One of the most beloved and recognizable classics in the relatively short history of video games is Konami's Frogger. The timeless gameplay of getting your character from point A to point B, while navigating a busy highway and hazardous river, has spawned many variations during the years and is still fun even today. Banzai Rabbit (formerly called Frogman) is the newest game from Revolutionary Concepts, who most recently brought us the excellent port of Karate Champ, and it takes the very basic premise of Frogger and turns it on its ear with new gameplay twists, gorgeous 3D graphics, and a comic book style storyline. The overall experience feels more like an actual evolution of the Frogger series than any of the spinoffs ever have.
The story starts in a lab, where scientists are experimenting with building teleportation pods. During some commotion, test lab rabbit Banzai escapes his cage, leaping into one of the pods (with a stowaway flea coming along for the ride as well). The pod then activates with two scientists inside, one getting fused with Banzai and one getting fused with the flea. The results are rabbit and flea humanoids. After the dust clears from the accident, the enemy now known as The Flea plots world domination and kidnaps beautiful lab assistant Mary Beth. Having strong feelings for her, Banzai plots how to stop him, and thus the story begins. Ok, it's basically the plot from the 1986 film The Fly mashed up with elements of Spiderman, but it works pretty well in setting up the story for Banzai Rabbit.
The game is set across 34 levels in various locations such as city streets and railyards. You must guide Banzai from one side of the level to the other while avoiding the hazards laid out before you. On the other side of the map is a human who has been infected by The Flea, and if you don't make it to them in time then they will turn into a fly. Once you rescue that person, the perspective of the level flips around and you must make it back the way you came to save a human who's now on the opposite side from you. This continues until you've rescued 5 humans per level. Two different powerups can be collected, one that let's you jump over one of the hazards if need be, and one that slows down time for a short period making it easier to maneuver between the obstacles. It all comes together extremely well, taking a classic mechanic and wrapping it around some new ideas and fantastic visuals.
The area where the game falters is in terms of difficulty. More specifically, a brutally hard, teeth clenching difficulty. George Costanza couldn't beat this. The levels start to pick up in pace and complexity about a third of the way through the game. It took countless retries to pass some of these levels, which was bad enough, but at about the midway point of the game I completely hit a wall. There was just no way for me to progress, despite trying over and over. Collecting mutagen orbs spread throughout each level allows you to continue. You start the game with 5 lives, and can earn more through bonus levels and by rescuing humans. It takes 10 mutagen orbs to continue once you lose all lives. I started the level where I got stuck with 60 some odd orbs, and went through them all without blinking an eye. That's at least 30 lives wasted on a level where I didn't even rescue one human. Once you run out of orbs, you must frustratingly start completely over from level one. It's just flat out too difficult. I consider myself a fairly accomplished gamer, and have a fondness for the overly challenging games of the 80's and 90's, but I concede to Banzai Rabbit. He beat me. Some truly hardcore players may love this type of challenge, but I highly doubt normal to casual players will have the fortitude to see the game through.
I realize I'm making a pretty big deal about this, but it's honestly the one thing that can keep me from wholeheartedly recommending Banzai Rabbit. I'm not alone, either, as I've only made it halfway through the game and am sitting comfortably atop the Agon leaderboard. Is halfway really the farthest anyone has made it? It's not always necessary to completely beat a game when reviewing it, but you should at least have a pretty broad understanding of what the game offers. I feel like I'm missing out on a big part of Banzai Rabbit that's awaiting me in the second half of the game, not the least of which is the story (I imagine the hero saves the girl, but I'd like to see it).
Luckily, Revolutionary Concepts has been listening to the feedback in the game's forum thread, and will likely address the difficulty in an update. If you feel up to the challenge, Banzai Rabbit really does have a lot to offer, just don't expect to see all of it any time soon.
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