Konami totally phoned it in with Frogger: Ancient Shadow. Aside from having a new double-jump move, this latest installment doesn't bring anything more to the table than its predecessors did. Once again, the classic hop-and-dodge Frogger formula has been used to fashion together a somewhat passable 3D platformer, which is then ultimately soured by problematic controls, tedious level designs, and bargain-basement production values.
Like its predecessors, Frogger: Ancient Shadow is a 3D platformer steeped in the classic hop-and-dodge Frogger formula. Across seven worlds and roughly 30 levels, you have to safely guide Frogger past traps, moving platforms, puzzles, enemies, and various other obstacles. What makes the game different from traditional platformers is the controls, which put an emphasis on Frogger's hopping abilities. When you push a direction on the control pad, he'll hop one space in that direction. You can turn him left or right without hopping by pressing one of the shoulder triggers. You can also make him jump an extra space by pressing the jump button, leap straight up by pressing the vertical jump button, and extend his tongue to move objects and pull himself across gaps. New to this game is a double-jump move that gives Frogger twice the hang time on vertical jumps, which enables him to attach his tongue onto tree-high hooks and to smash through weak portions of the floor.
Although the controls don't sound unwieldy at first explanation, you'll probably find them extremely unintuitive when you actually sit down to play the game. There are many instances when you have to hop, turn, and jump at a split second's notice, and it's not always easy to pick the correct turn button and hit the proper jump button under such time pressure. It also doesn't help that the isometric camera viewpoint sometimes makes it difficult to tell whether a platform is directly in front of you or one space to the left or right. To further compound matters, the controls don't always respond as quickly as you'd like them to. For instance, you'll hop onto a collapsing platform and know that you have to turn and jump off, but the jump input won't take and you'll end up drowned and thrown back to the last checkpoint. The developers must have recognized these problems too, because you'll find checkpoints and life refills situated right after many of the game's tougher jump sequences. Still, they're not plentiful enough.
Of course, if you do perish before reaching a checkpoint, you'll have to do that portion of the level over again. And if you run out of health points, you'll start right back at the beginning of the level. You'd call that "challenge" in any other game, but here it's more like tedium. First off, some levels take forever to get to the nitty-gritty. It's not uncommon to travel through a huge portion of a level, get past a few mild traps and jumps, and end up slaughtered by one tricky jump sequence or group of enemies later on--forcing you to redo a good five minutes' worth of play time. Secondly, the level designs are flat and boring. With the exception of some breakaway platforms, rushing waterfalls, and the random tongue grapple opportunity, there's very little that will make you ooh and aah while playing.
That's pretty much true of the game's entire presentation. It's serviceable, but bland. On the one hand, the environment and character graphics are sharp, the whole game is extremely colorful, and the New Age forest soundtrack puts every speaker in the sound field to use. That's especially true of the Xbox version, which supports Dolby Digital 5.1 and seems to just have richer music overall, no matter the speaker setup. On the other hand, there isn't much in the way of detail or panache. The soundtrack has to be good, because the sound effects are a collection of generic yelps and high-pitched noises that take away more than they add. As for the graphics, the same solid grass, dirt, and desert tiles are recycled constantly for the floors, and the enemies--which are primarily spiders, worms, and other creepy crawlies--only move back and forth and don't react when they come into contact with Frogger. Ironically, the game's cutscenes are sharp, lively, and a great joy to watch, although they are definitely geared toward younger children. The story concerns an ancient evil that has returned to Firefly Swamp and has caused all of the insects and animals to run amok. Frogger, for some reason we're never given, takes it upon himself to track down the ancient enemy and put an end to his shenanigans. The voice acting is superb, but the dialogue is fairly simple, and the childlike voices may not appeal to older players. That's doubly ironic, since you need an adult's attention span, and then some, to get through the game's levels.
In addition to the main story mode, Frogger: Ancient Shadow includes supplementary challenge and multiplayer modes. The challenge mode is a time attack setup, where you have to try to beat previously defeated stages as quickly as possible. Multiplayer mode contains eight separate games, including jump rope, dodge ball, and a remake of the classic Frogger arcade game. As many as four players can participate in the multiplayer games, or you can choose to go solo against CPU-controlled bots. Unlike the story mode, the multiplayer games are quite fun and don't suffer as much from the crummy controls and camera. That's mainly because each player is on a level playing field with regard to those aspects, although it certainly doesn't hurt that the levels are smaller and the rounds are relatively quick.
Ultimately, no one is going to buy this game based solely on the strength of its multiplayer aspects. There are numerous full-featured party games out there that offer dozens more minigames for the same price. Sadly, the multiplayer component is really the only thing Frogger: Ancient Shadow has going for it. Its single-player component doesn't bring anything new to the table, and, what's worse, none of the problems from previous games have been fixed or improved.