Indie Game of the Week 152: The Haunted Island, a Frog Detective Game

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Another year of challenging myself with the most mechanically demanding Indies around resumes with a game I beat in forty minutes. Frog Detective is looking to be a longer series of bite-sized adventures featuring an amphibious investigator who always does his best in what I imagine is a series directed towards the young and young at heart. I dunno what it is about this latest spate of mine to play games of a certain juvenility (between this, GNOG, and Pikuniku over the past 40 days) but perhaps I've been subconsciously drawn to these guileless games as being the tonic my stressed soul needs.

The Haunted Island, the first Frog Detective game (I'm imagining it'll get renamed to "Frog Detective 1" at some point, now that a sequel's already out with more to come), naturally has your protagonist solving a mystery about a ghost haunting an island. Ghost scientists have been called in but are equally stumped, though it's clear most of them aren't quite sure what they're doing. The tiny island's owner, a sloth with sleep deprivation, is at his wit's end. Worst of all is that this phantasmal visitor could threaten the big dancing contest that's due to start the following day. The game's first and only puzzle involves solving the simple problems of the nearby NPCs to gain ingredients for dynamite (using the standard recipe of wool, pasta, toothpaste, and a chunk of gold) to investigate a cave where the ghostly noises are originating from. The player is given a magnifying glass to help, but it's not required; its only purpose is to let you look at things with a fish-eye lens filter.

He may get results, but Frog Detective is humble enough to know when he's outclassed.
He may get results, but Frog Detective is humble enough to know when he's outclassed.

The game's writing - I'd say it was its strong point but it's really the only point - has some strong Homestar Runner energy where it feels directed towards small kids but covers topics that could be amusing to anyone. Lots of conversations prompt responses that are little more than "gross" or "cool" or a deadpan "OK" as the recipient immediately accepts the new information given. Even with the childlike patois, the game manages to address proper oral hygiene, how strange it is for sheep that we make clothes out of their hair, social awkwardness, visualization exercises, the coolness of secret agents, very small shells, the uselessness of books compared to the internet (though this is followed by a fourth-wall breaking clarification to say that some books can be useful and some internet sites can be less so), and that being in the sea during a thunderstorm is probably safer than being on an island with a ghost. Important lessons that children can internalize and adults can marvel at the wisdom thereof. To summarize the writing with a little more value as a critique: this game has a very specific sense of humor that either gels with you or doesn't, and given the size and price of this introductory chapter it's an easy enough train to hop off if the journey is not to your liking.

It's another Indie Game of the Week where, though The Haunted Island wasn't really what I was looking for in an adventure game (or even a comic detective adventure game, since it's been done better and more elaborately with the likes of Detective Grimoire or Puzzle Agent or Ace Attorney), I can't in good conscience bash it given how wholesome and unpretentious its silliness can be. The detecting is mostly incidental, I realize as much, so it strikes me more that this and future frog detective games are vehicles for goofy and chill conversations with other talking animals about not a whole lot in general, and maybe at the end you get spooked by a ghost or bust some moves on the dance floor with all your new friends. If something this light and frothy sounds like the kind of game you need in these troubled times, by all means take on the modest asking price for admission and see if the cute adventures of a Frog Detective are for you.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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