Okay, so there's no real subtext to explore in Frogger: Helmet Chaos. Try as I might, I couldn't read any additional layers of meaning into the game's plot, about a mad crocodile scientist building helmets that turn various animals into mindless automatons. No, it seems that a Frogger game really is just a Frogger game, a test of hand-eye co-ordination and basic reason skills with a pleasant cartoon countenance. Frogger games have been around long enough that they've carved out their own little niche, and get to be judged almost entirely by their own criteria. The best way of describing Helmet Chaos is that it's a better Frogger game than most.
Froggers are never especially complex as games go, there's no combat to speak of, just a little bit of collecting to be done, and even the collecting is only there as a means on unlocking various minigames. The entire game can be played through without grabbing a single coin. With the exception of a few minigames, the game is solely about navigating elaborate obstacles to get from point A to point B, which is fairly true to its arcade roots. Frogger himself has some new moves, like a vertical jump and tongue-swing (which looks even more painful than it sounds), but the core gameplay is the same—Frogger needs to avoid being touched by enemies, jump onto moving platforms, and shove blocks in very complex combinations to open pathways. There are also a few satisfying boss fights, which rely on the standard combination of pattern memorization and quick reflexes. Like all Frogger titles, those without itchy Nintendo thumbs need not apply.
Before starting the game, I racked my brain trying to imagine ways in which a Frogger game could make use of the DS's unique control functions while keeping the core gameplay principles of the series intact. Try as I might, I couldn't think of any use for a stylus and touchscreen within a Frogging context. After playing the game, though, I didn't feel so bad about my lack of imagination. Apparently the designers at Konami didn't have any ideas either. The second screen is used solely as an always-up status screen, and the touchscreen is there only for navigating menus. The only innovative thing done with the two screens was the game's use of both to present the original Frogger, one screen for the highway, another for the swamp, simulating the vertical display of the original.
The game doesn't have much story to it, but what story it does have manages to be mildly entertaining because it functions mainly as a parody of most simple action game plots. Jokes are made about the nebulousness and impracticality of the villain's plan, the bad guys' habit of building all of their bases in an easy-to-follow straight line, within sight of one another. It's all quite amusing, especially when compared to the awkward attempts to give plots to previous Frogger titles. There's no all-frog rescue team to be found here. The one drawback is that this kind of humor really only works once, so next game they'll either have to come up with a decent story, or just give up on the plot side of things altogether, and just admit that fans of the series keep coming back for the solid gameplay and level design, and don't really care about the framework that's built to justify it.
Helmet Chaos is a credit to the Frogger series, and a very entertaining game in its own right. It has no depth, no consequence, and five minutes after finishing it, most players will let it slip from their minds. It's just about the perfect casual game, just right for people who are looking to kill ten or fifteen minutes at a time dodging dinosaurs and snacking on flies. Really, there's only one thing wrong with it—for some reason, Helmet Chaos doesn't feature one of the series' de rigeur highway-crossing sequences. That's right, the thing that defines the franchise is missing here. I suppose it's a credit to the game's design, though, that I didn't even notice it was missing until I sat down to write this review.