I loved Frogger when I was a kid. I can, and will, go further. I ruled at Frogger. My dad used to bring an Apple Mac home a couple of nights a week for work (back when those two terms were not synonymous, and Apple had other models not called Macs). It was a desktop portable (also used to be a thing), and had a cube-shaped zip case for carrying. We were allowed to play on it for a few precious turns at a time. My drugs of choice were Frogger and Lode Runner (the only game I have ever broken – I played it until I perfected all 150 levels).
A couple of months ago, our friend Matt mentioned a free phone game he’s been playing, Crossy Road. It’s basically endless Frogger: you cross the road forever, until you drown or are eaten or run over. It’s brutal, it’s hilarious, and it’s deeply, deeply satisfying. I CAN’T STOP.
Like Frogger, the mechanics of Crossy Road are ultra-simple: you tap to move forward, swipe left or right to move sideways, and the rest is just hand-eye coordination, you poor sucker. The game is free to download and free to play. The character you’re given at startup is a chicken, but there are dozens of others to look forward to. Characters can either be earned with in-game coins, or purchased with actual money for amounts between $0.99 and $2.99. The delivery mechanism is a gumball machine. Spend 100c, tap to pull the lever, and a cube reminiscent of a Pokemon ball pops out and delivers your new character. Anything from a ball player to a tree frog, from fish and chips to #thedress. In my modest stable, I have 24 characters. I love The Celebrity, who is followed across intersections by paparazzi wielding cameras. When she gets run over, money flies out of her purse and flutters everywhere. Another favorite is Swift Snail, who is just a plain old snail, but leaves a slug trail behind as he goes. My prize, though, my current favorite, is Nessie. There are several secret characters that aren’t for sale and have to be discovered and earned in-game. I got Nessie by playing my Scottish Piper character for days until Nessie randomly appeared in a river and I jumped on it. On my next game, it was available as a character. It took me days, and it was hugely satisfying when it finally turned up. GOALS.
Meanwhile, my high score is still just all of 116 hops, and my average run is only just under 40. I get hit by my fair share of cars, but my real Waterloo is, well, water. I calculate badly and get swept away before jumping to my next log.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to pinpoint why it is that punishing arcade-style games are so popular and fun, but I’ve come up empty-handed. Like Flappy Bird. Thousands upon thousands of people have spent hours getting no further than 8 or 10 pipes in Flappy Bird, and they were happy to do it. I don’t know why it’s so satisfying to do something (for fun and relaxation) that’s much, much too hard, but it is. For Crossy Road, there’s always the excuse that I’m holding out for the next character (I’m dying to get #thedress and/or Floppy Fish, and the secret character of the game’s creator, Hipster Whale), but I’d still be playing it even if there was only the original plain chicken. It’s the hopping that’s fun. It’s the assumption that it’s easy, how hard could it be, you just count the lanes and time your jumps and ooooooooooh there’s a snapshot of my flattened Cockatoo on the front of a speeding train. In the final analysis, I don’t need to know why it works. I’m just happy it’s there to keep me company on my daily three hours on public transportation (safely inside, not plastered to the nose of the bus). My current goals are to break 200, and to collect every character available from the gumball dispenser, and I’m confident Crossy Road can hold my interest for as long as that takes.
(If you’re curious about Blaugust, or want to join in, you can find out all about it here.)