Unlike the first time I sat down to review a Frog Detective game, I think now I know what I expect and what I feel about this series. It might be some bizarre mix of bafflement, bemusement, and an odd sense of elation, but it is at least a concrete sense of how I regard the games. With that in mind, I was definitely excited to try out this sequel, although I had put it off for a little while. I think perhaps there’s only so much whimsical silliness I can take at once.
Frog Detective 2: The Case of the Invisible Wizard (PC)
Released Dec 2019 | Developed: Grace Bruxner, Thomas Bowker | Published: Superhot / wormclub
Genre: Adventure, Interactive Narrative | HLTB: 1 hour
Much like the first game, if you’ve come to Frog Detective 2 for riveting and intense gameplay, then you’ve perhaps not gotten the memo. What we have here is a kind of adventure game, albeit one that doesn’t really have much in the way of puzzles. Perhaps it’s more accurate to call it a brand of interactive fiction, given that it prefers to engage its audience with its writing and sense of humour rather than its gameplay. Things haven’t especially evolved from its predecessor; the core loop still involves interviewing the residents of some strange locale (here the sleepy forest town of Warlock Woods) – well, I say ‘interview’, but there’s no complications to the dialogue, and all you need do is proceed down the list of conversation options until they’re exhausted. At the end of each chat you’ll be given a request to find some sort of item each character wants. Events advance once you’ve gathered the items and delivered them to their respective recipients. In essence, it’s a glorified trading quest.
The only new addition to this which Frog Detective 2 brings to the table is that our hero now carries a notebook (!), bequeathed unto him by the legendary Lobster Cop (!!). There’s a cute moment here when you’re given the notebook as you’re encouraged to personalize and decorate your book with stickers, and those that you choose are retained and visible throughout your playthrough. Well, I thought it was cute anyway. The detective is encouraged the use his new trusty book to keep track of the crime he is sent to investigate, and to mark down his suspects and suspicions. You might think this is setting up a more involved new mechanic allowing you to track and manage your own information, but Frog Detective 2 isn’t that kind of game. Instead, the notebook is automatically updated by the detective after each conversation you have with a resident. This is a bit of a double-edged sword; on the one hand, it’s super important and helpful to give players the chance to catch up if they do step away from the game or have any trouble remembering amidst the glut of dialogue the game throws at you. The notebook is also a fantastic vehicle for some of the game’s funniest writing as the detective indulges in some pithy remarks about the characters he meets. However, it is a minor annoyance to me that the book crops up after every time you speak to a character and get new information, and then you have to sit and watch it get filled out – I’d have preferred an option to skip it or at least to speed up the text. You also have the ability to mark any character you want as your suspect but it’s played purely for laughs.
Of course, playing things for laughs is the prerogative of a comedy game. While comedy is a tough genre for games to excel at – it’s hard to keep gags landing over the potentially lengthy course of a game, or maybe I just don’t have much of a sense of humour – I think Frog Detective 2 has done as much as possible to succeed at it. The comedy retains the gentleness of the previous game, a rare thing in an era of increasingly acerbic comics, and although it is happy to poke fun at its own absurdity, it does so without giving way to sarcasm. There’s a sense of what I can only describe as a kind of millennial apologism to its humour, leading to exchanges where one character remark on the oddity of the situation or a statement which is then riposted by a blank “well, that’s how I like it”, or “well that’s who I am” kind of response, which in turn inevitably falls into an apologetic polite call-and-response routine. It’s hard to describe, but it feels unmistakably modern in its sensibilities and deeply, deeply funny in a quaint, charming way.
And if there’s ever a series that manages to nail that quaint and charming feeling, it’s Frog Detective. This sequel continues the trend started by the first game in terms of giving us a goofy story, and that is naturally part of the fun. This time around, our heroic detective is dispatched to the sleepy town of Warlock Woods, where the residents had been preparing a parade to welcome a new member of their community: the titular invisible wizard. However, disaster strikes when, one night, the parade is trashed, with none of the town’s residents left with any idea whodunnit. Perhaps the more perceptive players might be able to guess where the story is going, but then again I’m not sure that solving the mystery is the primary draw of Frog Detective. Instead it’s often about the journey and sinking into the chortle-inducing dialogue and silly scenarios that await the detective. It’s truly hard not to find oneself smiling along as the goofiness plays out, and I think it’s fair to say that although Frog Detective 2 doesn’t represent the wildest leap forward for the series, it’s still, on balance, probably a little more tightly-written than the first.
Where does that leave us with Frog Detective 2 then? Well, firstly, if you enjoyed the first game you’re almost certainly going to have fun with this one. I don’t like to be empirical about it, but to be honest this game is probably a shoe-in for you if you game out of The Haunted Island with a grin on your face. It’s unlikely that this is the game to convince you if you’re of the opinion that adventure games or interactive narratives with little gameplay are somehow lesser experiences, or even just not for you, but for those that can get something out this brand of experience, then Frog Detective 2 is probably going to be one which lands well.
6/7 – EXCELLENT.
Games with a touch of brilliance. It might only just miss out on being an absolute favourite, but you should definitely play this.