Review: The Haunted Island, a Frog Detective Game
There are cases where good writing can carry an otherwise weak game, and other cases where good writing is a foundational part of a game. For something like a visual novel this is obvious, though for any genre the presence of good writing can serve not just as connective tissue, but as the basis for the experience. There’s a lot to love about The Haunted Island, a Frog Detective Game but it all comes back to the writing, the charming, childish dialogue between characters and the simple glee with which it is presented. It’s not much of an island, and not much of a mystery to solve, but that turns out to only enhance the joy of reading through this adorable adventure.
You are the Detective, who also happens to be a frog. Your supervisor has called with a case, one that’s right on the edge of 2spooky for even a seasoned gumshoe. An island owned by a sloth named Martin has been plagued by creepy noises and happenings for the last two weeks. Martin hired a team of ghost scientists to get to the bottom of this, but they don’t seem to have gotten anywhere at all. The Detective is his last hope for resolution, and so it is up to you and your trusty magnifying glass to sail out to the tiny postage stamp of an island and turn it upside-down until you find the source of the spoops.
As you can probably guess by the screenshots, this is not a spoopy game. It’s not one of those that starts cute and then takes a dire turn like an hour in, it just stays cute the entire way through. The island is populated by nearly a dozen charming characters, including birds, monkeys, mice, and lobsters, and you’ll need their help to solve this hum-dinger of a mystery. Simply clicking on a character or object interacts with it, usually getting you some hilarious dialog or description, and occasionally adding an item to your inventory. Most of the folks on the island want something, and bringing it to them will get you another something that will eventually lead you to the source of the creepy sounds plaguing everyone.
It really can’t be stressed enough how good the writing is in this here Frog Detective Game. The Detective is a simple, upbeat type who asks all the right questions and is into just about anything, especially if it involves helping people. They’re a great character to mash against the other folks on the island, who include an interrupting lobster, a sheep disgusted by wool, an extremely online monkey, and the coolest damn alligator you’re ever going to meet. Seriously, his name is Fresh X. And none of this is presented with too much of a wink or overwrought dialog, it’s all sold with simple quips and natural explanations of things. That sheep that hates wool has a pretty good reason for it, and has a great back-and-forth with the Detective that I could imagine overhearing in any college town coffee shop.
There’s an earnestness to everything in The Haunted Island, something you don’t get with most games. Plenty of big games are going to be in your face with all sorts of overwritten jokes and memes, whereas this gets big laughs just from two characters talking about toothpaste habits. The simple graphics and small scope of the game help give it that wonderful charm, where you can mostly ignore exploration and inventory management and really most game mechanics and just focus on talking to people. Aside from your interact button, you can raise your magnifying glass to look at things but it just makes them look all warped and goofy.
The Haunted Island is the kind of game that’s almost impossible not to love. For the entire hour-plus you’ll be tooling around on the island, you’ll be chatting with colorful characters and marveling at their silly logic and sometimes relatable problems. I can’t imagine not being pleased as punch at that, so long as you know you’re not getting anything longer or mentally taxing. We all need moments of simple pleasure, something uplifting or innocent, and this is precisely that kind of game.