Review: Fish!

(Very frustrating, very difficult, very confusing. Great fun! Fish! - Details (ifdb.org))

Plastic Castle in my Bowl

Someone over at Magnetic Scrolls must have thought “Hey, if we can get the players on board with the most ridiculous premise right at the start of our new game, we can do pretty much everything we want to them once they’re along for the ride.”

So they did.

It’s only through the mastery of text adventures that Magnetic Scrolls has that this doesn’t dive off the deep end into utter baffling zaniness. Even then, Fish! cuts it really close.

Two things hold it together:

–The skill of balancing puzzles on the brink of logic. Oftentimes, I found myself doing stuff because that’s what you do in an adventure. Only afterwards did the results fall into place and did things make sense. I blamed this on lack of clueing or lazy storytelling at first. I have to admit that at least part of the gaps were caused by my frequent use of the walkthrough. When played on its own terms, Fish! sends you back to your fishbowl upon failure (or just plain kills you later in the game). This means that before you solve a given chapter, you will experience it many times in different sequences.
Even then though, some of the jumps, hoops and timeloops the game expected me to not only find but also exploit in the right order were a bit too much of the try-die-repeat variety. (How on earth one is to know when to go to the disco?)
At its best however, Fish! offers some long-term puzzles where it is a great pleasure to see the vague goal you saw from afar finally come into focus and click.

– The skill of letting the story cover any holes. A mystery story with dimension hopping fish is bound to have lots of loose threads. Those are features, not bugs! Now, I don’t want to accuse Magnetic Scrolls of doing this on purpose… much. Fish! is an immersive action-mystery. The dimensional loops give it a thought-provoking SF feel. The writers throw in their best goofball-comedy talents. It’s really a very entertaining ride.
If a few clues and some plotlines got obfuscated for the sake of fun, oh well…

The PC in Fish! is sent to different areas by means of warps. Each area does not just contain a puzzle, it is a puzzle. You need to find the sequence to get to the proper ending, otherwise you are sent back, killed off, or zombified. Especially after the first three preparatory levels, things get serious. There are explicit and implicit timers (you were told that you have a meeting at ten, but no one said when and why they stopped selling plankton sachets in the restaurant…).

I found this incredibly difficult without the walkthrough, but, as I said, relying on the walkthrough too much will make you miss a lot of the story.

And actually, aside from all the frustration this game will surely cause you, the mystery-goofball-SF story is a big and exciting laugh I wouldn’t want to have missed.

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For those that are interested in more Fish, issue 3 of The Classic Adventurer has an interview with one of the authors Phil South. http://classicadventurer.co.uk/

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Thanks for pointing me to The Classic Adventurer! It seems standards of puzzle difficulty in IF have certainly changed. Phil South casually describes them as “not too complex really”.

I think this has a lot to do with how the way players engage with a piece of IF has changed. Restarting and reloading as an essential part of gameplay is largely something of days past. Fish! requires that you replay parts of the game, sometimes several times.

Oh, definitely. When you were spending £15+ on a game, you expected you’d be still playing it for weeks if not months. It wasn’t unusual for games to be rated badly if they were too easy or too straightforward to solve. (I think, at the time, too easy would be any game a reviewer actually got to the end of!)

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It sounds fishy but;

There are plans to remaster Fish! with some additional artwork this year. Also, Phil South is working on a script for Fish2!

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I’ve been checking the Strand website every few months for this, great to hear!

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