Remember “Frogger?” That epic game for the Atari and/or Commodore 64 that had you guide a highly pixelated frog across a busy highway and a dangerous river of logs with strangely incongruous currents? Well that game has been reborn as the hit “Crossy Road” game for your smartphone. When you play Crossy Road, you’re basically playing Frogger, except when you get to the top of the screen you just keep right on going.
I’ve been playing this popular free app on my brand new Galaxy S5 smartphone for about a month now. I can’t stop. I won’t stop. I shouldn’t stop.
Crossy Road is a surprisingly satisfying gaming experience. And I’m not big on phone-based video games/apps in the first place. But I think it’s human nature to indulge in at least one new game upon the purchase of a snazzy new smartphone. You need to see what the puppy can do, right? Besides take cat pictures? Which mine does amazingly well?
I went with Crossy Road, which plays exactly as described above. You guide your animal/character—of which there are many, though more on this later—across an endlessly scrolling series of roads and Frogger-esque log rivers and sometimes, when you’re lucky, open fields of grass. Move too slow, a hawk swoops down and eats you.
You have infinite lives so long as you have infinite patience. It’s all about setting a high score and then striving in vain to beat it.
This is one of those games that are free to download and play, but which has additional content that you can purchase in-game. This paid-content mainly comes in the form of additional purchasable animals, almost all of which you can also earn for free once you collect enough in-game coins.
So, you can enjoy pretty much all this game has to offer without paying a cent of real money. I believe this is a huge part of the game’s draw and charm. I really appreciate not being treated like some kind of “first time’s free” meth junkie, which is how most free-to-play games tend to rope in their victims.
I detect no obvious subterfuge in Crossy Road. The developers seem to make their money through the unnecessary impulse-buys described above, and through completely voluntary advertisements, which will earn you free coins if you choose to humor them.
The freeness is only one part of this game’s charm though. Developer Hipster Whale has done a pretty clever job giving this game quite a bit of personality. Each of the many available animals/characters available to you has its own little quirky gimmick, which manifests itself while you hop, skip or jump on your endless journey across the “road.”
For instance, there’s a pigeon that farts and leaves a white little poop in his wake every now and again. There’s a crazy old man character who randomly cackles. A baby dragon blows fire and flash-torches cars and trees as they scroll by. A goat bleats with real gusto. A robot soldier machine-guns the air. A wizard zaps passing trees with his magic staff.
Fun stuff, all done in throwback pixel graphics reminiscent perhaps of games made for early PC and primitive console systems. Retro graphics yes, but—if you have a smartphone with a halfway processor—they’re also silky smooth and strangely addictive to look at. Somehow watching the wizard fry pixelated trees never gets old.
Contemplating the game’s strange, silly title, I believe I figured out the overall reasoning behind this game existence. It’s clearly all about the somewhat recent success story of “Flappy Bird,” another consciously retro, enticingly simplistic gaming experience.
The two games have a similar Nintendo-esque color palate, conscious pixelation, an identically gaming objective (travel as far as you possibly can before dying), and similar names syllable-wise. I believe Hipster Whale figured it might as well own up to what it was doing—striving to match the meteoric success of Flappy Bird.
Hipster Whale has apparently succeeded. Judging from the Crossy Road reviews on Google Play, factoring in more than a million downloads, I think it’s safe to say this game is a pretty huge hit. But where Crossy Road really succeeds is in replayablily. Many have criticized the unapologetic monotony of Flappy Bird as a source of mind-numbing frustration. Not so with Crossy.
This game does a great job mixing things up just enough to keep you from feeling like like Christoph Waltz in The Zero Theorem, while always maintaining that low-committment sameness that keeps you coming back for more. The endlessly scrolling road, in its seemingly infinite variety, feels like it’s making itself up as it goes.
I’ve played this game probably fifty times by now—it’s a great “clean the slate” diversion and awesome killer of time—and the road still feels like it’s different every time. Add to that the fact that there’s always a new animal/character to unlock, there’s plenty here to stave off monotony.
I have to recommend Crossy Road to anyone on the lookout for a fun new game to play on his or her smartphone.
Lastly: each successive “hop” forward gains you a point. My current Crossy Road high score is 348. I invite anybody reading this to download this very fun app and see if they can do better. Post your high score in the comment section!
Read my take on another classic smartphone game: Angry Birds