Fish Out Of Water (iOS) review

Fish Out Of Water is a new iOS game from Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride developer Halfbrick. It’s available now as a $0.99 download from the App Store, carries additional in-app purchases and is, at the time of writing, the Editor’s Choice game of the week.

Like most of Halfbrick’s other titles, Fish Out Of Water is a very simple game designed to be friendly to quick play sessions, but also not to limit the amount a player can enjoy in one go. The basic mechanics are perhaps the simplest out of all of the developer’s games: players have a selection of fish, and must “skim” them across the water in order to attain the highest possible combination of skips and distance with three throws. Each of the available fish have their own particular abilities — some skip a lot, others bounce high and are easier to make travel further — so it’s important for the player to learn how each fish handles and use them appropriately. Fish may be “boosted” by tapping on the screen while they are airborne, but the amount this can be done is limited by an on-screen meter. The boost meter may be replenished if the fish collects “boosties” — glowing orbs that are scattered randomly at various altitudes along the course. Once three fish have been thrown, a selection of crab judges, each of whom supposedly has their own “personality” and criteria for marking, scores the player’s performance out of ten. After this, the game begins again.

Variation is added on this rather simplistic theme by weather conditions that vary according to the real time. In the upper-right corner of the screen, the player can see the forecast for the in-game weather for the next few hours, so they can plan out their play sessions according to the most advantageous conditions. Each weather condition causes the sea and the fish to handle differently — for example, in stormy weather, the sea is choppy, which often causes skim-heavy fish to slow down more rapidly.

The game features a “mission” system similar to that seen in Jetpack Joyride, though in this case only one mission may be taken on at a time. These missions add some variation to the game’s basic mechanics — sometimes the player must simply achieve a particular number of skips, others they must do more complicated things like keep a fish travelling at a particular speed for a total of 15 seconds, or travel a total of 300m underneath an on-screen line. In most cases, these objectives can be completed in several runs, so even more difficult ones can be achieved with enough persistence. Completing missions allows the player to level up, which rewards them with crystals. These crystals are one of two types — fish head and fish tail — and one of several different colors. Combining the crystals together in various combinations creates charms that provide temporary bonuses to the player’s next run. Impatient players may instead acquire crystals via in-app purchase — the only options are to acquire 50 randomly-selected crystals for $4.99 or 250 for a rather hefty $14.99 price tag.

The game is set up for social play. Game Center is used to track achievements, but either Facebook or Google is used for multiplayer and for players to find friends. Once connected with a social network, players may join a “league” to compare their scores against others. In the upper-left corner of the screen, the player is given constant updates on scores from other players and which league they are from. This is a rather underwhelming implementation of a quasi-multiplayer mechanic, and some App Store reviewers have criticized it for having the potential to turn into a form of free advertising — perhaps a hyperbolic claim, but the fact that it would have been nice to see a more fully-realized multiplayer system certainly stands. Other App Store reviewers have criticized the fact that the game charges players $0.99 just to change the color of your name displayed in the game, which is perhaps a more fair criticism.

Fish Out Of Water carries Halfbrick’s signature audio-visual charm, but as a game it falls rather short. The small variations on the formula provided by the missions don’t hide the fact that all you’re doing is flinging fish into the water over and over again with very little control over what happens after they’re in the air. The weather conditions are a nice touch in theory, but in practice they just make the game frustrating and unpredictable. The social play is underwhelming and underdeveloped, the in-app purchases are far too expensive and the scoring system is far too abstract and unpredictable to make the game any fun. Unfortunately, then, there’s no other real conclusion to be drawn from all this other than that Fish Out Of Water is a rare swing and a miss for the normally-excellent Halfbrick.

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In the sink or swim world of mobile games, Fish Out Of Water is left floundering.