Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge has a charming art style, chill gameplay, and a barebones story that winds up falling just a little short. This game may be for you if you enjoy games such as Neko Atsume, which it resembles with a few simple activities and no ads or spending additional money.

In Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge, Chloe joins up with her childhood best friend Alex to build a frog refuge. On paper, the list of activities you can take part in sounds engaging: build wetlands, farm materials, craft, take pictures of frogs, tame them, breed them, decorate for them, and complete simple quests. 

A tic-tac-toe game with multi-colored post-it notes used to mark spots. A drawn white woman in white labcoat and green top stands next to it.
The breeding minigame; courtesy of Steam

In practice, each step is very simple. Building the wetlands is choosing between pond types and making sure you have the exact same number of ponds and each of the three plant types, then you click on bugs that pop up. Feed four specific bugs to each frog, and they’re tame, something that’s easily done in one click. The farming materials accumulate and you hit a button. For crafting, you take those materials and make one of 12 pre-set things to sell in repetitive mini-games that you then you use that to buy furniture.  Adorable frogs will pose in different ways on the furniture which means you get different pictures to fill out your frogedex. If you can’t find one of the 500 frogs, you can spend in-game money to give breeding a shot in a somewhat antagonistic game of tic-tac-toe.

For about five hours I was satisfied. It’s absolutely charming and relaxing. Then the game throws you into a new area with the camera in the wrong part of it. Neither building that you see at first has any use. You have to go across the river (which initially seemed like a natural barrier so I didn’t look past it) to purchase the things you need to get started. This was… fine. You fall into the same pattern again, with two new bugs and eventually new frogs. 

A ginger-haired white man and a border collie sit at an open-sided shed in an orange-desert setting.
The billabong habitat; courtesy of Steam

Until I hit a problem about seven hours in – a quest without a real explanation that I can’t get past. The quest says “Take 3 billabong [second zone] frog pictures with a 2-star rating. Find out the criteria for the best ratings.” I noticed that my pictures were suddenly getting 1 star, so I started experimenting – putting more pieces of furniture in each pic, trying to get two frogs in a shot, making sure there were lighting pieces in the pictures – and things didn’t work. So I clicked on all of the NPCs in case they were how I’d find the criteria. They weren’t helpful. 

I started getting frustrated, and then one NPC asked me for a 3-star picture with a sign by her that showed how to get it. You needed two specific furniture pieces and a specific breed of frog. That was doable, and I got a 3-star picture right away. 

An animated girl with short brown hair sits on a couch looking at a wetlands region.
The wetlands you rebuild; courtesy of Steam

I got flooring and walls and started trying to add those in, just in case that was what a 2-star picture needed. They’re not. I mixed-and-matched zone pieces, I took day-cycle and night-cycle pictures, I turned off my switch and turned it back on again because why not, I even slept on it in hopes a clear mind would help me figure it out and nothing worked. 

I spent about 3 hours on this one small quest and at this point my frustration has overwhelmed the chill calm. I’m doing something wrong, but neither the help menu nor quest journal is showing me the way forward. It’s disappointing. 

This wasn’t the first time I hit an issue with not getting enough information, or being able to access info. Some of the wetland ponds combine in specific ways to boost their score but the game only shows you the screen once so I only remembered one of the combinations. It didn’t seem to have any impact, though.

I wanted to finish the game to give what I felt was a full rundown, but the game decided that wasn’t in the cards. So in the end I’m going to have to go on what I experienced, and say the game is about a 3 of 5 stars for me. It’s cute, it’s above average, it’s far more simple than the farming sim it was advertised as, and if you need some zen frog-picture-taking time this is the game for you.

Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge is available on Switch, PC, and Xbox on June 8th for $19.99

Reviewed on Switch. Review code provided by publisher.  


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