Last Updated on January 16, 2020
Ribbit King – also known in Japan as Kero Kero King – is a golf game that came out on the Gamecube in 2003 and on Playstation 2 in 2004. It was developed by Jamsworks and published by Bandai. It was rather obscure in the U.S. when it first came out.
A vast majority of people weren’t aware of this game, unless scoping out rarities on the Gamecube was a hobby of theirs or they’re a faithful Nintendo Power reader. I was a part of the latter.
Revived From Childhood Shelves
Ribbit King was pulled out of the darkness a decade later by fans who sent it to Game Grumps back in 2013. Arin and Dan played several episodes and finished it in 2015. They did a rematch series in 2018. Ribbit King had a lot of copies floating around back in the 2000s, which is why it was so cheap when I first got it. I was surprised to see the game regain popularity. It turns out that a sizeable amount of people had actually purchased it when it came out.
I started playing the game again in summer 2019. It was exactly how I remembered playing it as a kid: calming, but also puts you on the edge of your seat. As a middle schooler, I found the game impossible and preferred mostly playing versus mode with my brother, treating it more as a party game. As an adult, I understood the mechanics better, laughed at the cut scenes, and found it charming.
But is it worth making Ribbit King a classic in the post-Gamecube era?
The World of Kero Kero
The premise of Ribbit King is introduced with a cut scene starring the character Scooter – an ordinary, optimistic carpenter – who is summoned by the King of Hippitron to tell him that their planet’s life supply (known as Super Ribbinite) is running out. So to restore that stream of life, Scooter goes on a journey with Picwick, his talking basket friend, to visit planets and challenge people to golf games.
In the world of Kero Kero, golfing is known as frolfing.
You come across several interesting characters. All of them are talking creatures or animated objects. Every planet you visit is different with a new set of challenges.
After conquering every planet with his frolf skills, Scooter gets rewarded with a tiny diamond and realizes all his efforts feels like nothing. But he gladly returns home. Soon after, things start breaking the innocent fabric of the game. Scooter gets challenged to a match by a toy vending machine gone rogue and an evil pig army demands that he retrieve them a gameboy cartridge or they will end his planet with an explosion.
It’s Not Like Any Other Golfing Game
Ribbit King is a golfing game. But it’s vastly different from most. The developers had to make the gameplay fit in with the weirdness of the story. With frog puns being abundant, one of the main things you do in this game is stress them out.
Every character is equipped with a hammer and a frog on a lever as opposed to a golf ball, club, and a tee. Unlike Mario Golf or any installment of the PGA Tour series, in Ribbit King you have to collect points by aiming at bubbles, eating flies, swimming, engaging with or avoiding environmental obstacles before you even reach the diamond hole.
The frog also has status ailments. It can get sick from eating poisonous flies, and dizzy or tired after enduring too many explosions. You can use items to improve its performance, such as a rocket to make it jump further or a star to make it invisible from snakes or elephants.
You will also receive eggs that will get you special frogs with better performance attributes or just cuter looks. This is unlike any other golf game as your golf ball is a living thing that goes through many trials to achieve your dreams of becoming a frolfing champion.
The gameplay isn’t difficult to understand. But what makes Ribbit King difficult is the stage design and the obstacles. Your frog will get bitten by a snake, struck by lightning, jump into lava, spun on a Condor ride, and still hopefully reach the diamond hole all in one match.
There are five planets that Scooter travels to in the Ribbit galaxy: Ribbitopia, Hypnotron, Lavatron, Technotron, and Ffosticle. Each planet has their own element of nature: fire, metal, forestry, and ice. Hypnotron is an exception with it being akin to the moon with a space colony.
The Big Heads and Eyes of the 2000s
The handful of characters in Ribbit King pretty much fall into the same overall theme of “Weird but largely harmless.” You don’t really get to know much about them outside the two cut-scenes where you meet them for the first time and beat them for the second time.
You do explore a bit of their background stories in Ribbit King Plus, a bonus CD that includes an animated series based on the game.
Scooter and Picwick spend a majority of the game gawking at their challengers and having a hectic day. They mirror how the players feel throughout Ribbit King. They are the most relatable. However, Princess Tippi is one of the only human challengers that is perpetually drowsy, despite living on one of the coldest planets. Lunk is a sweet and friendly animated pile of rocks. Pan-Pan – a talking, kung-fu fighting panda – is always eager to challenge Scooter, embarrassing himself as a practical part-time job.
Sluggy – the frolf referee – probably haunted some players in their dreams. He is a blue lipped, black-skinned, mild-mannered alien with a lisp. But there’s just something so off about him. He seems to be a member of one of the snake species roaming the planet throughout the galaxy, yet for some reason is the only one who assimilated with the other humanoid characters.
Was it worth the Nostalgia?
Ribbit King was a product of its time. It was built by a smaller game studio and embodied the simplicity of Gamecube games back in the 2000s. The 3D graphics are outdated by now, it’s riddled with bugs, and its level design is limited. Apart from the music you hear on the planets Lavatron and Ribbetopia, the OST is largely forgettable.
It is a unique work for its time because of its art style and spin on the genre. The gameplay in Ribbit King is probably what made it popular for people who aren’t interested in golf at all. It has a bright color palette, adorable characters with odd physical traits, moe eyes, big heads, and knob-like hands. I love the serene blue sky in the background of Ribbitopia, the smiles and groans of Scooter and Princess Tippi, and the cute little frogs you keep inside Picwick that come in a variety of colors and resemble their owners.
But the writing was cheesy and somewhat cringey, and the plot is amusingly nonsensical to the point where you realize that Ribbit King was never meant to be taken seriously. This game was created just to showcase a funny, unique idea involving frogs.
More time was spent on character design and animations, but less on level design. After all, the game art was designed by a famous Japanese artist, Yosuke Kihara. Ribbit King is actually a reboot of the Playstation X installment of Kero Kero King in 2000, which stayed within in Japan, making it more like a forgotten prototype. This version introduced the same mechanics, but the art style is vastly different, where it seems like Kihara’s art was featured in a cell-shaded look, rather than the smoother 3D look in its successor.
Each planet has about 5 different stages. With every opponent, you’re on the same stages in different orders per match, with the same obstacles. The only difference is that the diamond hole might be in another part of the stage. There’s even times when the stage is simply just rotated and you start realizing that you’ve played this level before against someone else, so now you have to win by playing it backwards.
Its lack of stage variety doesn’t seem like a bad thing. But after you beat the first portion of the story, you start to realize how repetitive the game is, wishing you didn’t have to play frolf on that Technotron stage with the buildings and escalators.
There was also a multitude of bugs throughout the game that made losses rage-inducing. The power meter was unstable at times; the extra leap the frog takes when it lands on the ground has caused plenty of grief for me. Sometimes, when you escape an explosion or an elephant’s stomp, you can still lose points even if you were sure you hit that A button at the right time.
Any stages that involved buildings and platforms as its main motif were horrifically designed and had collision issues. You hit the lever and you think you’re away from the wall, yet somehow you still hit it. There were times when my frog clipped and fell through the ground after falling onto the edge of a bouncy spiderweb hole.
A Relatively Enjoyable Game
Ribbit King is still an enjoyable game if the flaws and lack of content variety don’t bother you. I do think it’s worth remembering in the sense that you can show it off as an obscure collectible. And it is a soothing game when you’re playing against an easy opponent. The art style was great for the time, and the color palettes are a joy to look at.
It feels horrible to look at Scooter’s face and call Ribbit King bad. It’s not a bad game. It’s very pleasant, particularly when you’re good at it. But it’s obvious there was more focus on the art direction than the game itself. The general popularity of Ribbit King rose because of nostalgia and the Game Grumps fandom.
I would recommend Ribbit King if you want a spin on the golf sport and for the art style. But it’s not an easy leap for those who aren’t good at golf games or accepting of its flaws.
What do you think of Ribbit King? Have you tried it? Let us know!
Wei Yuan Lee is a interactive fiction writer and game dev. He enjoys spooky interactive fiction, quirky platformers and RPGmaker games. He checks Itch.io religiously.