One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.
After the runaway success of their casual smash hits like Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride, Halfbrick Studios had set the bar pretty high for themselves for any follow-up release. While their latest bubbly and fish-focused adventure may not have the lasting power and widespread appeal of some of Halfbrick’s past greats, Fish Out of Water is still an incredibly fun and friendly frolic through the bottom of the sea.
After a brief introduction from your mentor, Oscar the crab, players will choose three swimmers from a pool of six friendly fish (or “fish and mammal” as the game clarifies), and try to break the world record of swimming fun time. The goal of Fish Out of Water is to earn the best total score across each of your three swims, and the controls are as simple as flinging each fish across the sea at different heights, and then tapping on the screen to give them an added boost. The more you play, the more you begin to get a better feel for each fish’s strengths and weaknesses, and understand their different swimming styles and how to make the best of them. For instance, Finlay the purple dolphin can dip underneath the waves and leap out at water level, while Errol the green puffer fish will bounce high off the water’s surface.
There are two main things that factor in towards getting those top scores from our crabby panel of judges: the total distance you swim between all three of your fish, and the number of times you skip over the water. Each of the five judges has their own set of criteria for scoring your swims, like Distance Dorothy, who can never get enough of watching those distance meters fly, and Hard to please Harwood, the Simon Cowell of the undertow, who will give you a 4 or a 5 just because he can. Every aquatic creature in the game has such a strong and endearing personality and color, and the little fish facts given to you by a friendly oyster at the end of each attempt are a nice little touch that goes a really long way in adding to the game’s overall charm.
One of the coolest things about Fish Out of Water is the dynamic weather element, which changes by the hour in real time, and will affect the way your fishy friends take to the water. A little weather forecast indicator in the corner of the screen lets you know if it’s going to storm in the next three hours, or if there might be a chance of snow. The idea is that you can score the best in the calmest weather conditions, but I still managed to get my record score of 9.7 during a crashing thunderstorm, and didn’t really notice a difference to the core gameplay mechanics during moments such as these. The graphics are very polished, but besides the different weather effects, there is never any variety to the game world itself no matter how far you manage to swim, and the lack of interesting objects to see underneath the waves or up on the shoreline can make the game start to feel a little repetitive before long.
Fish Out of Water features a pretty neat competitive online component as well, where players can create or join swimming leagues with other fish enthusiasts, and compare your high scores across daily leaderboards in real time. Other league members’ scores will pop up in the corner of the screen as they play, but you can never watch or interact with them in any other way. Because of this, the feature feels a little underwhelming at times, but I do have to admit, it is still incredibly rewarding to see your latest swim land at the top of your league’s leaderboard in shiny gold lettering.
Players are motivated to keep playing by a number of optional objectives, which unlock a series of illustrations that string together the game’s cutesy story, piece by piece. Challenges come in sets of three for every experience level you complete, and range from everything like snagging 30 total “boosties,” to jumping through special rings. However, there are no incentives to keep playing once you’ve unlocked the full story, which sneaks up on you pretty quickly at level 17. There are still new challenges and levels to earn after this, but no real reason to keep doing so, as nothing else ever changes in the game and there will only be so many times you’ll want to top your latest high score.
Going up a level will also reward you with a randomized pack of underwater gems, which can be mixed and matched together in the form of a fish, and utilized before the start of each swim to boost up your attributes. You can experiment and combine these colored gems to make a number of special charms like the Yellow Charm, which automatically adds three bonus boosties to your boost bar, or the Blue Charm, which tacks on an extra 75m to your overall distance. Personally, I would highly recommend combining two ninja gems to make the rare and elusive Black Charm, if you really want to get Hard to please Harwood’s evil mustache spinning in surprise!
But despite the wavering longevity of Fish Out of Water, the cutesy fish-hopper is still a very welcomed addition to Halbrick’s impressive roster of casual arcade games, and I can see Olympus the goldfish and all the rest of his fishy friends making a real splash on the App Store for some time to come. Just don’t try and skip a fish across the water in real life!