A screenshot from Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge, provided to the press from the developer and/or publisher. A girl with a brown bob and a green sweater stands in front of a small, wooden, house-like structure. Around her is lots of lawn covered with various types of furniture, and a single frog lounging. There is a pond toward the bottom.

Review: Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge (Nintendo Switch)

Better hop to it!

16 mins read

I have been intensely craving a cute, cozy, stress-free management sim for months now. I’ve played games with some of those elements, sure, but nothing has really captured my attention or had every element. I’ve had my eye on Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge for a while now; it checks all those boxes plus adds a dose of education for good measure. It was initially announced only for PC, so there may or may not have been a happy dance by me involved when the news hit that the game would be coming to Nintendo Switch at the same time. This is all a lot of buildup for a game made by two people… and I’m so glad to say it was well worth it. Kamaeru actually somehow manages to be better than what I expected!

Note: Kamaeru is a gorgeous game but there’s no way to turn off the UI to take screenshots, so the header image is an image provided to the press and presumably from the PC build. Sorry. I’m mad picky about weird things.

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Kamaeru puts you in the role of Cleo, an overworked woman who heads back to her hometown for a bit of a break. She remembers its wetlands fondly: short trees with dark bark, dragonflies, and the frogs that she and her best friend Axel loved so dearly. After all these years in adulthood, Axel still hasn’t changed that much. Actually, he’s building a frog refuge and needs Cleo’s help. Attract frogs, revitalize the wetlands, and make new friends to help out along the way.

The refuge consists of two areas, the sanctuary where you place furniture and the wetlands where you create biodiversity through ponds/plants. Your objectives are listed in a journal alongside notes about your progress and a photo album (with 18 max photos, so you’ll likely store most snapshots elsewhere). The main goal is to attract and then tame new species and colours of frogs to complete your Frogedex (an encyclopedia showing what combinations you have discovered). Once you attract a frog with new furniture, snap a photo to identify it and feed it a specific mix of insects to tame it. You can’t be a perfectionist when capturing photos: just like in real life, the frog might hop away before you snap the shutter! There is a reputation level that helps the game move forward, and you can gain those important green hearts by either placing furniture or taming frogs. There is always something new to do to help increase your reputation.

There is a day/night cycle, though the time of day really only changes the look of the refuge. You can choose to head to bed when it gets dark (or at any time before daybreak) or you can work clear through the night. There’s no punishment for not sleeping, so I work on my refuge at all times. People other than Cleo and Axel are gradually recruited to help out, including a scientist, a farmer, and a builder. Every character is friendly and chipper, always willing to lend a hand. Some, like Dylan, can be used as helpers in the wetlands. Others can be used for things like breeding, construction, and customisation.

All the gameplay basics are clearly laid out, beginning with a tutorial. If anything came up afterwards that I was confused about, I was able to check the extensive help section to kind of reorientate myself. The clock stops when the game is paused or the journal is open, but that’s the only time you can pause it. This stresses me out a little bit when I spent a lot of time in the help section but as I said, it doesn’t really matter a ton that the clock keeps ticking.

Objectives are always clearly explained in the journal. These can be things like gaining a certain number of reputation points or taming a certain number of frog species’. The stress-free part about the objectives is that you don’t need to go at the speed the game wants you to go – it goes at the speed you want it to go. It’s such a smart way to allow players to learn new concepts at their own pace. I can take some time to get certain elements into my head and generally need to work on muscle memory more than most, so being able to take a breather between completing an objective and moving on to the next is helpful. The best part? If you work ahead without knowing it, the objectives will still be checked off when you hit them. All of your effort is always worth something.

Unfortunately, there are some very common Nintendo Switch version technical issues with Kamaeru, including in-game lag, problems with saves not loading, and being unable to close the software without it freezing and eventually crashing anyway. The lag only really happens when travelling between locations, so that doesn’t impact gameplay much. Sometimes freezing while loading saves and always being unable to close the software are irritating things, yes, but it affects the time you spend around the game, not in the game, if that makes sense.

A screenshot of the furniture shop in Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge on Nintendo Switch.

The face of the refuge is the sanctuary. Decorate with furniture, collect frogs, breed frogs, shop for new furniture, and sell goods. The furniture you decorate with helps attract new frogs. There is no grid or anything that it snaps to, so place furniture anywhere that turns it green while placing. Each item does only have two orientations though and that’s a bit of a bummer. The shop is used for both buying and selling. It makes it easy to see if a piece of furniture will attract a new frog or if its colour can be customised thanks to little icons and filtering options. There’s also a wonderful sell-all button, because you don’t really need to keep anything you’re able to sell. The sanctuary is also where you can work with other characters to do things like breed frogs or customise furniture.

I expected to spend all my time in the sanctuary, but most of my early game was spent in the wetlands. This is where you can place plants/ponds to balance out biodiversity, use plant material to craft goods for sale, and collect insects to tame frogs. You can continue to identify, photograph, and tame new frogs when you’re in the wetlands as they appear floating in the ponds. I think this is what allows me to spend so much time there: I’m still rescuing frogs, so I feel accomplished even if all I’ve done otherwise is dig some holes and cook some fruit. It actually took me several hours to place more than three pieces of furniture in the refuge because I was so focused on hoarding bugs and cash.

The biodiversity is impacted by the plants and ponds placed in the wetlands. Unlike in the sanctuary, the wetlands does feature a grid that items snap to. There are six pond types and nine plant variations. There are three very specific pond combinations that you can dig to create megaponds. There are three plant types and each is available alone, in pairs, or in trios with others like it. I feel like placing multiples more like stamps instead of going back through the menus would require less time and energy. This is actually one of the only times I find myself getting frustrated while playing Kamaeru.

A screenshot of the Wetland Information screen in Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge on Nintendo Switch.

A lot of the educational information in Kamaeru can be found in the wetlands’ shed where the information tab includes things like bioscore, vegetation stats, biodiversity percentage, carbon capture, and insect spawn rates. You can see how each pond and each plant affects the ecosystem’s delicate balance, especially the carbon capture. A higher bioscore (carbon capture plus flora diversity) attracts rare insects, which can then be used to tame rare frogs. The carbon capture rate and biodiversity score are both important for attracting a diverse range of frogs. I don’t entirely know if I’ve retained everything, though. I have had to grab my phone to do an online search for some terms. The shed also includes a tab selling wetland technology and another to manage helpers.

There are eight types of frogs, with the first four (Victulus, Doblex, Zebra, and Leopard) unlocking quickly and the others taking a lot more work. When a frog visits the refuge, it will have icons (or a lack thereof) over its head to indicate what still needs to be done. Floating hearts means the frog has been tamed, little sunburst-type lines means the frog is new, and nothing means the frog has been seen before but remains untamed. These visual cues make things so much easier since you’re not relying on clicking each frog to see if they’ve been logged already. Clicking on a frog when it is visiting the sanctuary or the wetlands will bring up an information panel with everything you could need to know about the frog: its species and two colours, its status (unknown, known, tamed), what food is required to tame it (or if it has been tamed, when a naming option is added), and up to four saved photos. All information you could possibly need about the frogs is just as easy to find.

Some frog species are endangered and your best shot at seeing them are to actually breed them yourself. Okay, with the help of a scientist, but still. Choose two parent frogs based on what aspects of them you’d like to try and advance (so a species or a colour) then play a game of tic-tac-toe versus the scientist. Three genes in a row means that trait can be bred in your new frog friend.

A screenshot of the wetlands' pond/plant editor in Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge on Nintendo Switch.

When it comes to the game’s controls, for whatever reason my muscle memory is just not catching on to one thing. I should know how to get to the camera super quick but I’ll end up hitting the trigger instead of the bumper and by the time I back out, the frog is gone. It would be great if the camera was accessible with a single button, and same for the journal. Despite my own personal issues, the controls are actually straightforward enough. Left trigger for the land editor, left button for a menu with travel, journal, and frogs options. Cooking, breeding, those sorts of things, they all have mini-games with differing controls but nothing difficult. Think moving a mirror using a joystick. I can see Kamaeru being really fun to play on a touch screen, to the point that I tried in handheld mode just in case. (It did not work.) It’s also great to pick up in small bursts.

Customisation options outside of layout are relatively slim. There is no character customisation but I don’t really care about customising a main character when they have their own persona already. You can change the colour of some furniture pieces. The lack of in-depth settings and/or accessibility options is a bit more glaring to me than any lack of customisation. You can select from a few languages or change audio channels (general/music/sfx/UI) with individual sliders and that’s it. There is nothing to alter visuals for anyone with impairments such as colourblindness; though I won’t pretend to know how that would specifically affect someone, I do wonder if there is some symbol option or something that might help.

Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge is a delightfully charming, remarkably in-depth eco-management sim. I figured it would be a pretty chill game with some intense parts of difficulty for me because that’s where I’m at these days. What I got was better than anything I expected. It’s not confusing, there is very little stress involved, and it is easy to get lost spending hours at a time meeting new frog friends and saving the wetlands. The expansive help section is especially appreciated. The game goes at the pace you choose. It was actually so overwhelmingly chill it was a bit easier to overlook some of the parts I did struggle with.

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Lindsay picked up an NES controller for the first time at the age of 6 and instantly fell in love. She began reviewing GBA games 20 years ago and quickly branched out from her Nintendo comfort zone. She has has developed a great love of life sims and FMV titles. For her, accessibility is one of the most important parts of any game (but she also really appreciates good UI).

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