Inside Pulse 12

Review: Fish Tank (Sony PSP)


Fish Tank
Publisher: iFun4All
Developer: iFun4All
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 08/26/2010

It took me a while, but I’ve finally gotten around to trying out the PSP Minis system. It’s not that I find the idea to be silly or anything. In fact, small sized games for a low price is perfect for someone like me with a small memory stick and an even smaller wallet. It’s just that I have the innate resistance against downloadable titles. In all but a few cases, I won’t touch them. I want a box, darn it!

Anyway, I was totally up for reviewing this game, despite the fact that it was nothing more than an iPhone port. I get all kinds of enjoyment from puzzle games, and such a title would be a welcome addition to my PSP, which usually only has whatever game I’ve got in it and Street Fighter 3: Alpha on it.

So, will this Mini earn a spot on my memory card, or will it end up deleted like so many forgotten demos?

Modes

This is a Mini, so there aren’t a lot of options. You can play through the game on one of a few difficulty settings, or dig into challenge mode.

Challenge mode gives you twenty-four different levels to complete. The goal for each level is to meet the required score either before time runs out or you lose too many lives. Levels mix things up by speeding up the fish, giving you only one life, taking away abilities, etc. As you progress, the game throws more fish at you with more diverse colors at at a faster rate. There is definite progression here.

Challenge mode does have one huge problem though. As you meet certain goals in each challenge, you’re presented with a sea shell of some sort that denotes a bronze, silver, or gold rating. Earning the gold shell unlocks a puzzle piece for that level that reveals a picture when you’ve gotten them all. The problem is that the challenge doesn’t end when you’ve reached the goal. The game keeps on going. Naturally, you keep matching fish because you think there’s something left to do. Then, the score total becomes maxed out (pretty quickly at least) and the challenge is still going on. You check the pause menu, but there’s nothing but the ability to return to the menu and retry. So, you keep going. Eventually, frustration leads you to try returning to the menu. The game informs you that unsaved progress will not carry over, so you play some more. Eventually, you replay the level, thinking you missed something. Finally, you return to the menu, only to find out you’ve gotten the puzzle piece and the next level has been unlocked.

What the heck?

Basically, the game will continue indefinitely unless you return to the menu, despite all common sense that this would be a bad idea. This is a serious oversight on the developer’s part and anyone I’ve talked to/read has complained about this. This problem occurs on every level, and means you have to keep a close eye on things to make sure you’re not playing a stage any longer than you have to.

Were it not for that problem, I could probably let the game pass with just these two modes, especially as it is a Mini. But, for a game with only two options and to have one of those options contain a major flaw that should never have been allowed is too much for me to ignore.

Graphics

This is a puzzle game, so there isn’t much to talk about on the visual side of things.

There is really only one environment in the game, and that is the sea. There are around eight or so different fish, but they have no animations at all. They have one design for when they’re falling and another for when they’re in the puzzle grid. The abilities don’t produce any visual effects. Fish eliminated from a tornado disappear in the same way that fish eaten by a shark do.

The style of the game reminds me of color pencil sketches. It has a look to it that isn’t very clean and kind of feels cheap. Adding goofy faces on the fish doesn’t help much.

Overall, the game is far from impressive on the visual front.

Audio

There isn’t much to talk about here either.

Sound effects include some popping sounds, whooshing water, and the like. They don’t really add anything to the game, but would be noticeable were they absent.

The music in the game consists of a small handful of tracks that loop and get annoying after a while. It isn’t bad really, but the lack of variety means this game is one you can safely play with the sound off.

Puzzle games aren’t about the modes, the graphics, or even the aural experience. They’re about the gameplay and addictiveness. How do those parts of the game fare? Let’s take a look.

Gameplay

I’ve heard more than a few people call this a “match three” game. However, that description isn’t quite on unless it merely refers to a puzzle game where you match groups of like objects and not necessarily that exact number. In fact, your goal is to make groups of four or more.

Fish don’t descend from the top in this game. Rather, to make the game fit on the PSP (And iPhones), they swim horizontally from left to right. On the right side of the field is a grid of bubbles. When a fish swims as far as they can on this grid, it becomes an immovable piece that much be cleared one way or another in order to remove it. If the grid fills up, a new fish will push the whole group over, removing the bottom fish and costing you a life. If you run out of life and/or time, you lose the game.

There are about six or so different color fish, and the level of difficulty denotes how many types you’ll see. You can move the front most fish with the d-pad, and pressing right will cause it to swim all the way to the end instantly. Occasionally, you’ll control a group of two fish, and they can’t be separated, thus forcing you to think strategically. However, multiple fish can come at you at once, each at a different speed. With ten fish vying for positions, it can get pretty hectic.

Once you’ve grouped four fish together, one of the four face buttons will appear over the group. You merely need press the corresponding button to clear them. If you wait, you can get several groups at once and score a combo for a massive points boost. You can’t have more than four groups ready to clear at once, as there are only four face buttons. However, once you’ve cleared one, a fifth group will take over that button.

The final thing to mention is the abilities. There are several abilities that move across the screen. You can activate the closest of them by pressing the left shoulder button. These range from twisters that clear random fish, time extensions, sharks that clear a column of fish and others. The most useful is the hourglass, which slows all of the fish down. On the higher difficulties, this can be a life saver.

Overall, the game is serviceable, though it has nothing on games like Tetris. I think the game would have been better served with one less color fish, but it will present a challenge to those willing to find it.

Replayability

Between the twenty-four challenges and goofing around with the basic game, you’ll find a few hours of playtime before you’ll have to repeat yourself. After that, it all boils down to how much you enjoy the gameplay. If you don’t, the game offers nothing left for you to do. If you do enjoy the game, you’ll eventually get tired of the same couple of challenges over and over again.

What this game needed was a mode where you could preset some options. For instance, perhaps starting off with fish already on the grid would have bumped up the challenge. As it is, the game just doesn’t offer enough even for a Mini.

Balance

The best way to judge the game’s balance is to take a look at the challenges. The lowest challenges are an absolute bore. With only two types of fish, I nearly fell asleep. On the other end of the spectrum, the final two levels are next to impossible with the full complement of fish types compounded with fish that swim at lighting speed and a lack of useful abilities. Heck, the only reason I was able to get to the last level without spending hours on the game was because the game froze and somehow unlocked the level when it unfroze.

There was, I think, one level that offered a sufficient challenge that felt in line with a proper difficulty curve. The fact of the matter is that I was fully engaged in a marathon session of D&D and was still able to play this game without any troubles until the end, which I couldn’t even get a bronze rating on when giving the game my full attention. The game is either too easy or too hard. There’s very little balance.

Originality

With a game like this, there isn’t much to talk about. The game does nothing new in the puzzle arena, but it really wasn’t meant to. For that, I don’t really want to fault the game, as it also doesn’t merely rip off of another game. It is just one of those “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” type of things.

This is nothing more or less than an aquatic themed match puzzle game. Whether that is for ill or not is really in the eye of the beholder.

Addictiveness

Here we get to the crux of the matter. If a puzzle game is not addicting, then it stands no chance in the genre. It will fade to obscurity like so many before it.

Fish Tank, meet obscurity.

Due mostly to the relative ease of the game and the lack of tangible rewards, the game just doesn’t hook you in. Tetris had a gradually increasing difficulty curve and strategic play, Dr. Mario fed you so many viruses that any other doctor would have thrown in the towel, etc. This game tries to follow suit, but it just doesn’t have that “it” factor that makes those games I mentioned stand out.

Most puzzle games have at least some addicting factor that keep you interested in them for a while. For Fish Tank, I can safely say that I won’t be playing it again any time soon unless I get really, really bored.

Appeal Factor

Even for a cheap game off of the PSN, you’d expect more. With so many puzzle games out there representing far more sensible choices, there’s no reason for even a die hard puzzle fan to pick this up.

The one thing this game has going for it is that it is cheap, and that just isn’t enough.

Miscellaneous

It should be noted that at the moment, this game is available only on the European PSN, so if you’re hoping to get in America, you’ll need a European account.

Beyond that, I believe I’ve said all there is to say about this game and I’ll leave the summing up for the SASS section after the score.

The Scores
Modes: Poor
Graphics: Poor
Audio: Mediocre
Gameplay: Decent
Replayabilty: Below Average
Balance: Very Poor
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Very Poor
Miscellaneous: Poor
Final Score: Poor Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Fish Tank is a run of the mill puzzle game with an aquatic theme and a cheap price tag. If that is enough, you might want to check it out. If you like more meat in your puzzle titles, you’ll find that the game is lacking in just about every important way. The challenge mode is flawed, the difficulty curve is like an eighty-five degree angle, and it just doesn’t hook you in. I honestly can’t recommend this game to anyone but the most ardent of puzzle fans, and even then, that’s only if they’ve played Tetris and Bejeweled to death already.

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