The Haunted Island is the perfect way to close out 2018. Playing this game made me happy and giggly in a way so few video games make me, and it’s the kind of video game experience I wish I had more of. In an industry that only grows larger and more expansive every year, this latest release from Grace Bruxner is a standout treat that goes against the tide of video games and delivers a silly, adorable adventure that everyone deserves to experience.
This has some great potential as a bite-sized series to spend an evening with. If I had kids, this is exactly the sort of experience I'd want to share with them. As a thirty-one-year-old bachelor, I still think it's pretty gosh darn rad.
Frog Detective: The Haunted Isle is the kind of game that you play when you procrastinate on your 2D deadline that's due tomorrow. It is a fantastic experience that is completely worth failing your assignment.
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.
Frog Detective 1: The Haunted Island feels like the sort of game that an elementary schooler would make. The humor is arbitrary, the text is sketchy, and the characters have a very simplistic aesthetic similar to a children’s drawing.
The result is a mixed bag.
On the upside, the game is actually funny at a number of points – there’s a bunch of silly little jokes scattered around it that work fairly well. The problem is that they’re not really laugh out loud funny – they’re more the mild kind of humor where you smirk a little before moving on, and unfortunately, the game is something of a one-trick pony in this regard. As a result, while the humor “works” in a sense, it also tends to hit the same few notes over and over again, and while some of the arbitrary nature of the humor works, at other points, it ends up feeling like it is trying too hard and falling flat by trying the same type of humor a bit too much.
And while falling flat by hitting the same notes too many times is exactly the sort of thing I’d expect an elementary schooler to do, it does hurt the game’s quality a bit, even if it is true to the aesthetic.
In the end, my favorite bits were the jokes in the phone call at the very beginning and very end of the game, and one cutaway gag towards the end. Unfortunately, a lot of what actually happened on the island just kind of felt repetitive, and didn’t really feel like it excelled – a lot of the characters made similar mistakes (not understanding why they were asked to come to the island) and while that gag works once, it feels awkward when repeated. Moreover, while all the characters are loopy, they often tend to be loopy in the same sort of way, rather than having a broader swath of silly behavior.
The actual gameplay is extremely simplistic as well – you walk around, talk to some people, do some fetch quests (across a tiny island, meaning you walk like 20 steps to complete them), and then you’re done. There’s nothing particularly remarkable here, though the game did have the sense to keep itself extremely short – a longer game would have worn out its welcome.
All in all, I have mixed feelings about this game. I got it as part of a Humble Bundle, and as such, don’t really regret it – but at the same time, I don’t think I could really recommend it to anyone. It’s an okay experience, but nothing that really stands out in any particular way above other games that demand your time. It is true to its aesthetic, for better or for worse, so if that appeals to you, it might be more of a hit for you than it was for me; if, however, you’re hoping for something less one-note, or something with actual gameplay, this is not the game for you.