In a little less than 3 months, Zynga's FishVille has risen the ranks to become one of the most popular aquarium games on Facebook. But being the most popular doesn't necessarily mean that FishVille is an original idea, nor does it mean it's the best. Fish World from Tall Tree Games has been in the Facebook ocean a little longer than its Zynga counterpart, plays almost identically, and manages to outshine FishVille in nearly every way.
Fish farmers who've dabbled in FishVille's waters are going to know exactly what to expect here. Purchase fish eggs, keep baby fish fed, raise them to adulthood, and then sell them off for cold hard cash. Each type of fish will have a different growth period ranging from a few hours to a couple of days. Check in frequently enough to feed and sell before the poor little guys starve, and you'll be tackling the bulk of your duties in any aquarium game. Aquarium games are a very “lather, rinse, repeat” experience that open up more fish and more tank decorations the longer you play. Fish World is no exception.
But while Fish World may share a base concept with FishVille, the game uses what you'll find in its competitor as a starting point for a much bigger offering. Everything from simple tasks like tank cleaning to helping out your friends offers a greater level of depth and polish in Fish World.
Friend interaction is actually a great example of the depth offered in Fish World. Instead of simply sending gifts and going to fix a temporary tank problem (both of which you can do here, too), you'll be able to revive dead fish for your friends or steal their fish for your tanks. Reviving is a nice touch – it's something other games don't seem to offer, and a player can't revive their own fish without spending real world money. Asking your friends to bring your fish back from the dead for free offers up a neat twist that fosters a more social atmosphere than most games of this sort.
Fish World offers a well-balanced experience, too. You might think that stealing fish could lead to a frequently empty-tank, but a smart set of built-in rules keeps things in check. Players can only steal one fish per neighbour per day, and once they steal a fish they can't sell it for another 4 hours. So while snagging the occasional guppy isn't going to hurt a player's numbers any, it isn't going to be enough for you to live on stolen fish alone.
Fish theft and fish revival are great ways to keep you interacting with friends, but like other aquarium games the bulk of your focus will be spent on buying fish and decorations from the store.
The shop where you'll buy fish, decorations and other items is surprisingly well organized. Rather than simply sorting all items in order of what you can and can't buy at your level, everything is grouped together in categories. If you want to but exotic fish, there's a category for that. If you want to buy pirate themed decorations, there's a category for that. With new items and categories being added regularly, keeping the store neat and clean makes it easy to find fish and items that complement the decisions you've already made for your tank.
Unlike other games where decorations only have an aesthetic appeal, your Fish World decorations will help to improve a fish's happiness. Again – it's little touches like that make Fish World such a rich experience.
The variety of content to be found in the store is staggering. Depending on your tastes and shopping moods, you could buy anything from alphabet letters to wild west backgrounds, or scale model reproductions of the Sydney Opera House. The store has a good deal of cool and eclectic items, but it also has a good deal of the funny. Fish World has a great sense of humor that seems to be missing in other aquarium sims. In celebration of recent holidays you can buy Halloween eggs and Christmas eggs which grow into silly things like skeleton fish and snowmen fish. Or if you're feeling a little godlike, you can combine species of fish in a special cross-breeding tank to see what comes out. There's an element of fun and silliness in Fish World that makes for a welcome change from aquarium games that take themselves a little too seriously.
It seems pretty clear to anyone who even give Fish World a cursory glance that this is the game Zynga leaned most heavily on for inspiration while creating FishVille. And while that game is excellent on its own merits, it's really only captures a fraction of what Fish World has to offer. If you're looking to experience an aquarium title that offers a richer experience than what you're used to, strap on your scuba gear and dive in to Fish World.