Hall Of Fame: Superfrog
Nintendo had Mario and Sega had Sonic. But what did Commodore have? games™ makes the case for Superfrog, the Amiga’s greatest platform game hero
Gaming in the early Nineties was largely about mascots. If your console of choice didn’t have one then you just couldn’t attract mainstream appeal. The SNES and Mega Drive became household names thanks to Mario and Sonic, but where did this leave the home computers, without a first-party publisher to create a system-selling character?
The result, rather ironically, is that those systems ended up with multiple mascots, as third-party developers lined up to create the next big character. Commodore’s Amiga had its fair share with the likes of Zool and James Pond, but the best of all was arguably Superfrog. Born in the offices of Yorkshire’s Team17 Software, Superfrog couldn’t have come from a more suitable studio. The indie developer had, since 1991, gained a reputation for bringing arcade and console-quality titles to the Amiga and outshining many official coin-op conversions in the process. Alien Breed was Gauntlet in space. Project-X was Europe’s answer to the Japanese shoot-’em-up. And Superfrog would allow computer gamers to enjoy the side-scrolling platform game boom without having to buy a console.
Brainstormed through the doodles of Alien Breed artist Rico Holmes, Superfrog was originally named Chuck, presumably because of his sidekick, Spud, a little green blob that could be thrown at enemies. As the design progressed, Spud remained but Chuck was renamed Superfrog by Team17 head Martyn Brown. In a typically British twist, it was decided that Superfrog would find his powers by drinking Newcastle Brown Ale and would gain a Geordie accent too.
With Team17 well known throughout the games industry as a studio that liked to have a drink or two, the Newcastle Brown Ale connection was hardly surprising. But it was a connection that, sadly, didn’t make it into the final game. After securing a licensing deal with Beecham, Superfrog’s drink of choice was changed to the much more family-friendly Lucozade and the Geordie accent was dropped, despite the fact that the fizzy energy drink was first created in Newcastle.
While the origin stories of most game characters were told in instruction manuals at the time, Superfrog was slightly ahead of the pack thanks to a hand-painted introductory cinematic, created by popular Amiga animator Eric Schwartz. Partly inspired by The Frog Prince and The Wizard Of Oz, the story sees a princess kidnapped by an evil witch, her prince turned into a frog and left alone at the River Of Despair. Just when he seems to have become resigned to his fate, the frog prince spots a bottle of Lucozade floating down the river, pulls it out it, necks the syrupy orange liquid and unexpectedly transforms into Superfrog before impulsively flying off to rescue his betrothed.
The game itself was one of the better platform games on the Amiga. Loosely comparable to Sonic The Hedgehog, it had enough of its own ideas to stand out from the pack. A wealth of secret areas – and the need to collect coins to open the level exit – made it more of an exploration game than a straight speed-run, and in this respect it had more in common with a Rare title than anything created by Nintendo or Sega. It also had a similar sense of humour, with the Team’s self-recorded fart noises providing the sound effect for squished enemies and an inter-level fruit machine mini-game retaining that distinct British feel that had threatened to disappear with Superfrog’s Geordie accent.
Those who finished Superfrog were rewarded with an unexpected ending. Upon rescuing the princess, our amphibious hero receives a kiss, but instead of turning back to a prince his girlfriend transforms into a frog and the game ends, leaving the story open for a sequel. That follow-up never happened, though. The game itself was popular with both press and gamers and was later ported to both CD32 and PC, but its success was eclipsed by Team17’s phenomenally popular Worms series. The planned sequel, an isometric adventure called Frog And Ball, was cancelled mid-development and Superfrog was never seen again, aside from minor cameos in Worms 3D and Worms Blast that went mostly unnoticed.
The risk-averse era of 1995-2005 meant that few publishers would have dared take a chance on a Superfrog sequel, and Team17 instead focussed on more lucrative franchises like Worms and Lemmings. The situation has changed slightly in recent years, however, with the studio moving toward self-publishing and reviving the long dormant Alien Breed series. Team17 is now in a position where calculated risks are possible, but is still reluctant to bet the farm on a character that hasn’t been seen since 1993. Still, the developer tells us that a Superfrog sequel is the studio’s most requested revival after Alien Breed, so there may still be hope for the little energy drink addict yet.