I’ve written at length about how important Neko Atsume is to me. But its developer’s new mobile game, Tabi Kaeru (a.k.a. Travel Frog), lacks the same life-affirming magic of its stray-cat predecessor.
Where Neko Atsume prioritizes slow, non-intimidating relationship-building, Tabi Kaeru is a game about independence. I get to name my new frog friend, but it’s not my companion. Its mission is to discover itself, on its own and with minimal interference or help from anyone else.
That means that the wandering frog that I periodically check in on is gone most of the time. I feel like a visitor, or even a house-sitter, stopping by to open its mailbox and make sure its fridge is well-stocked. And as cute as the interior design and front yard are, I’d much rather stop by a house with the adorable frog hanging out inside of it.
It’s nice that the game doesn’t demand much of me, because I wish I had more than a few minute to invest into most mobile games these days. But Neko Atsume perfected the waiting game: Every time I opened the app, I would look forward to either meeting a new stray cat, seeing one of my old favorites or at least knowing that someone stopped by to eat the food I left out. There was some level of interaction, direct or indirect. It made the game a soothing experience for me when I was someone who had no energy to share with anyone at all.
Travel Frog stretches out that waiting game without offering the same return investment. I either stop by and see my friend or I don’t. I get the occasional postcard from the frog’s adventures abroad, but I definitely can’t participate in them — and there’s no kind of indirect validation of checking in on my bud in the meantime, anyway.
Maybe Travel Frog is just reflecting life’s natural progression. I have to wean myself off of the gratification of caring for cats who show their appreciation in tiny, meaningful ways ways. Having passed the Neko Atsume test, it might now be time to become a frog traveler of my own and learn to be comfortable all on my own.
That being said, I’m deleting this game from my phone right now. I got no time for a cute frog I don’t even get to see.