Fish Friends is an attractive but bland entry (so far) in the “aquarium sim” genre.
From Happy Aquarium to FishVille, aquarium sims are hot right now in social gaming. Fish Friends is Playdom’s entry into this crowded genre, but it may be too little and too late. Even though Fish Friends is already at over 1 million MAU, it’s hard to imagine large numbers of players passing up other aquarium sims to play it. Fish Friends offers pleasing visuals, but its gameplay is simply too insubstantial as of this writing.
The basic rhythm of Fish Friends’s gameplay will be quite familiar to anyone who’s played an aquarium sim before. You start with a barebones tank that features only a few default decorations. You’re given your first fish. Your goal is to fill up the happiness meter that hovers over the upper-left corner of the screen by keeping your fish fed, amused, and kept in a clean tank. You can help generate food for your fish by harvesting plants from the tank. As you level up, you can unlock more brightly-colored, smartly animated fish to buy.
Money is where Fish Friends begins to feel a little weird. Currency in this game is pebbles, which you earn in a variety of ways. You can harvest plants, gather pearls that form in your tank, and get bonuses from simple stuff like logging in. When you’ve got enough pebbles, you can add more fish to your tank. Fish slowly level up as you take care of them, quality increasing from bronze to platinum. Once a fish is maxed out, it seems the best thing to do is sell it so you can start raising a different, fancier fish. You can also spend pebbles on decorations, bigger tanks, and more plants to harvest.
When you open up the shop to purchase things in Fish Friends, you are always taken first to the Premium tab that displays only fish, plants, and other items that cost real money. This becomes an annoyance as you level up, because you’ll want to buy the new fish and plants you’ve unlocked that retail for mere pebbles. You will always have to click around the shop menu several times to find these items. Leveling up in a social game is supposed to feel rewarding, but in Fish Friends it often feels that the game is hiding rewards from in a bid to get you to spend real money on a virtual clam or seahorse.
Fish Friends is by no means a bad game, but right now it’s too bland to really stand out from the hordes of aquarium sims competing for attention on Facebook. While running your virtual aquarium in a spare tab while you go about your Internet work is relaxing, other parts of the game seem to be pressuring you into buying cash items too obviously. Fish Friends does have potential to grow into an entertaining game, but if so it’ll need to focus on making its gameplay more interesting.