Some things will forever remain a mystery to me, and social network gaming is one of them. I’m certainly not alone in my contempt for We Rule, Farmville, Mafia Wars, Zombie Farm, and all the other “freemium” social games, but for some reason I keep reading otherwise sensible people who think, “Oh, but Pocket Frogs is different!”
Not, it’s not different. It has frogs, which makes just about anything 19% better. It also has frogs mating, which makes just about anything 8% less better. Look, I have a tank full of frogs (African clawed frogs, if you really must know) and mating frogs are not cool. They’re actually kinda gross.
But I really can’t see how the admittedly impressive production of Pocket Frogs overcomes the fact that this is, at its core, a bog-standard compulsion-loop game.
The game certainly has a greater aesthetic appeal than any similar title, and makes an effort to break out of the strip-mining gameplay of its social networking cousins by adding some slight minigames and other features. You begin with a frog in an environment, which can be customized as you level up and earn more coins. (Coins again! Couldn’t it at least have been ReptoMin pellets or flies or something less closely associated with the the sulfuric cloven-hoofprint of Zynga?)
It’s possible to take this frog to the pond, where you make him hop from lilypad to lilypad catching dragonflies until he’s “trained,” and then catch more dragonflies and sometimes pick up nicely wrapped presents (??) left behind by benevolent Froggy Gods. Every once in a while, you’ll come across another frog. It will play hard to get and jump away, but if you pursue it insistently you’ll wind up with a little froglets (just like real life!), and thus begin the whole bleedin’ process all over again. Hatch frogs, bring frogs to pond, sell frogs, decorate your little terrain, buy more frogs, on and on, world without end, amen.
The only part that might be considered passably interesting is the frog breeding element. Frogs are distinguished by color, pattern, and pattern color, so if you mate frogs with various patterns, the offspring will have a distinct color palette. And if that’s the kind of thing that excites you, please drop on by my house any evening and sort my tube socks by toe-thread color. (Some have blue threads, and some have red. Maybe if I put them together I’ll get socks with purple threads!)
Something like half a million people downloaded this sucker in five days. Why?! I mean, I understand the power of a compulsion loop. That’s why it’s called a compulsion loop. What I don’t understand is why anyone willing enters one.
As with all “fremium” games, you have the option to play for free and just let the game slog along at a snail’s pace while you catch flies and watch frogs snog. Or, you can give the publisher a handy credit card number and buy more (wait for it …. WAIT FOR IT!) coins in order to speed the process.
This is what game reviewers will be doing in hell.