Developer: Ancient Workshop
Price: $4.99
Version Reviewed: 1.02

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★★
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

I think that this might be the first time I’ve seen a puzzle game take realism to such a level. Ancient Frog is a graphically stunning, meditative brain-bender based off of an entirely original idea, and one of the App Store’s true hidden gems. Ancient Frog is so unique, so gorgeously rendered, that I just have to commend the developer. It’s the kind of game where you’ll find yourself returning again…and again…and again…just to stretch your frog’s slimy limbs and give that stubborn puzzle another go. On the other hand, it’s easy to waste an hour digging into the rich trove of challenging puzzles.

The premise of Ancient Frog is nothing short of…well, weird. You control a frog, who begins each level crouched at the bottom of the screen. You’re tasked with scaling the game surface (be it concrete, a lily pad, or something else) using predetermined handholds and maneuvering the frog into a position so that he can snag the delicious morsel (a fly) at the top of the screen. You’re bounded by biology—the frog’s legs can only stretch so far. (“Frogs aren’t made of rubber!” the game admonishes you as it begins.) Think of it as rock climbing, with a frog.

You’ll quickly notice that the frog’s hind legs can reach much farther than his forelegs. This, combined with carefully placed handholds, forces you to come up with some creative approaches to the puzzles. While some levels are fairly straightforward, others are little short of frustrating; the ratings range from “easy” to “impossible.” The developer wisely mixes the easy levels with the hard, and each completed level unlocks a few others, so you can skip around.

Where Ancient Frog really shines, though, is in its graphics. The frogs are amazingly realistic. When you try and stretch one into an impossible position, it quivers and strains; their skin looks real enough to touch. Undoing multiple moves creates a remarkable animation sequence that looks like video footage. Everything is just that fluid. Add that to the sound (an ambiance-oriented soundtrack of insect chirps, forest sounds, and other general wildlife) and you’ve got an immersing game that just feels real.

The controls are just as fluid, for the most part. You move the frog’s feet by dragging them across the screen, and the frog follows your lead remarkably well. The (recently improved) undo gesture—swiping across the screen—usually works, though I still have some difficulties with it. There’s also a reset button, accessed by tapping the main flower.

The menu also feels a bit lacking, though again, the 1.02 update addresses many previous flaws, and adds the ability to view your record for the level by tapping on it. Sadly, the menu graphics aren’t quite on par with the realistic design of the game. Another feature I’d like is to be able to re-do a puzzle immediately after finishing over par (as it is, you have to go back to the main menu).

Don’t pay too much heed to my criticisms. Ancient Frog is such a powerful game, and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth with 100 levels. Ancient Frog’s success is based on more than just its graphics, stunning as those are—it’s one serious pack of puzzles, and one of the more challenging games I’ve played in a while. If you’re easily frustrated, this one isn’t for you. It’s hard. But if you’re up for the challenge, Ancient Frog is easily one of the App Store’s strongest offerings. Better still, Ancient Workshop has already proven themselves to be a responsive developer, so I’d expect nothing but improvements to build on an already awesome game.

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