To write about Frog Fractions 2, I spent three hours planting seeds and chopping wood in an entirely separate fairy resource management game. Finding Frog Fractions 2 was how I learned its first rule: It’s less about the game than the “fuck it” attitude you pick up on the ride.
Frog Fractions 2 is the long-awaited sequel to Frog Fractions, the viral browser game that became a sensation in 2012. The original, at first an unassuming game about a frog and some fractions, thrust players through genre-bending psychedelica that playfully mocked other video games. They just had to find the rabbit hole. Frog Fractions 2 was and is an odyssey, from the two-year alternate reality game (ARG) prefacing its release to my three-hour quest to unearth the portal to it in Glittermitten Grove, the chipper fairy game it’s hidden inside. It’s about the odyssey, too, and the spring-loaded traps developer Jim Crawford laid in wait for players.
To access Frog Fractions 2 inside of Glittermitten Grove, I was told, players could do one of two things: Grow trees so high that they touch the sky, where there’s a portal, or shoot fireworks deep into the ground and find a door. To get enough fireworks and enough torches to light the branching underground pathways, you need to build an entire fairy village with infrastructure and sustainability and plants that don’t die. Also, you need storehouses for berries and firewood and prisms that attract light for fribblesham fireworks. Players on the Discord server sustained 22 fairies before uncovering the underground door, which would impress you if you had grinded on this game as long as I did and only attracted about ten lazy assholes.
Truly, I wanted to throw my computer against a wall. It was late. I was mad at my editor. Desperate, I actually e-mailed developer Jim Crawford begging for a direct link to the game. Then, I frantically went back through the Frog Fractions Discord chat logs. Players were typing “butts” in caps with ironic “lols” and winky faces. “Why is everyone joking about butts?” I asked myself. Returning to the game, exasperated, I typed “butts” on my keyboard, even though there was no text prompt.
Suddenly, Glittermitten Grove turned into a blue and black “txt world,” a pixelated dungeon-crawler. After hours of grinding, I’d found Frog Fractions 2. Asses, I thought, before e-mailing Crawford a shameful “never mind….”.
Frog Fractions 2 isn’t really Frog Fractions 2. I haven’t seen frogs yet, to my recollection. Except for its irreverent attitude, it’s entirely different from the original game. In the barely-visible dungeon, I was a smiley face navigating a cave. Orange exclamation points were scattered around. They read “good luck” and “be wary of championship belt, and good luck” and “arm ahead” and other incomprehensible things. Frustratingly, they were not instructions. That’s fine. This is Frog Fractions.
In the dungeon-crawler, you navigate hedges and dodge club symbols and shove blocks around to access new routes. Once you get a sword, you can chop down the hedges. About ten minutes in, in a zone called Gorilla Grove, I found a division symbol that said it unlocked gamepad support. One enclave lets you change your face color and also import a Mass Effect 2 save file which, sadly, I did not have.
Eventually, I found an “orange soapstone.” In Dark Souls 3, the “Orange Guidance Soapstone” lets players write helpful messages for each other. Here, I could select from categories like “locations” and “body parts” to cobble together a message that lived in an exclamation point—just like the navigational shitposts I’d found scattered around. I wrote my own shitpost. It said, “Gizzard? Then left.” I hope it makes somebody angry.
A little after I’d collected 25 gems, I was transported into another game. It was not Flappy Bird, because I was a flying toaster, but it was also kind of Flappy Bird. To clear the Mario-esque tunnels, I had to “buy” and “sell” kindling, charcoal, molotov and other items to increase or decrease my flying altitude. It was pretty tricky and required deft reflexes. When I rammed into a tunnel, the toast pathetically fell out of the toaster. Eventually, after failing several times, I was told that I “got the thing” and returned to the dungeon-crawler.
Frog Fractions 2 is a game about portals. It’s a game about frustration and release—just like the two-year ARG leading up to it. In one moment from the ARG, after fans had assembled arcane sigils unearthed from two dozen indie games and completed real-life tasks scattered across America, Crawford, as a reward, offered footage of himself and another developer tasting soups. On one hand, it revealed that the ARG led to Frog Fractions 2. On the other, less in-touch participants found the videos disappointing and even disrespectful. For fans of Crawford, it was just another instance of his sense of humor, which, as he told Kotaku reporter Nathan Grayson, is “to set up expectations, then undercut them.”
Chaos is an acquired taste, but once you have it, Frog Fractions 2 is a rabbit hole of wonders, rather than the frustrating anarchy it first appears to be. Those who followed Crawford’s ARG trusted him to take them on an adventure even though they did not know where it led. Frog Fractions 2 is that adventure’s next iteration. There may be no point to the impressive unicode T. rex in the dungeon’s corner. That’s fine. At any moment, some 2-bit block could teleport me into a colorful farm world where I play Snake as a chicken laying eggs. That’s fine, too. Nothing matters and Frog Fractions 2 is great.