Hall of Fame Inductee
Original Release: 1981 (Arcade)
Publisher: Sega, Gremlin
It’s weird how the simplest of concepts that have no business of becoming popular find their way to the front of the mass-market audience. Konami’s Frogger is an example of this. Considering it was released in 1981, an era where the best games involved shooting at things or had at least more than one screen, Frogger was very modest in contrast. It only had one screen and the goal was to get a frog to run across traffic to go home. On paper it sounds like a dud. In reality, it’s a game that became an icon in the industry.
The concept of Frogger was very simple. In fact, it wasn’t even all that original. Sega and Gremlin had had several games that involved frogs. In 1978, they had released a game with the simple title of Frogs. The game was based around a frog catching and eating bugs. Konami had developed Frogger in 1981 for the Japanese market. Some of its gameplay elements (like the music) borrowed from Japanese culture. When Sega and Gremlin decided to sell the game to arcades outside of Japan, they made changes that erased much of the references that would resonate with the Japanese and not so much with everyone else.
But swapping out music didn’t make the game extremely popular. Frogger wasn’t exactly a visually appealing game to draw people in. Its drawing power was how addictive and simple the gameplay was. It was simple but the idea was sort of manic. It replicated the idea of trying to cross a busy street at rush hour perfectly. To be good at the game relied on the player having good reflexes as there was traffic coming both ways at the frog. Further up the screen, navigating across the water was also as frantic. It wasn’t a game built on tons of bells and whistles but the idea that the player would think that if they would play one more game that they would do better than their previous attempt.
And simple it was. The stage was divided into two segments. The first was the roadway where the little frog had to cross. Cars of all type would drive as fast as they could down the busy street unknowing about the little frog trying to cross the path. If the frog survives, he must make his way across a flowing river. To cross the river, the frog needs to jump on logs or pairs of turtles floating by. It seems kind of weird that a frog can’t swim, though. The idea is to get the frog into one of the five stationary pods at the end of the stage. Once all five pods are filled, the level resets (although it does speed up a bit and does add a couple of extra obstacles like snakes on the logs). There are no levels to the game; the only goal is to try and get the high score.
Frogger’s legacy has been strong despite the fact that Konami never capitalized on the chance to make Frogger into a constantly evolving franchise like Pac-Man or Mario. Despite this though, Frogger remained a staple in the arcades in the 80s. It’s deceptively simple and made arcades tons of money a quarter at a time. The original game was ported to a whole number of home consoles. Sequels were created for the home console market as well but the arcade had to make do solely with the original; which was fine since the sequels didn’t offer that much of a change except for slightly different level design while keeping the core gameplay intact.
It has remained one of the most popular arcade games even well after the decline of the arcades. Those who played the game held it in very high regard. Even the television show Seinfeld devoted an episode to the game. Well into the first decade of the 21st century, the game has been referenced and parodied in pop culture across the various mediums. The game has become so recognizable that people who have never played or heard of Frogger are familiar with the idea of the game from seeing it referred to so often on television and other forms of entertainment.
Frogger has seen a bit of a renaissance in recent years with the series revived with both redesigns of the original and new fleshed-out experiences. However, the original game still remains a popular today. The game lives on as a flash game available through the Internet (both officially through Konami and through multiple emulated versions floating around). It is also available on Xbox Live and mobile phones (although they are slightly tweaked with improved graphics and sound). The original Konami still makes money for Konami despite the game being thirty years old.
Even though the franchise has been rejuvenated and Konami seems bullish on Frogger’s future, many of us are very happy to stay in the past. Frogger is one of the best arcade games ever. Its simple design was so great that even the more elaborate sequels pale in comparison to the arcade wonder.