Frogger Gets It Right
Not only were the graphics on early 2600 efforts such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong so far from their arcade roots, their gameplay was often simpler - a player who could master a game at home would get a swift kick in the pants at the arcade. While games such as Space Invaders, Missile Command and others benefited from the basics of good gameplay, despite graphics unlike the arcade, and are worth playing to this day, games like 2600 Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were just plain awful and are only good for nostalgia and being easy to find, basic parts of any collection.
Many believe, and are generally correct, that it took third party companies to show what the Atari 2600 hardware was capable of, and to force Atari to improve its own efforts - Ms. Pac-Man and Jr. Pac-Man being incredible advances over Pac-Man. The first third-party company to do this was Activision, and almost all of their games are considered among the best in the vast 2600 library - Kaboom, Pitfall and River Raid being the star standouts. But another company that made games for the 2600 that is perhaps overlooked for its quality is Parker Bros., which produced games for the 2600, 5200 and the Atari 8-bit computers.
Among its products, Parker Bros. brought to the 2600 the arcade sensation known as Frogger, a game recently reborn on personal computers and next generation game consoles in the now standard, and some could say stale, 3D polygon world. At its birth, as a single screen game, Frogger was unique and different, one of the few if not only arcade games that did not involve shooting, destroying or killing things, which may make it difficult to understand and appreciate for today's gamers raised on first-person shooters and fighting games.
The objective of Frogger was to guide your green friend up the screen, across a highway thick with traffic and then across a river filled with turtles and logs to "home" at the top of the screen, within a time limit. After guiding five frogs home, the player would advance to the next level, where the speed would pick up and more dangerous elements such as snakes and crocodiles would be thrown in the mix. Like many classics, the game never ended; get five frogs home, move to the next level, do it again, if you can.
While games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong made early video gamers wonder what happened between the arcade and their homes, Frogger - in any of its home incarnations - was close enough to its source to simply be enjoyed. While the graphics on the 2600 are, of course, basic, they are good enough. And where many 2600 games had simple buzzes and beeps for sound, Frogger came home complete with its distinctive, cheery opening song.
Frogger for the 5200 and 8-bit computer line are essentially the same, sporting enhanced graphics over the 2600 version, although the 5200 controller setup may take some getting used to, as it requires pushing the joystick and hitting the fire button at the same time to jump, which gets around the problem caused by the infamous non-centering joysticks. But all three games share one important element - they all have the same, solid and enjoyable gameplay. If you enjoyed Frogger at the arcade, you were going to enjoy it at home, regardless of the console you played it on.
It was games like Frogger that made owning an Atari 2600 a joy and gave reason to stay home rather than go to the arcade. Unfortunately, it was games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong that made gamers realize what they were missing and move on to other consoles that could deliver better "arcade translations."