It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.
The Haunted Island: a Frog Detective Game is a first person adventure set in a strange world of penguin supervisors, ghost scientists, the importance of daily dental care, and improvised explosives made from pasta. Suffice it to say this game is completely ridiculous. It has an aesthetic and terse writing style that feel like a cross between Adventure Time and the work of Keita Takahashi (creator of Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy).
You play as the titular frog, named The Detective, who has been assigned a case by their penguin supervisor, named Supervisor, involving a reported ghost haunting on a secluded tropical island. A group of ghost scientists has spent the past two weeks attempting to discover the source of the haunting, but to no avail, and so they’ve requested the best detective to assist them. Unfortunately that detective was busy, so frog detective got the case.
Once on the island you are free to explore it however you want. This mainly involves talking to the motley crew of ghost scientists and the island’s owner / sole resident Martin. Through these conversations you start to… well, not really put together what’s going. Rather, you’re presented with trading puzzles, which get incredibly weird. One example: someone might want a banana in exchange for a piece of rope you need. So you find a rock that you can exchange with someone for the banana so you can then get the rope. These exchanges eventually lead you to solving the case.
But the puzzles aren’t really the point of the game, and neither is solving the case. They’re just an excuse to interact with these characters and this world that are just off-kilter enough to be amusing. There is a colloquial terseness to the game’s writing that’s used to great comedic effect in a way that’s reminiscent of shows like Adventure Time or the Regular Show. The concise and very casual nature of the conversation is often used in contrast to the tone of the scene or what is being said.
A great example of this is in The Haunted Island’s opening where Detective receives a call from Supervisor. A slow, quiet drum beat and sparse piano scores the scene, striking a very serious noir vibe. But what you get instead are a goofy-looking frog slightly swaying as they hold up a phone receiver to their face, and a penguin in a sweater vest and tie that prefaces the case description with, “It’s a pretty spooky one, so hold on tight.”
The way The Haunted Island plays with your expectations with these contrasts is what makes it fun to play. It’s a detective game, but you don’t actually do any detective work. There is a serious noir undertone, but everything is brightly colored, characters have friendly rounded features, and speak to each other cheerily. There is a farcical logic to everything, and seeing how everything connects is what keeps you playing.
The Haunted Island: a Frog Detective Game was created by Grace Bruxner. You can get it on Steam or Itch.io for $4.99 (Windows, and Mac OS.) It takes about an hour to finish.