VRog is a first-person frog simulator on the Wii U, and this just might be a world exclusive review. When looking for information on this game I could not find a single writeup, and it has no eShop ratings. There’s only a single Miiverse post of someone saying “RIBBIT!”. After a bit of digging, I found out this was originally made as a VR game for the Oculus Rift, but I guess they needed some extra money because it’s arrived on the Wii U with normal 3D graphics. It’s not the kind of game you’d buy a headset for, but the concept itself was interesting enough for me to take the risk while it was $3.25 AU. I just wanted to be a frog for a night.
I am happy to confirm that VRog is a playable videogame. Using the GamePad’s gyro, you move the cursor over insects to gobble them up. What’s that, an Indie game using gyro? Yes, it’s a miracle. Motion controls are extra important because the analog sticks don’t work in this game. They allow you to pan left and right, but not up or down. Considering the insects fly up very high, this makes the sticks completely useless. It’s a shame because looking up is the only time you would actually need the sticks, since the gyro is a bit slow. With sensitivity so low and no way to change it, you basically have to flip the GamePad upside down to look at the sky. I learned how to deal with this with constant ZL centering (the only button usage in the game), but it’s not ideal.
One design choice I have to applaud in VRog is that it uses the exact same cursor in the main menu. This allows the main menu to teach you the controls without even stopping to explain, which I found pretty smart. Instead of pressing a button to select something, you just leave the cursor there for a second until the circle automatically fills up and selects it. There’s your selection made for you, and insects are gobbled up the same way by holding the cursor over them. This was designed as a childrens game but I know just as many adults who could benefit from idiot-proof design. Let’s jump back into some gameplay now and see how this auto-filling cursor holds up.
Weeeeee! You have two different things to aim at in gameplay, the enemies and other leaves and platforms to jump on. After eating all the insects in the immediate circle around you, simply hold the cursor over a far-away leaf and you’ll do a massive jump to find some fresh insects. Look at them all, just waiting for you. The “hold and wait” nature of the auto-cursor sounds a bit convoluted, but it’s very consistent and easy to do. The gameplay actually works well with the auto-cursor I think, because the skill in this game is determined by holding the cursor over an insect’s erratic movement and following it. It’s quite fun trying to keep the cursor in the right place long enough, and satisfying when you slurp something up. Even though the cursor is a bit slow, you can start moving the cursor again while your tongue is eating the insect you just got, so the gameplay somehow manages to feel fast-paced when there’s always something to grab.
The game has two modes and Arcade Mode introduces the combo mechanic. It’s quite simple but addictive, and rewards precision play. Simply by eating the same type of insect consecutively, you’ll get an ever-growing score multiplier. The problem with this is you have a VERY short window to continue a chain, about 2 seconds by my own judgement. It takes about 5 seconds to jump to a leaf, which means you can’t extend the combo by moving away. For this reason the highest combo you’ll ever get is x6, but it would have been awesome if we could jump from leaf to leaf chasing down the same insect for a ridiculous chain. Oh well, I still beat the target score after a few tries. This is my pond now, Patrick.
The second mode is Survival Mode, and this is where I had the most fun. It has 4 stages and you have a target score to reach in each one that gets higher and higher. Combos are less important here because there is a giant bird stalking the pond that could gobble you up. Terrifying music plays and gets louder as the bird gets close to you. This sound design allows you to grab some insects on a leaf without having to look at the bird, because you can just keep an ear out and jump away when the music gets loud. It’s pretty fun hopping around and leading the bird away and surprisingly exhilarating when you try to clear all the insects off a leaf before the bird gets there. So what happens when you survive all 4 stages? What happens when you eat every mosquito?
It is your turn to be eaten. An inevitable death awaits those who outsmart the game. After just an hour of gameplay I had completely finished Survival Mode and it just stops. If you wish, you can still jump around in fear from leaf to leaf. No more insects will spawn and you will eventually die of starvation, but at least you can prolong the experience.
All in all, VRog is a very basic game with unspectacular graphics and controls, but I found the concept interesting enough to justify a good night. It is a unique experience, and when it comes to budget games I find games like this much more interesting than low-budget runners, platformers or clone games that are just inferior versions of something else. I can’t think of a high-budget frog simulator that can compete with VRog, but maybe this will open up the genre. The game has a bizarrely interesting atmosphere, with convincing animations on the insects and no hand-holding menus or transitions. There’s no music outside the death-notes of the bird, so it feels a bit peaceful outside of that. All you hear is ambient pond splashes and insects buzzing. It would probably be much better with a VR headset, but it hardly justifies expensive tech. I think it found a pretty comfy place to land on Wii U. I recommend VRog if you’re wondering what it’s like to be a frog with enormously strong legs, slow eyesight, and no concept of time.