I like Renata, Frogun's chipper child protagonist. If Sesame Street ever needs an adventurer archetype, cliché khaki outfit and explorer's hat in tow, Renata's their girl. She even has a frog. That's a gun. Sort of.
A gun in the sense that said frog shoots bullets? No, the frog (which can also talk) sends its sticky tongue out in the way cartoon frogs do, latching onto enemies or walls as Renata wanders around floating ruins.
See, Renata loves her parents. She says as much in the introduction. They too investigate ancient temples and the like, but they went missing. Out Renata goes, trying to navigate these puzzle-esque levels that recall not only the earliest 3D platformers, but something more recent like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
Even though she's a kid, there's little sympathy for Renata's struggles. Frogun doesn't even employ familiar quality-of-life improvements common to modern platformers. At times, it can be downright cruel. Fall off a ledge—that happens a lot—and the level resets unless a checkpoint was reached. By reset, that means everything. Frogun is littered with collectible objects, but if you take a risky series of leaps to secure a valuable item and tumble on the way back? You'll need to recollect that prize.
Each level is typically miniscule in scale. Frogun was born of crowdfunding, the promise being a chunky, pixel-textured, low polygon nostalgia rush, and the well-contained levels replicate olden-style challenges. Virtual fog even hides things in the distance, further complementing the retro vibes.
It's generally chill, though, and while it can sometimes provide a childish sense of danger it's not really scary. When Renata slips into water she doesn't drown, just floats on her back and smiles as she enjoys the warm pools. The focus is typically on exploration, scouring levels for coins, treasure, and goodies. Combat is secondary, Renata's frog companion snagging foes then spitting them into oblivion (or into other foes) as needed. The handheld critter also helps navigate chasms, sticking to walls to pull Renata over otherwise impassable pitfalls.
Mostly, Frogun is about discovery, swinging the camera around to spot secrets hiding in the simple geometry. Do be aware that failure inside a bonus area is a failure outside in the main stage too. Everything resets, which feels unfair and unusually punishing. This is even worse during racing scenarios. Renata meets competition on her quest, a guy who challenges her to reach the treasure before him and his companion (which is a snake that is also a gun). Forget casually strolling through these ruins; now it's a panicked rush where colliding with the opposition means taking damage, and on thin platforms, that's tough.
Good thing Renata is just so damned nice. Her attitude makes those irritating, frustrating patches smoother because she's always smiling and ready to try again. Maybe it's sarcastic taunting like a masochistic demon doll from a Conjuring movie, but given Frogun's tone, Renata never looks defeated no matter how many deaths or falls claim her.
The retro aesthetic helps too, knowing Frogun isn't made with contemporary ideals in mind. Simplistic polygons and rugged textures renew those “one more try” urges that used to be the norm. With no limit on lives, the only true difficulty is personal time. I had mental throwbacks to Sega's long forgotten Bug (and its sequel), but Frogun offers more freedom in its movement. Levels might be boxy, but Renata has an advantageous third-person camera that doesn't restrict how she approaches these caverns.
If there's a game perfectly designed with speedrunners in mind, Frogun might be it. Each stage is set to a clock, and there's little doubt a community will find the compartmentalized levels ideal for competitive racing. Frogun's satisfying hook comes in finding solutions to each twisting maze, conquering the moving rocks and illogical tombs. The best levels offer multiple paths, shortcuts, and other possibilities to cut the time down.
As far as I'm concerned, Renata is welcome to return in sequels or even other genres. She's a positive force who is out to do the right thing, either totally ignorant of the danger or unwilling to accept it. Her fantasy world matches her personality, persistently saturated, cheery, and wholesome. If Frogun is truly retro in any sense, it's in the smiling and wholly good heroine with a simple goal.