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Fish Out of Water Review: A Shallow Time Waster
Fish Out of Water is the newest game from Halfbrick Studios, the minds behind iOS standouts Jet Pack Joyride and Fruit Ninja. But where their most successful titles were some of the most addicting and well-developed games on the App Store, Fish Out of Water struggles to forge its own identity and live up to the addictive nature of its fantastic progenitors.
Interestingly enough, Fish Out of Water feels like a strange hybrid between Tiny Wings and the flash-based game Kitten Cannon. At the start, you’re given a group of several different fish (and mammals), each with their own different qualities and benefits. Using the touch screen, you select one fish and drag them across the screen, launching them across the surface of the water.
The goal of Fish Out of Water is twofold; you want to launch your selected fish as far as possible, all while racking up the highest number of skips on the surface of the ocean as you can handle. Each game is made up of three turns using three different fish, after which you’re judged by a panel of picky crabs based on the distance traveled, the number of skips accumulated, and your overall performance as a fish thrower.
At the start, it’s dumb fun that is both absurd and strangely addictive. You’ll find yourself trying any different combinations of fish to see which ones garner you the greatest amount of skips and the longest distance possible, all while learning the proper uses of the speed-adding booster meter, and the individual fish and how they can benefit your overall score. Variables such as weather and water conditions will also test your abilities and strategy during each of your playthroughs, and you’ll also have several goals put to you during your trial runs, including traveling a certain total combined distance, maintaining a certain speed for a dedicated amount of time, and even staying below a meter for a set distance. Achieving goals allows you to level up, which in turn rewards you with crystals that allow you to add bonuses to your runs. Combining different crystals yields different perks, including having 20 skips added on to your overall score or forcing the pickiest of judges to reward you with a 10 out of 10 score at the end of your third throw. The crystals are a nice bonus, but are also the vehicle for the game’s in-app purchase system. On top of that, it takes a considerable amount of time to earn minute amounts of crystals on your own, which kind of felt like a somewhat slimy cash grab tactic. Thankfully, the crystals don’t necessarily impact your overall experience in any great way, making the microtransactions a bit easier of a pill to swallow.
Fish Out of Water is mildly entertaining and was enough fun for me to enjoy my several hour playthrough for this review. The problem that I had with it is that it feels like something I’ve played on iOS before. Now, this typically wouldn’t be a criticism I’d level at a game, as so many of the games on mobile copy the blueprints of others while adding their own small changes to the formula. The problem here, however, is that Halfbrick is a studio who has proven to have the ability to re-invent the mobile gaming space with their clever use of mechanics and game ideas. Fish Out of Water feels strangely anticlimactic for a studio who has one of the best reputations in the mobile development space.
Furthermore, while you’ll find specific uses for each of the fish during your three-throw runs, none of them really feel like they have a distinct characteristic that sets them apart from the rest of the group (with the exception of Finley the Dolphin and the Brothers). Furthermore, I felt like having access to all of the fish at the start was a bit too generous and was left wondering if the game wouldn’t have benefited from using the Angry Birds formula of introducing a new bird (or in this case, fish) every few levels or so. And while you have boosters that help you speed up your fish and give them an edge out on the water, I would have loved to see some unique special abilities assigned to each of the fish that lent a new tactical edge to the game as a whole.
Overall, Fish Out of Water is a great way to kill some time, but lacks the same depth and creativity as some of Halfbrick’s earlier entries. In many ways, it feels like the studio’s middling release that doesn’t quite rise to the same heights as its predecessors. A general generic feeling and slight lack of tactic or skill makes it feel a bit too easy at times, and although they’re becoming the norm in the mobile space, the idea of microtransactions in a paid app never sits well with me. Still, it’s a fun game that will more than adequately kill your time as you wait for your meal to come at a restaurant or sit in line at the movie theater. Just don’t expect to get sucked in in quite the same way as you did with Jetpack Joyride or Fruit Ninja.