It's not exactly apparent from the title, but Ribbit King is, in fact, a golf game. Sort of. Actually, it's a golf game where the balls have been replaced with frogs, spawning the new fun-to-say activity of "frolf." It's an odd concept, followed through with an odd, sugary execution, all of it easily identifiable as a Japanese subspecies of cute. The action is significantly more chaotic than your usual game of golf, which can be a good thing, and the game has a pretty distinct charm to it. But it's also not particularly difficult, and the graphics neither look very good nor run very smoothly. After the novelty of watching purposely weird characters launch frogs through Mouse Trap-style obstacle courses wears off, which, admittedly, might take a little while, you're left with a simple, shallow game.
Though frolf is largely patterned after golf, it takes some pretty major liberties with the scoring system, even reversing some of the rules, and it streamlines the whole sport a good deal, toning down the importance of different clubs and gutting the concept of putting entirely. Using a small catapult contraption, you launch your frog toward the hole, which in frolf is a small pool of water with a gigantic white diamond hovering over it. You're given a projected arc of your frog for aiming shots, which you can lengthen and shorten at will, and the actual launching of the frog is governed by a two-click sliding power meter--one click to start the meter going and one click to determine the power of your shot. The main difference between a frog and a regular golf ball, it would seem, is that after it lands, a frog will sometimes hop a couple of times before coming to a complete stop. It's an incredibly simple system, and it doesn't really offer much depth.
Rather than being scored on the number of strokes it takes you to get the frog in the hole, you're scored on a point system. Your points diminish based on the number of strokes you take, and you can also score points by launching your frog into point bubbles that are scattered across the course, by launching it into water hazards (which, since it's a frog, it will swim right out of), or by activating what the game itself refers to as gimmicks. These gimmicks include giant serpents that lie in wait under the grass, trampolines made of spiderwebs, interconnected whirlpools, and moving sidewalks. Some of these gimmicks require you to do something. For example, when your frog gets grabbed by the snake, you have to rapidly move the right analog stick to get loose, or else you stand to lose points. Since many of these gimmicks will launch your frog randomly into the air, it's not uncommon to see your frog bounce from one gimmick to another, which can net you a tidy number of combo points. The scoring is actually kind of interesting, since the shortest path doesn't always net you the winning score. Watching your frog ricochet around the course can be entertaining, but at a certain point, it starts to feel as though your participation doesn't have much of an impact, and a lot of the time you just have to submit to the will of the course.
The gameplay options are pretty bare-bones. There's the story mode that follows Scooter, a wide-eyed little sheep-man, and his picnic-basket-shaped companion, Picwick, as they fly from planet to planet challenging an incredibly bizarre gallery of opponents with the vague idea of somehow saving their home planet of Hippitron. Much of the game's personality comes through in short CG clips between matches that introduce you to your opponents, which include a kung-fu-fighting cave-panda, a rock-man, and a large clockwork bird being controlled by a tiny rabbit-looking creature sitting in a glass dome on top of the bird's head. All of the characters act with a certain polite craziness that gives the game a good deal of its appeal. Outside the story mode, there's a four-player versus game and a second disc packed with movies that you can unlock by doing well in the story mode.
The game has a visual style that plays the line between adorable and utterly insane, which turns out to be a fun mix. The designs of both the environments and the characters rely on a lot of bright palettes and are conservative with complex shapes, but the game still runs into some issues, with persistent and significant frame rate problems ranking at the top of the list and prominent aliasing coming in a close second. It's a lot harder to appreciate the game's rather endearing visual style when the frame rate is constantly bogging down and all the edges are jaggy.
Matching the theme of Ribbit King's visuals is its completely over-the-top voice acting. Characters have a tendency to speak with exclamation points, which can enhance the game's lunacy levels but can also become incredibly grating. At the end of a match, an eccentric, effete alien referee will award bonuses, tally up your scores, and announce the winner, but there are lengthy pauses throughout this speech as the game loads up the different bits of audio, and it just sounds disjointed. The soundtrack, though, is actually rather agreeable, with plenty of sunny tunes--which would sound appropriate as anime theme songs--that it regularly laces with light bits of funk. The environmental sounds are also light and playful, though they're generally not too remarkable.
Ribbit King gets pretty far on a strange concept and weirdly cute characters, but the game itself doesn't really provide much lasting value. The simplicity of the play and the cartoony presentation will probably make the game a good fit for the kids, but anyone else who's old enough to appreciate the game for its oddness could easily wring everything out of Ribbit King over a weekend rental.