Frogger was probably the first video game I fell in love with. Fast, cute and addictive it was one of those where it was impossible to only play it once; there was always the temptation to try and beat your high score just one more time. It’s now considered a classic from the ‘golden age of video games’ (roughly considered to be from the late-seventies until the mid-eighties) alongside Space Invaders and Pac-Man, amongst others.
Frogger started off life as an arcade game; it was developed by Japanese firm Konami and initially released in Japan in June 1981. It was then licensed to Sega-Gremlin to distribute in North America (it was set loose there in October the same year) and Sega itself for rest of world distribution. It hit European shelves in August 1982.
The object of the game is to guide your frogs from the bottom of the screen to the top - where their homes are - avoiding the obstacles in between and doing it in under one minute. The original version allowed you to pick between 3, 5 or 7 frogs, controlling them one at a time.
The first impediment to a safe passage is the busy road. Cars, vans, lorries and motorcycles are all passing across the screen horizontally (both left to right and vice versa), at various speeds. You need to hop your frog across the tarmac, using the gaps amongst the vehicles to avoid getting squashed. You will have to go from side to side, as well as forwards, to negotiate your way between them. The arcade version was played using a four-way joystick and you looked down on your frog action from above.
Once you have successfully got across the road you next have to tackle the fast flowing river. In the same manner as with the traffic there are various objects crossing in front of you, although this time there are some that can be used to your gain as well as others that will hinder you. The logs also flow past horizontally, in different directions and your frog can jump on to those to further his progress. (I’m not being sexist here by using ‘his’ rather than ‘her’ – in a very non-feminist way all the frogs you control are male and the only female frogs are ones that need ‘rescuing’…sigh.) Don’t let the log you’re sitting on disappear off the side of the screen though: it’s the end of your froggie if you do.
Alligators and turtles swim about amongst the logs – both of these can be utilised to help you get over the water but both need to be treated with caution. Alligators’ backs are safe but their mouths are not and turtles have a habit of diving under the water so if you’re still sitting on them when they do that you’ll croak. Oh come on, you must have known I’d use that joke somewhere, surely?
You might also come across the odd otter or snake – avoid them both!
Once you’re at the top of the screen, all that’s left to do is pop each frog into their individual homes. This must be done exactly (hitting the edge of the hole will end the game) and you also must watch out for any sly alligators who occasionally take a rest in them. Extra points can be gained by catching bugs that go past or by assisting the aforementioned lady frogs across the river; this is done by jumping onto them when you spot them on a log, they’ll then stay with you and go where you go.
When you have got all your frogs home you move up a level, with each one getting progressively more difficult until the fifth. After that one, you get a brief respite of another easier hop across, before the next four levels get harder again. And so on, every five levels.
As well as keeping the frogs safe and moving through the levels you are also accruing points throughout your game. Every hop you take (presuming you don’t die of course) earns you 10 points, every frog you get back to his dwelling unharmed gets you 50. Getting your frog home quickly will mean you can add 10 points per unused second under the allocated minute, being chivalrous and successfully helping a female frog (I know, I know – this was the 1980s remember…) or eating an insect gains you 200 points and filling all five frog habitats with their owners will pocket you 1,000 more points. When you hit 10,000 and 20,000 points you’ll gain an extra life.
After gaining popularity as an arcade game, Frogger was then introduced to the home video game market. Parker Brothers received the license from Sega for the cartridge versions, which they promoted, along with The Empire Strikes Back, using a $10 million budget; they sold 3 million copies of the two.
A company called Sierra was given the magnetic storage rights (i.e. floppy disks) and sublicenses for these were passed to developers who used systems that Sierra didn’t support.
In 1997, Hasbro introduced a much larger Frogger remake for the Playstation and Windows. This was enthusiastically received and the PC game sold over a million copies in under four months. A year later the company also released the original game (although with alternate graphics) for many other modern consoles, including the SNES and the Game Boy/Game Boy Colour.
2005 saw a joint Konami and Info Space mobile edition of Frogger where players in the United States could play each other in prize-winning tournaments. It also reached the Xbox 360 in 2006.
Obviously, when a game is popular it is going to spawn copycats: the early 1980s saw duplicate ideas in Ribbit, Froggy, Hopper and Leap Frog, as well as two other Froggers…whose lack of originality in the naming department you’d have thought would have created one or two problems.
The Frogger concept of getting across the screen while avoiding obstacles was also borrowed for Atari’s Pacific Coast Highway, Preppie! and Frostbite in 1982/3 and Hipster Whale’s terribly-monikered Crossy Road, which was unleashed in 2014.
Frogger was featured in Entertainment Weekly’s 2013 top ten Atari 2600 games and has left a rich legacy in the video game world. And not only did it start a cavalcade of imitations and sequels, it also got namechecked in one of the most popular US comedy series of the 1990s, Seinfeld.
Now all that needs to be done is to create a version where some kickass female frogs get the chance to rescue the male ones….