Writing here at GameCritics, we often strive to dig a little deeper in our review coverage. Settling for a description of "fun" isn't generally an option, given that it's a common crutch of the games media in general, and far too vague a word to do justice to the games or our readers. However, once in a while a game comes along that cries out for liberal use of the "F" word. There's really just no other explanation. Lacking complex characterization, an interesting story, impressive graphics, or deep play mechanics, there's no other reason I can think of besides "fun" to recommend Ribbit King…but recommending it I am. I may take some flak from the other Critics for this, but I'll be damned if the game wasn't a good time from start to finish.
In a nutshell, Ribbit King is a mutant form of golf with its DNA given a spritz of amphibians and a hefty dose of Japanese weirdness. The end result is something oddly familiar yet completely different. Forget your golf balls and nine-iron; the game's hero, Scooter, uses a mallet, a seesaw, and a swamp's worth of frogs to get his game on.
With such a drastic change in equipment, it follows that the rules of the game would undergo some creative editing as well. In Ribbit King, the point of the game isn't to get the lowest number of strokes, it's to get the frog in the hole with the highest score. Numbers are earned by thwacking a seesaw and launching your moist friends into points bubbles with various point values that litter the courses, but it's better to shoot for the scattered traps and gimmicks. Vaguely like a more interactive version of miniature golf, these "obstacles" can be anything from an angry mammoth to low-flying U.F.Os.
There are power-ups to buy and use, and the various frogs have different properties (one is lava-resistant, one's a strong swimmer, etc.) but the real key to the game is learning to read the course and plan combos between the gimmicks, all while keeping in mind the particular abilities of the frogs. In one example, my frog landed on a grassy slope after a long drive, and then slid down the hillside into a spider's web trampoline. Catching air, the frog then landed in a nearby pond and swam across to perch on the far shore in sight of a nearby fly. Leaping up to snatch the fly, it landed on a bonus item zone for both the item and a huge points combo. There's definitely a bit of luck involved in finagling these Rube Goldberg-like strings, but after some practice it becomes possible to score a healthy amount on nearly every stroke.
Besides learning how the game works and how to work the game, there's not a lot to it. It's a simple affair at heart—what you see is what you get, though this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The upshot is that it's very easy to learn and accessible to a wide range of gamers, including the little ones. It's also nice to play something once in a while that is so low-impact—FAQs are unnecessary, stress levels are negligible, and I really got into the strangeness of it. For those averse to short games (unlike me), rest assured that there are legs to the disc. It takes a lot longer than you'd expect to finish, and there are a number of things to do for completists including a match against a hidden boss, collecting trophies awarded by meeting specific requirements, and unlocking 28 humorous CG movies on the accompanying second disc, Ribbit King Plus!
It may not be a technical marvel or something that will keep you occupied for days on end (it's best played in 30-minute bursts, in my opinion), but it's hard to deny the energy and enthusiasm the game brings with its off-kilter PaRappa-style characters, a kooky sense of humor, and the welcoming playability that developer Jamworks has packed onto the disc. Besides, how often do you get a game that lets you whack frogs around an outer space golf course? It's so absurd and nonsensical that you have to love it, and at twenty dollars brand-new, it's easy to see that this game is not only a pure sort of fun, it's fun at an unbeatable price.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the GameCube version of the game.