Flashback to the early nineties – a time when the star power of a mascot could help define a console and its position on the emerging video game market. Whilst Nintendo had a moustachioed plumber and Sega had a speedy blue hedgehog, the thinking man’s gaming machine - the Amiga - had word processing and painting capabilities combined with the power of a gaming machine. One thing it lacked however was a flagship title, complete with banner-waving mascot. From a ninja ant named Zool to that dog that used to advertise Quavers, many tried to become the symbol of the Amiga, but couldn’t quite cut the mustard compared to Sonic or Mario.
Team 17, most notable for creating the Worms series, were one such studio that attempted to create an iconic platformer for the Amiga. Released in 1993, Superfrog was exactly what it said on the tin. Straight out of the pages of a Grimm fairy tale, a noble prince finds himself turned into a frog whilst the love of his life is abducted by a dastardly witch. Donning a bright red cape, the heroic amphibian must embark on a noble quest across twenty-four levels in order to save his princess and bring justice to the witch that transformed him.
Twenty years later, a long forgotten Amiga hero has made his comeback on the PlayStation Network for a slippery slice of nostalgic heaven, paving the way for more forgotten gems to resurface in this current trend of retro rejuvenation. Thankfully, Superfrog HD doesn’t deviate too much from the original formula. The game has a brand new set of levels, albeit set in similar worlds to the original title. Superfrog must get from one end of the level to the other whilst avoiding dangerous traps, on multiple paths littered with enemies, all the while collecting coins, fruit and gems in order to bolster the player’s high score.
The gameplay is all very Sonic the Hedgehog. The levels are large and expansive, with many routes available for the caped amphibian to take in order to reach the exit. There are even a few secret paths littered with hidden treasures along the way. Superfrog can reach supersonic speeds thanks to power-ups scattered throughout the level in order to reach the goal before the time runs out, whilst springs help elevate the frog to new heights in order to discover new paths and reach those hard to get special golden coins.
Superfrog is not without his own unique skills. His bright red cape and be used to glide from platform to platform, whilst small green googly eyed globules can be collected and used as a boomeranging projectile on your enemies. Aside from the occasional tricky spot, however, most players will be trying to navigate these levels as quickly as possible, and getting rid of enemies becomes more of a chore than a necessity.
At the end of each level players are given the chance to gamble any special coins they’ve collected in a fruit machine style mini-game; this can grant the player some extra lives or even unlock some extra levels taken straight from the 1993 original. These extra levels do give the frogs’ legs of this game plenty of meat, but in sharing the same palette as the new ones, it would have been nice to see perhaps the option to switch to the old pixel graphics at the touch of a button, much in the same way Halo: Anniversary did on Xbox 360.
The game feels perfectly comfortable to play on the PS Vita’s control system. In fact, it almost feels like an improvement on the original, with awkward jumps much easier to negotiate with the fluid analogue sticks rather than the keyboard combinations of the early nineties. The rest of the Vita’s functionality on the whole takes a backseat, save for some limited touchscreen interaction on the menu screens or fruit machine mini game. You can’t really expect much more from an HD remake, but some additional features using the touchscreen or rear touchpad could have helped propel this game into the twenty-first century.
Similarly, the HD graphics really bring the lead character to life. It’s still in 2D like the original, but the transition from pixels to high-definition gives Superfrog some much needed personality, with a look somewhere between Team 17’s Worms characters and Ubisoft’s Rayman. However, it seems that the level designs and enemies haven’t quite been treated with the same enthusiasm. Given that there are four levels in each world, each one isn’t particularly distinct from the last, at least until you progress onto the next world in which case the whole process starts again. The enemies don’t quite seem as interested or imaginative as Superfrog himself, looking rather crude and flatter than normal, even for a 2D platformer.
Priced at £6.49, there’s plenty of replayability in this title and that’s not just thanks to the extra unlockable levels. The game features Cross Play can be played on both PS Vita and PlayStation 3, meaning that the experience can be appropriately split between the living room and on the move. Saves can be transferred across from one device to the other, and the Vita can double up as a controller for the PS3, using its screen to help players locate secret item filled areas. A time trial mode is also on offer, giving players a much reduced time limit to reach the end of some specially designed levels. Clock power-ups can be collected in order to add a few seconds onto the timer. Rounding off the package is a level editor, giving you the chance to create your own levels based upon the palettes of each of the six worlds. It may seem like a nice addition, but it’s one that’s rather tedious to use on the PS Vita’s small screen and controls, and not being able to share levels with other users makes the whole aspect rather redundant.
It’s been quite some time since the Amiga fell at the hands of the 32-bit revolution, but there’s certainly a market out there for some of its more niche titles to make a comeback, particularly given the growing trend of retro titles getting their chance in the high-definition limelight. Superfrog HD might be a little too niche, not quite providing the nostalgic hit that other Amiga titles could have done, but as his old rivals still face stiff competition from the emerging smartphone market, making the jump to PlayStation might have been the most heroic move this little amphibian has ever made.