You remember the edutainment games from when you were growing up in the 90s; Number Munchers, Mario Is Missing, and Treasure Mountain were staples of my youth, back when every school computer lab had Apple IIs, or – if you were lucky – iMacs. Frog Fractions starts off like one of those games. You move around the bottom of the screen, protecting your fruits from being eaten by bugs with your long tongue a la Missile Command. For every bug you eat, you are awarded points in fractions instead of full integers. That’s when things get weird.
That’s when Frog Fractions becomes one of the most interesting, self-aware video games I’ve ever played.
Frog Fractions is a low-budget, in-browser indie game made by some folks in the San Francisco Bay Area. How would I categorize it? Well, here’s where things get tricky. Just when you think you know what you’re doing, after a few waves of fly eating and leveling up your frog tongue (sure, it’s weird when your score reaches a number like 7865/511, but you roll with it), you get a dragon. Then you’re flying around on this dragon as the game becomes more of an Ikaruga clone. And then you find “like a billion” fruits. And then you’re in court.
And then you’re exploring underwater caves.
And then you’re in a text adventure. In space.
And then you’re in a Drug Wars-esque buy low/sell high commerce simulator. Did you play that game on your TI-83 calculator back in middle school? I can’t be the only one.
And then you’re playing a DDR game. This whole time as a cute little frog, fighting the good fight against some Orwellian bugs.
Every time you feel like a game you’re playing has only one mechanic that you’re forced to use for hours upon hours, play Frog Fractions instead. It shrugs off mechanics, conventions, whole genres numerous times throughout its hour-long playtime. Not since, maybe… that weird part in Metal Gear Solid 2 where Campbell tells you to turn off the console and go play outside, have I played a game so obviously aware that it is just a video game. And Frog Fractions revels in that fact, being anything it wants to be.
The only minor quibble I have with Frog Fractions is that sometimes it embodies the genres its emulating a little too well. The text adventure, for example, gets frustratingly hard. Just like I remember text adventures being. (What do I do with the goop?!) But stick with it until the end – this is one amphibian worth licking.