Wholesome Direct 2024 Highlights — Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge And Seven More Games You Need to See

Be one with nature.

screenshot from Kamaeru A Frog Refuge
Humble Reeds

Wholesome Direct is a showcase specializing in cozy games, including slow-paced life sims, heartfelt stories, and pretty much anything full of cute animals. And when you think of cuddly animals you’d like to play a game about, one probably comes to mind first — frogs! No? Fair enough, but this year’s show (which aired on YouTube and Twitch) features a cozy, frog-filled farming sim that may change your mind, as well as a few other highlights to keep your eye on.

One of this year’s most adorable Wholesome Direct-featured games is Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge. In Kamaeru, you play as Cleo, a woman who heads to her more rural childhood home to recover from burnout from her corporate job and falls into the much more soothing world of frog-raising as a result. If only we could all be so lucky.

According to developer Humble Reeds, the real inspiration for Kamaeru was actually the preservation of wetlands, and not in fact the adorable critters that call them home.

Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge is all about building a happy home for your frog friends.

Humble Reeds

“We read about how wetlands are natural carbon sinks and just how much carbon would be captured or not emitted if we committed to preserving and restoring wetlands,” Humble Reeds told Game Developer earlier this year. “To encourage players to care about wetlands and their biodiversity, we made frogs the main object of care because they’re popular and the most likely to be tended to as pets.”

At the start of Kamaeru, you’re overseeing little more than an empty marsh. But by restoring the environment’s biodiversity, you can encourage frogs to start making your own little wetlands home. Then, your job becomes taking care of the new residents by keeping the wetlands healthy so they have a suitable environment to live in and plenty to eat, and decorating to turn your backyard into a happy frog refuge.

Once your frog refuge is hopping, you can even start breeding new types of frogs by encouraging existing species to mate. Armed with your trusty camera, you’re also able to catalog all the froggy friends you make by snapping photos of them to collect in the game’s “frogdex.”

Kamaeru’s conservationist premise and adorable art made it one Wholesome Direct standout this year, but the show was packed with other games worth checking out, many of which have a lot in common with the frog-farming sim.

Fantastic Haven is a game about protecting animals much rarer than frogs.

Goblinz Publishing

Like Kamaeru, Fantastic Haven is a game about restoring the environment to make room for your non-human neighbors. The difference is that instead of frogs, you’re helping fantastical creatures like griffons survive. Fantastic Haven also allows for more intricate control over the landscape. Similar to Terra Nil, you need to shape the environment to let live flourish, with the addition of a diplomacy system to make sure that the creatures live in harmony with human populations. It also has a demo available now on its Steam page.

Garden of the Sea likewise focuses on building a home in nature and befriending the creatures there. Landing on a magical island, you’ll need to collect resources to build a home and plant gardens while protecting and feeding local creatures. Garden of the Sea is already available on VR platforms, but non-VR versions are now set to launch on PC and Nintendo Switch.

If the frog photography is what appeals to you in Kamaeru, there’s also The Star Named Eos, a photography-based puzzle game that announced its July 23 release date at Wholesome Direct. The game stars a young photographer who’s following in his mother’s footsteps to see parts of the world she visited on her own photo trips.

No other game looks or sounds quite like EbiTapes.

Maybe it’s cute hand-drawn frogs you want more of after Kamaeru. That’s incredibly specific of you, but believe it or not, another game at the show also fits the bill. EbiTapes follows a little cartoon frog working to save their city’s music festival through the power of sound. By exploring the game’s world — rendered in some of the coolest hand-drawn game art I’ve ever seen — you can capture audio on your cassette recorder to mix into custom songs.

If you’re looking for more games you can play right now, Wholesome Direct also featured three surprise game releases. Pooool is a physics puzzle about smashing pool balls into each other to form larger balls and score points on an online leaderboard. The Palace on the Hill is a slice-of-life story following a young boy through his youth in rural India in the ‘90s. And Tracks of Thought combines adventure games and RPGs, with a card-based conversation system to help its adorable insectoid protagonist solve a mystery on a moving train.

Even all that is just a small selection of what Wholesome Direct had to show off this year. The full show features dozens more cozy games, from low-stress city builders to narrative adventures, all tuned for a chill gaming experience.

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