Unless you’re well-versed in long-running, cultish alternate reality games, you may not get why everyone’s so jazzed about Frog Fractions 2. But the sequel to the bizarro browser game Frog Fractions’ launch isn’t just the culmination of years of groundwork. More than that, it’s a reason to celebrate one of the weirdest games of recent memory — and finally try it out if you’ve never played it before.
Frog Fractions is a game better experienced than explained. That’s what those in the know will say when you, on the outside looking in, approach them about the cult hit. Developed by Jim Crawford of the one-man operation Twinbeard Studios, Frog Fractions arrived in 2012 to an audience who was none the wiser about its twists and turns. That’s the best way to go into it now, too.
But playing the game without any insight may not do it justice, either. At first blush, Frog Fractions looks like little more than a kid-friendly teaching tool, a math game that abides by some weird amphibian logic. Players must aim the brightly colored frog’s long tongue at a series of bugs — called, notably, Zorkmids — that threaten to ... eat some apples, for some reason. After chomping down on them, they explode into a series of fractions that follow no rhyme or reason.
As an educational game, Frog Fractions proves itself useless pretty fast. It also doesn’t seem to be a great way to pass the time for the older, perpetually bored internet dweller. But surviving the repetitive wave of insects soon unlocks upgrades that ... well, they get weird. Really, really weird.
It’s hard to feel bad about spoiling a browser game that’s more than four years old at this point. That’s not the issue here; the issue is that describing Frog Fractions is likely to be met with incredulity from someone who likes their games nice and normal. Normal, this game is not: It’s a genre-spanning spoof of edutainment, of old-school gaming nostalgia, of mini-games, of ... well, nearly everything.
The frog and its lily pad give way to a dragon, an underwater lair, a courthouse and a pornography business, among other levels. It’s all inexplicable; the point is, it seems, to surprise the player and make them laugh.
And laugh, you will. Or you should, at least; that’s what Crawford intended, as he told PCWorld shortly after the indie gaming scene took notice of Frog Fractions.
“I basically wrote Frog Fractions for my friends,” he said in November 2012. “Every weird new feature I put in, I put in with the motivation that I was going to get to see a friend’s reaction to it that weekend.”
Those friends included influencers who saw Frog Fractions as more than a gag.
When Brandon Sheffield of Gamasutra shared a link to the project — then unfinished — on Twitter, Frog Fractions also began to find more of an audience with indie gaming fans.
If you play one game to-day, make it @mogwai_poet's Frog Fractions. It is not what you think. Stick with it. http://t.co/TjTjIyOX— brandon sheffield (@necrosofty) October 24, 2012
Crawford told The Penny Arcade Report in early 2013 that Sheffield’s share was the breakthrough.
“Six thousand of his close friends played that game, and then the next day, multiple tens of thousands of people played the game, and it was like, ‘I better just say it's out and run with it,’” Crawford said. “It was not my intended release schedule.”
What those thousands of Frog Fractions fans discovered that day was a singular gaming experience, a hilarious and strange game that can be finished in under an hour.
Among those newfound fans was Robert Yang, a game designer whose works have found controversy on Twitch. He wrote a tribute on his blog to what he saw as a paean to the self-aware, absurdist games of the old days.
“The actual game and mechanics are just a means to exploring the absurdity of the premise,” Yang wrote. “If something like Spec Ops: The Line is full of self-loathing, and Gears of War is totally oblivious and lacks self-awareness, then Frog Fractions knows it's the butt of a joke.”
Others called it one of the best games of all time for similar reasons. In an interview two years later with Crawford, NPR affiliate WNYC touted Frog Fractions as one of the medium’s greatest hidden gems, citing the element of surprise as a key reason why.
That interview came just after Crawford announced he was working on a sequel to his cult hit. The rest is history, history that we’ve followed closely over the last few years. The campaign for Frog Fractions 2 lit up Kickstarter, and a fascinating, complex alternate reality game preceded its eventual launch. But Crawford, never one for normalcy, neglected to give the game a standard release. Instead, Frog Fractions 2 is tucked inside another, seemingly unrelated game on Steam.
It’s a suitably weird conclusion to this latest part in the Frog Fractions saga. The real way to catch up to speed, though? Play the original Frog Fractions for yourself. It’s short, it’s free, and it’s still online, waiting to surprise you.