and it’s not even a self-contained game, it lives in the shell of another game. It’s not only referential of other games and your experiences with them, it’s referential of its predecessor while not being a sequel in the traditional sense and last but not least it’s referential of being self-referential by utterly showing how much of an identity crisis it really had to be in order to work: To 99% of its players it never mentions its own name, it calls itself TXT World like if it’s a metagame living inside another metagame living inside of the Glittermitten Grove shell, the menu says »back to TXT World«, and even the credits don’t list it as “Frog Fractions 2”. The only place where it does mention its own name is a secret developer room that you can unlock by finding everything in the game (and then need to find, because it’s never mentioned it exists). And even then, it will only mention its own name once you talked to every single person in there that helped work on the game, most of which won’t actually tell you anything about the game. Furthermore, once it does mention its name and what it’s really about, it immediately relativizes its own existence by recommending other games to you. It is a game that is so self-aware about the fact that it could never live up to the hype of being the sequel to Frog Fractions, that for 99% of the players it makes a substantial effort to get the idea that it is a sequel out of their head.
Using a bogus word that’s hard to conceptually grasp like postmetamodernistic in an attempt to put these traits into one single word does something with the game. It puts it on a pedestal while masking the actual reasons why it might belong on a pedestal. And that is the sad territory that Frog Fractions had to live in. It was always put on a pedestal with a single word describing the game. That word is “twist”. From the beginning, the game was primarily sold to others with “the twist”, with the notion that it isn’t what it appears to be. But that notion is missing something. It’s purely focused on what the game isn’t. It’s missing what the game is. Frog Fractions is a journey into the unknown, a quest for reactions to the unexpected, a game that only works as a whole because what you expect from it is what you expect from other games. However, when you play it because someone told you it isn’t what it appears to be, because someone told you that you gotta keep on playing and stick with it for a while, that gets lost and you are missing the point as you explicitly do not expect something from it that you would have expected from other games. Suddenly, you are putting it on a pedestal because of the “twist”. It is a great twist, certainly. But the twist isn’t the journey, the twist is what kicks off the journey. It’s the spark, but it isn’t the fire. People missed the fire and put the game on a pedestal for a spark. And then they are so focused on experiencing the spark in Frog Fractions 2 that they miss the conflagration all around them. The spark is in Glittermitten Grove and if you already know about it, it’s just sparkles. Because it doesn’t matter what lit up the place.
Postmodern artists realized that they could put literally anything on a pedestal in a gallery and people would argue for why it is art and what makes it so good, and they used that knowledge to make art that is art by not being art. Jim Crawford realized that he could put literally anything into a video game and people would be disappointed. They would be disappointed because they expect “the twist” so much that they don’t see the reason for not experiencing one is that their expectations are based on their experience with the first game, and Crawford used that knowledge to make a game that is that game by not being that game. It’s astonishing to me that people were waiting for the spark so hard that they didn’t see the raging fire engulfing them throwing out sparkles. It’s like as if someone made a version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf where the boy cries wolf over and over again, but the wolves come and attack every single time the boy cries wolf and it somehow makes the reader believe the wolves aren’t even there — It’s a trick that only works because your supposition is formed by repetition. It works because instead of wondering why you just want.
I could be wrong. This is just an interpretation of my experience with the game. When I finished Frog Fractions 2, that feeling of uncovery turned into a feeling of accomplishment as my first thought was: «Oh, I get it!». I played a game which gave me the room to wonder about the game itself. And at its conclusion that wonder, the wonder it enabled me to have, made me “get it”, it made me feel good about my experience because it enabled me to figuratively discover the game itself, to pull away the cover the game lives under to see a journey that reshapes itself based on your preconception of the journey itself. It doesn’t matter to me that it probably makes me look like some smug elitist claiming the he “got what it’s all about”. I’m very aware of the probable possibility that this isn’t intentional. But it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t. What matters is that the game gave me the room to have that experience, and I know that was intentional because the game literally tells you that it is.
Subsequently that feeling then turned back into the initial feeling of wonder when I wondered how other people experienced it, how other people interpreted the game’s juggling act of being the same while not being the same that made sure that regardless of which games you played before it, regardless of wether or not you played the original Frog Fractions, it will be a journey into the unknown — how other people used that room to wonder about the game. So I looked up reviews, and many of the “professional” reviews practically (and literally) call it “a collection of bad minigames compared to the original Frog Fractions”. And I was puzzled. Because I can see where that is coming from, after all, “a collection of minigames” is what Frog Fractions 2 is when you evaluate it on its own merits. But somehow they try so hard to make that angle work that they end up comparing it to Frog Fractions without setting it into relation to Frog Fractions, let alone other games. Here’s the thing: “A collection of minigames” is exactly what the first Frog Fractions is when you evaluate it on its own merits without setting it into relation to all those other video games that you’ve played in your life. You are literally only evaluating a fraction of the game, a tiny fraction to say the least, you are only evaluating it in the most bare-bone way possible. No one did that for Frog Fractions because it doesn’t make any sense. It’s like saying “Compared to Iliad, Homer’s Odyssey is just a collection of sentences”. Which isn’t wrong. Homer’s Odyssey is a collection of sentences. But aren’t you completely and utterly missing the point?
Q: So it is all you ever dreamed of for a Frog Fractions sequel?
A: If you actually read that question instead of merely asking it you’d be getting dangerously close to not missing the point…
Apart from chapters Glue to Jam, this isn’t a video game review, because I don’t primarily see Frog Fractions 2 as a game. I see it as an experience that largely depends on your preconception, just like the first one does, except now, your preconception is also shaped by the first one. If you don’t know Frog Fractions, playing Glittermitten Grove is bound to be similar to playing Frog Fractions for the first time. If you think Frog Fractions was good without wondering (see the irony here?) and exploring why, Frog Fractions 2 is bound to disappoint you as “a collection of minigames”. But if you wonder why Frog Fractions was good instead of merely acknowledging it was good, playing Frog Fractions 2 will make you realize that Frog Fractions 2 is playing you, and you were playing Frog Fractions 3 all along.
»I close my eyes, I try to explain, so you’ll finally understand. Did you know? I’ll give you my heart, and share all my dreams. I would promise you love. Forever still, you could take much from me. But baby I’m a fraction, I’ve been always incomplete…«