Frog Orbs (iOS) review

Frog Orbs is a new iOS game from Uruguayan studio Ballpit Monster. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, and carries additional in-app purchases of the in-game “flies” currency.

Frog Orbs’ basic gameplay is essentially that of the classic ’80s Atari arcade game Missile Command. Players control a frog who sits in a static location in the center of the screen. The player may cause the frog to fire magic blasts at specific points on screen simply by tapping. The blast takes a moment to fly from the frog to the point which was tapped, and subsequently detonates. Any of the incoming “Bengling” enemies who are caught in the blast will also detonate, and this allows for the possibility of chain reactions as a string of detonating enemies all set each other off.

Four magic orbs sit either side of the frog at the base of the screen, replacing Missile Command’s cities. These gradually fill up with magic as a single game progresses, and can be triggered by pressing and holding on them, at which point the game slows down as the orb “charges.” Each orb has a specific effect and elemental affinity — a fire orb causes fireballs to randomly rain down, hopefully on to enemies; an ice orb shoots out an icy bolt that can freeze any enemy it hits; a wind orb temporarily protects the magic orbs from harm; and an earth orb summons rocky spikes from the ground which will destroy any enemies that run into them. If a Bengling enemy hits an orb, the amount of magic in it is reduced slightly. If an empty orb is hit several times, it is broken and becomes unusable.

As enemies are defeated, they will occasionally drop jars containing flies. These flies act as the game’s currency and may also be acquired via in-app purchase — a “fly doubler” one-off in-app purchase is also available for those who simply want to improve their rate of income through play rather than buying their way to success. Flies may be expended on several things: consumable potions to restore unbroken orbs to full integrity, blow up all enemies on screen or restore the frog to full health; charms to increase the power of various spells; hats that improve the frog’s innate abilities such as the number of magic blasts that can be fired at once or the size of the explosions; and staves which affect the recharge rate and magic consumption of the various spells. The shop interface is represented as a literal image of a shop, and the player must tap on the relevant shelves to view the items. It’s a nice idea, but not really practical — it’s not immediately clear to the player that the three shelves on the bookcase each house different items, for example.

Progression through the game is determined through an “objectives” system similar to that seen in titles like Jetpack Joyride. Three objectives are available to complete at any one time, though if they are all completed in a single game new ones do not open up until the next game. Objectives are all worth a certain number of “stars,” and new game features open up when the player acquires certain amounts of these.

Social features for the game are limited to Game Center support for leaderboards, achievements and, in the case of iOS 6 devices, direct challenges. The game’s title screen carries Facebook and Twitter buttons, but these simply lead to the developer’s respective social network presences rather than allowing for connectivity.

Frog Orbs is a decent reimagining of the Missile Command formula, but it’s not without its flaws. For starters, the non-Retina graphics look muddy and unattractive on modern iOS devices — a particular shame as their clean lines and solid colors would look good in high resolution. Perhaps a more serious issue in gameplay terms, however, is the fact that the game is simply too easy, at least in its early stages. The game takes much too long to ramp up in difficulty from the outset, which in turn causes play sessions to feel like they are dragging on longer than they need to. Good mobile games allow for quick, bite-sized play sessions, and Frog Orbs just feels a bit too lethargic, even for relatively unskilled players.

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