Great Games: Frogger
Why did the frog cross the road?
Why did the frog cross the road? To just get home, apparently. In Konami’s 1981 arcade game, Frogger, the object of the game is simply to help some frogs across heavy traffic to their homes on the other side of the river. It starts off easy enough, but it soon escalates into a dangerous race for your life.
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Believe it or not, Frogger was inspired by a true story. In 1981, Konami designer, Akira Hashimoto, was waiting in his car for the traffic light to turn green. He spotted a frog trying to cross the road, but the poor creature was unable to do so due to the fast traffic. Hashimoto eventually helped the frog out and the idea of a new arcade game was born.
Selling Frogger to executives, however, was a bit more of a challenge. Konami initially showed it to the publisher Gremlin, who rejected it because they thought it would be too cute for boys to play with. One Gremlin executive thought differently, and her name was Elizabeth Falconer. She brought the game before executives at Paramount, where it was again dismissed by one Jack Cameron Gordon, who believed that it would only appeal to women and children. Falconer replied by noting that these executives had also rejected Pac-Man, which had gone on to become a great success. These executives, impressed by her persistence, allowed Frogger to be play-tested during a 60-day licensing window, during which it became an instant hit.
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These executives opposed Frogger for what can only be described as sexist reasons. Heaven forbid that a woman might want to play a video game. They also did not want to publish a game for little kids. The irony here is that a great part of Frogger’s success was due to its appeal to all ages and genders, to quote the Cash Box:
“Distributors report that Frogger attracts a broad base of players and is appealing to people of all ages. Women in particular enjoy the game and feel comfortable with it because it is non-aggressive yet very challenging.”
While Frogger was very successful at the arcades, it was also ported to many console systems, including the Commodore 64, the Atari 2600, and the Game Boy. The first version of Frogger that I played was an electronic handheld, like the ones that Tiger released in the 1990s. I can vaguely remember spending afternoons moving that tiny frog across the LCD screen and eating up the flies when I could catch em. I had no idea at the time the game had originally come from the arcade, which is still the best version to play. The colors are bright and the music is inviting, with Japanese songs like “Inu no Omawarisan” (“The Dog Policeman”) and American classics like “Camptown Races.”
The secret of Frogger’s success is similar to that of Super Mario Bros. The object of the game is simple, and so too are the controls. It all looks very easy and manageable, so when most players inevitably die, they attribute it to their own failure and not to the game. With every advance, though, the game becomes slightly more difficult, with the traffic moving just a bit faster, and an alligator popping its head out of the water a little more often. It’s very addicting.
What I also love about Frogger is how instantly familiar the premise is. We have all seen animals of every shape and size try to cross the road, and we have also seen roadkill. Some of us may have even lost our pets to the street, a fear which served as the backdrop for Stephen King’s novel Pet Sematary. This premise, I believe, added to Frogger’s universal appeal.
Seinfeld fans will also recall the episode “The Frogger”, where Jerry and George visit an old pizzeria they used to hang around at in high school. The Frogger arcade game in the pizzeria still has George’s high score of 860,630 points. Seeking to preserve this point of boyish pride, he hilariously tries to move the arcade across the street in way that mirrors the gameplay of Frogger, sound effects and all. Some real-life gamers felt very inspired to try and beat George’s fictional score. The first was Pat Laffayye in 2010, who had a score of 896,980. Laffaye was briefly defeated by Michael Smith’s score of 970,440, but reclaimed his title in 2017 with the world record of 1,029,990. It only took him five and a half hours. If that doesn’t speak to the enduring power of Frogger, I don’t know what does.