Tap Reef offers some of the prettiest fish in the ocean, but too few ways to share them with friends

Taking care of a coral reef is hard work. You have to clean, feed and pet your fish all day. And it has to fit in your pocket, too! Oh wait, sorry. That’s just Tap Reef for the iPhone. It’s a decent simulator, but lacks the depth of most social games to really stand out.

Tap Reef‘s premise is simple; create a habitat for fish to grow and thrive. Through breeding, buying and selling fish, you can gain either sand dollars or pearls (the game’s premium currency) to purchase new backgrounds, items for your reef or special fish like whales. Most activities have decent turnaround time (breeding, for example can happen within a couple of hours), so it definitely allows you to get in and start increasing your school.

Tap Reef

The first thing you’ll notice about Tap Reef is how pretty the environment and the fish are. Each fish is nicely detailed, and looks very lifelike. Thanks to some sharp 3D modeling, the fish don’t have that same flat 2D look that most aquarium games settle for, and it makes Tap Reef a joy to look at. There isn’t much sound to speak of, outside of some music on the main menu screen and the ambient bubbles, which you can change to suit your taste.

Maintaining the reef is as easy as keeping your fish happy and the tank clean. Working hard earns you coral power, your score. The fish have gauges for hunger and happiness levels. Keeping the reef clean makes them happy. Inexplicably, petting them by tapping them makes them happy too. If that sounds odd, so are the noises that accompany it; the fish giggle like little children, which is more than a little creepy.

Tap Reef offers lots of different species of marine life for your reef, from jellyfish to manta rays, and even dolphins! Every animal is, as mentioned, beautifully modeled and vibrant. You can breed fish if you have two of the same species, and either keep the ones you love or sell them to the Tap Reef store.

You’ll be spending a lot of the time navigating the in-game store. Here, you’ll purchase new fish and accessories. If you want any of the game’s best items, you need to use pearls rather than the gold pieces. Though you can purchase pearls using real money, Tap Reef has set up a very large network of affiliates where all you need to do is download and install another app and the pearls will be automatically credited to you. The apps selected aren’t fringe ones either, and it’s likely you’ll have some of them on your iPhone already.

Tap Reef

Unlike the real ocean, however, Tap Reef ends up being a relatively shallow experience for a few reasons. To start, there simply isn’t that much in the store. Tap Reef offered 24 different sea creatures in the store during our testing period, but that included limited time items like a Moby Dick white whale or non-fish like sea turtles. Other than those 24 species of marine life, the few items left were all marked ‘unavailable.” The store seems glitchy, with a manual update you need to remember to do in order to access everything in the game. The first time the update was applied, it took more than five minutes to complete.

Navigating the interface in Tap Reef can be a strain on the eyes. The icons are so tiny it’s almost impossible to see what each button does. The font used is nigh illegible to all but those blessed with perfect vision. And since nothing is labeled, you could end up cleaning your tank when you want to feed your fish.

Outside of feeding, cleaning, breeding, there isn’t much else to do – and the social elements of Tap Reef are limited at best. You can’t trade fish with your friends, clean their tanks, or invite friends to your reef. There’s an option to view a friends reef, but at the moment it’s entirely disabled. In essence, there is simply nothing social about Tap Reef.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. If all you want to do is experience a nice, relaxing underwater simulator, then Tap Reef will be your cup of tea. But if you expect more social play from your virtual aquarium games, you can safely let Tap Reef swim past.