It’s pretty, it’s familiar… but it’s pretty familiar.
It’s a common developer mistake: thinking that a graphics upgrade is all a sequel needs. While improving the look of a game is certainly less risky than expanding upon its mechanics, most gamers are unlikely to appreciate paying twice (or in this case, three times) for the same game with a new coat of varnish. Regardless, Playrix Entertainment, the makers of the Fishdom series, have apparently gone that unsatisfying route with their latest aquatic match-three game, Fishdom 3.
Of course, Fishdom 3 is only a let-down if you’re familiar with the series. If you haven’t yet played a Fishdom game, Fishdom 3 is a great place to start. The over-reaching idea is to populate and decorate your own fancy fish tanks, and that’s done by earning money playing match-three levels. Match-three sharks will get the mechanics within seconds, but for you match-three minnows, the game goes like this: on a field full of fishy icons (shrimp, starfish, manta rays, etc), you click to swap icons and create rows of three or more. These then vanish, causing the icons above them to cascade down, often creating additional matches.
Certain types of matches make power-ups appear such as dynamite, firecrackers and depth charges, and these explode when matched or clicked, blowing everything around them to smithereens. Completing a match-three level entails clearing the playing field of gold squares by matching the icons on top of them. Once you’ve cleared them all, you’re awarded a chunk of money to spend in the Store.
The Store is important, because although completing match-three levels is fun, it’s only half the game. The other half is customizing your own fish tanks. With the money you earn playing match-three, you can shop in the Store for fish, decorations, plants and backgrounds. Different tanks hold different numbers of fish, and tanks can earn up to three awards depending on how well they’re decorated. Every time you add a fish or a decoration, you earn experience points. Experience points are important too because they enable you to level up and unlock better and better fish, plants and decorations. You also earn experience points by keeping your fish happy, which means feeding them regularly and cleaning the algae off their tanks.
Both the match-three and the customization is highly entertaining, and Fishdom 3 offers an amazing amount of gameplay. (For perspective—at this writing, I’ve played nearly 120 levels and feel like I’ve still only scratched the surface) It’s really incredible how much variety can be built into match-three just by adding locked or frozen squares or by changing the layout of the playing field.
Not only does Fishdom 3 offer a lot of gameplay variety, it also does a good job of ramping up the difficulty. The game sucks you in by making the early levels easy and dynamic, then cranks up the challenge in the later ones. Though harder, later levels are just as explosive and fun thanks to careful icon arrangement.
As Playrix intended, the game looks really good. Although the art style really hasn’t changed much from the first Fishdom, it’s now rendered in crisp 3D. The fish are also a bit more lively now, and moan about overeating or offer up cute little comments, addressing you by name. The sound is dominated by a handful of sprightly musical themes and the sound effects are well-handled (I really like the big “sploosh” sound that happens when you detonate a depth charge.) This being a Collector’s Edition, in addition to the main game you also get wallpapers, concept art, music files, a Fishipedia that gives you fun facts about your fish, and once you’ve earned enough experience to reach level 30, access to a series of additional bonus levels.
These things are all strengths and, as you can see, Fishdom 3 has a good number of them. The problem is that they’re by and large the same strengths shared by all the other Fishdom games. Playrix has gotten a good amount of mileage out of the Fishdom series by doing holiday versions of it that offer spooky, autumnal or wintry takes on underwater match-three. They’ve also stretched the concept a bit more by creating a Fishdom that contained a hint of story context. In this instance though, they’ve served us the same old fish on a new 3D plate, and are hoping we won’t notice.
I can’t say that Fishdom 3 isn’t a fun game or that it isn’t worth playing. It’s good-looking, entertaining and a great value for the money; with bonus levels included it’s probably worth a good 30 hours of gameplay. That said, Playrix deserves a slap on the hand for repackaging its previous Fishdom formula and offering gamers so little new content. If you’re new to the Fishdom series, by all means—put Fishdom 3 on your must-play list. If however, you’ve already got a few Fishdom games under your belt, you can skip Fishdom 3 and not feel like you’ve missed a thing.