If you went to school in the early to mid Nineties and had to endure bland and inoffensive CD-ROM edutainment games, then Frog Fractions will be instantly familiar. Sort of. Its simple point-and-click game mechanics and basic colour palette fit the bill, as does the pretence of eating flies to reveal an on-screen fraction of flies eaten versus those left alive. But within seconds you start to notice that something is very wrong. Why do implausibly complex fractions like 6899/630 start to pop up on the screen? And just what is going on with that Indignity Meter?
Well it doesn’t matter too much because only a few minutes later, after buying some power-ups to make the game easier (and one that makes it harder again) the mouse controlled tongue aiming is gone completely and replaced by a typing tutor system. Random words pop up on screen and when you type them in, you eat a fly. For modern gamers it recalls Typing Of The Dead, but if you’re a bit older it puts you right back into the edutainment era, only with an unnervingly peculiar undertone.
To say what happens next would be to spoil the experience of this startlingly bizarre web game. It’s only about an hour long, so there’s no reason everyone reading this review shouldn’t be able to squeeze it into their lunch break. But what follows is an utterly insane jaunt through both game design evolution and other edutainment styles, gleefully abandoning its own ideas with every stage, and pumping up the surreal factor just as often.
There’s a surprising amount of challenge later on. When the game transforms into a text adventure, for example, it takes genuine problem-solving skills to pass through to the next stage. While the later business management sections – inspired by the ancient Lemonade Stand but with an insectoid, pornographic twist – don’t so much require a good understanding of business logic to overcome as much as they do an ability to subvert and exploit traditional videogame mechanics.
Not since Sonic Team’s (sadly import-only) Pole’s Big Adventure has a game so successfully poked fun at its own medium in such a rich way, not just making you laugh with its subject matter and presentation but by playing around with interactivity itself. It makes Frog Fractions an extremely clever deconstruction of the medium, though many people won’t care about that so much. They’ll be too busy chuckling away to themselves, scratching their heads trying to figure out how a can of bacon milkshake can get their frog safely home from deep space, or why solving such a difficult puzzle only adds two fifths of a point to their score…