Life Lessons from Frogger

George Costanza with Frogger Machine

[Author’s note: On the Mike and the Ninja Website, I used to write a feature called “Brian Plays Old (Sometimes Bad) Games,” a chronicle of my never-ending backlog of unfinished video games. I recently unearthed some entries in the series that have gone unpublished! I’m in the middle of a string of busy weeks, and it’s looking like I won’t have much time to write, so I am bringing one of these unused entries to you now. Enjoy, and thank you for reading!]

Thanks to the Atari 2600, I learned at a very early age that Frogger is synonymous with repetitive torture and misery. Trying to get those poor frogs across both a busy street and a snake-ridden, alligator-infested river was a lesson in futility. Sure, I might get two, or even three frogs home, but their buddies wouldn’t be so fortunate. Ten to fifteen seconds later, my remaining frogs lay as smashed, twitching skids on the highway, or shriveling in watery graves. (Or in the belly of a snake or alligator, but usually the water was more than enough.) How my older sister Amy had gotten so good at this game was beyond my 4-year-old comprehension, but to the casual observer, a vast discrepancy in our bedtimes and motor skills was obviously at play.

The good news, however, is that I learned a number of useful life lessons from Frogger. If you’ve ever watched the behavior of pedestrians, you can tell which ones have played Frogger and which ones have not. For instance, I, as a Frogger player, learned that stepping into a busy street won’t cause traffic to stop, so I take great care to pick my spots and carefully time my street-crossing in order to avoid an embarrassing trip to the hospital or afterlife. This is more than I can say for most alleged pedestrians I see out and about every day, who obviously haven’t played Frogger and just wander aimlessly into traffic, expecting me (and, God willing, the seventeen vehicles behind me) to stop everything and wait as they meander across five lanes of traffic, texting along the way.

Secondly, I learned that touching water will kill you, which is why I don’t swim or bathe. Let’s not talk about that.

Frogger Atari 2600 Screenshot

My graphically challenged introduction to Frogger: the Atari 2600 version.

In any case, Frogger and its addictive, arcade quarter-munching ilk made me a sucker for repetitive torture and misery at a young age, and the genre is still one of my favorites to this day. As such, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Frogger is a proud part of my XBox Live Arcade library. This version of Frogger includes an option to use updated graphics (and strangely does away with the classic Frogger melody, replacing it with some new, badly remixed songs that really irritate my wife anytime she hears them), as well as a couple of additional play modes, including 2-player co-op, in which two players each play their own individual games of Frogger, but contribute to a single, shared high score. My brother Craig and I took to playing co-op Frogger on a weekly basis to try to get an achievement for a combined co-op score of 30,000. To put that score in perspective (and to give you an idea of how terrible we are), the Frogger world record is currently held by a guy named Michael Smith, with a score of 970,440 points. Meanwhile, us clowns worked for months to scrape together a combined score of 30,000 points. Leave us alone–it’s a hard game!

If you’ve never played Frogger, it is (in theory) a simple task–get five frogs across the highway and the river to their homes, advance to the next level, and repeat. Along the way, the frogs must avoid hazards such as traffic, water, snakes, alligators, and the ever-infuriating river otter, while navigating floating logs and turtles to cross the river and get home, hopefully with a bonus point-laden fly or lady frog in tow.

Atari Arcade Screenshot

Arcade Frogger, where logs don’t look like boards and turtles don’t look like lily pads.

As I said, a simple task in theory. In practice, however, Frogger is an incredible test of patience, focus, and performance under pressure. Frogger would probably be considered a primitive game by today’s standards, but there’s a reason why the majority of players (including me 98 percent of the time) can’t get past the fifth level (if that). Here’s a rundown of all of the obstacles and timing scenarios that assault the human mind during a game of Frogger:

Traffic: The street is five lanes wide, and the direction of traffic in each lane alternates from left to right. As the difficulty rises, frogs will often have to enter a lane and move with traffic to get to an opening in the next lane, so not only do the frogs have to worry about not hopping into the path of vehicles in the next lane, they also have to avoid being hit by the car in front of or behind them in the current lane. That’s a lot of information to process on the move.

Turtles and Logs: Turtles (or they might be lily pads, honestly–I’m not sure) float in the river and will let you jump on their backs. However, sometimes the turtles sink for a few moments, so you have to time your jumps to make sure you’re not jumping on to sinking turtles. Meanwhile, logs of varying lengths float up and down stream at various speeds. As you progress, the number of logs in the river dwindles, so timing becomes more important in getting the frogs home. The logs and turtles will also suck you off the sides of the screen if you’re not fast enough.

Animal Adversaries: Gators, snakes, and river otters are all waiting for a free meal. They are not usually dangerous by themselves, but combined with trying to time jumps and staying out of the way of other hazards, the animals can become a big deal.

Getting Frogs into their Homes: This is easily the most difficult part of the game for me. When getting the frogs into their holes, you can’t let them touch the sides of the holes, or they’ll die. Your timing must be perfect. It sounds like this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I bet two-thirds of my deaths come from getting in a hurry and messing up that last jump into the hole.

There’s a Time Limit: You know, because you weren’t under enough pressure already.

George Costanza crosses street with Frogger machine.

So, take all of that into account and try to play Frogger well. Try, fail, and die. Then try again! Repeat until malnourished and full of rage, and perhaps you’ll have made it to the fifth level. Perhaps. If not, keep trying. Perhaps you’ll get reasonably good at the game after a while, but we can’t all be George Costanza. Never fear–no matter how bad you might be at the game, you’ll probably still have fun, and you’ll find it surprisingly difficult to pull yourself away. Especially recommended for sociopaths everywhere!