The Haunted Island, A Frog Detective Game
At 49 minutes – including a very late contender for 2018’s best credits sequence, not to mention a sequel-teasing epilogue – Grace Bruxner’s lo-fi firstperson adventure is the shortest game we’ve reviewed in quite some time. And if it weren’t for Amanita Design’s (comparatively fulsome) Chuchel, it would be in with a strong shout for the funniest. An early dialogue exchange lets you know exactly what you’re in for. “Who should I talk to first?” our amphibious hero demands. “You’re talking to me already!” comes the reply. “Okay,” the frog shoots back. “Who should I talk to second?” If that raised a smile, then you’ll likely be royally entertained for the other 48 and a half minutes.
The story begins with a phone call from your supervisor, who promises to put his best investigator on the titular case – but since Lobster Cop isn’t available, you’ll have to do. With magnifying glass in hand, you set off for a charming little tropical haven, where a sloth named Martin has been having sleepless nights thanks to a series of ghostly sounds coming from a nearby cave. With a hired team of ghost scientists unable to resolve the mystery, it’s up to you to do what they couldn’t. Though there’s not much real detective work involved; rather, you’ll engage in some amusingly daft conversations with the game’s anthropomorphic cast to prompt a series of fetch quests. Their requests are pretty weird – a nod, perhaps, to the genre’s classics and their incongruous puzzles – but your ultimate aim is to gather the right items to make dynamite in order to blow up the rubble covering the cave entrance. These include a ball of wool and a plate of pasta – “So, the normal explosive ingredients, then,” the frog muses.
And that, to all extents and purposes, is your lot. You have a magnifying glass, which you can hold up to zoom in on objects and people with the right mouse button, but it serves no broader purpose beyond warping the image and making the simple characters look slightly sillier. But then to complicate matters any further would detract from the game’s main purpose as a delivery device for gently surreal humour. Its hit rate is unusually strong. There’s a delightful extended riff on the factual accuracy (or otherwise) of books compared to the internet, while the rudimentary art and basic animation make some lines all the funnier: the deadpan expressions are a punchline in and of themselves. Its rough edges extend to the odd typo and one or two areas look unfinished, but this endearingly scrappy effort could teach bigger games a thing or two about the value of good writing.
Those accustomed to the moral dilemmas of modern adventure games will be pleased to learn that you’re given a decision to make at the end. We daren’t reveal what that is, but we agonised over it for a few seconds