Football? No thanks. Soccer? Yawn! Baseball? So last year! These days, the great outdoors looks a lot more like the boring outdoors. It's about time someone invented a new sport for the kids to play. Something gentle, yet awesome. From Harold Brenes comes the next great outdoor pastime in Fragger, a sweet little puzzle game on a physics engine. With grenades. It's every bit as wholesome and appealing as golf, except you'll actually enjoy yourself, instead of just pretending to.
We're not entirely sure what's going on here, since no story whatsoever makes an appearance. The dopey grin the target wears sort of puts one in mind of the Beagle Boys, so let's just pretend you're trying to keep them from breaking into Scrooge McDuck's moneybin. With extreme force. Each stage consists of a certain number of these no-doubt dastardly baddies, and you need to get rid of all of them to proceed. You have a certain amount of grenades per level, and you can keep track of how many you have left in the upper left of the screen. Run out, and you'll be forced to restart.
Few things can compare to the simple joy of tossing grenades around on a bright summer day, and Fragger makes it easy for you to get into the swing of things by controlling everything with the click of your mouse. Move your cursor up and down to adjust the pitch, and toward or away from yourself to choose the force behind your throw. Once you click the left mouse button, your bow-legged on-screen counterpart will toss his grenade. Grenades only explode after they stop moving, not when they hit something, so you'll want them to land as close to your target as possible. If it looks like it's going to miss, you can tap the [space] bar to instantly make it vanish, but you'll still be minus one grenade. In a pinch, you can also "destroy" enemies by knocking them off screen.
As the levels go on, Fragger keeps things fresh by introducing new items onto the field at a decent rate. You probably won't be surprised by the exploding crates, since they're contractually required to be in every game with the slightest military theme, ever. But some items, like the timed exploding boxes that zip off in a specific direction when hit, are a pleasant surprise. It's just enough to keep you on your toes and thinking.
Analysis: Early on the "puzzle" aspect of the game is mostly limited to figuring out just how much force and angle you need to put behind a grenade to tuck it between a goon and a wall on an odd platform. Later, the game surprised me by offering up several stages that resembled Rube Goldberg machines, replete with platforms, tunnels, and walls that had to be approached in a certain order. I honestly wish there had been more of them. Tossing a grenade in the opposite direction of a goon and watching it set off a bizarre chain reaction that still eventually wins the stage is intensely satisfying. The downside is these stages also depend on everything falling just so, and there were times when I had to restart an entire level because a fall of blocks landed at an odd angle and blocked off the area they were supposed to clear.
Still, as big and fun as it is, Fragger is actually never really that difficult. You may have a finite number of grenades, but you can restart a level over and over without any penalty. Just sit back and toss away until you find something that works; this is generally an acceptable strategy for all but the most finicky of stages, which sort of takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. Since the only moves to master here are "throw explodey thing" and "make guy go boom", there's not a lot of necessity to improve your skills. If you hit someone in the head, they'll just topple over like cardboard cutouts, so you never have to deal with the added challenge of a moving target.
With a bright, cartoony design and smooth interface that makes playing a breeze, Fragger is a winner, but not quite a classic. But for an afternoon of exploding fun, you'll be hard pressed to beat it at its own game. Just remember to duck and cover!