May 27, 2010 by Chad Sapieha
What this sequel lacks in originality it makes up for with artistic verve.
In our constant quest for freshness and originality we are often quick to dismiss games that simply toe the line. But sometimes games that don’t innovate or otherwise alter a proven formula can prove enormously entertaining. Such is the case with Fishdom 2, Playrix’s sequel to its popular aquatic-themed match-three game Fishdom. There is very little about the experience that can properly be labeled new or inventive, and yet its beautiful graphics, relaxing music, and intuitive play mix to create a highly satisfying bit of interactive entertainment.
The beauty of Fishdom 2 is in its beauty. We’ve all seen plenty of tiles in matching games before, but rarely have we seen any with as much personality and charm as these marine-themed squares. Each one has its own little animation; diving helmets open and close, jelly fish contract and push, and shells turn this way and then that. Interesting looking tiles may seem a small thing, but when you realize that you’re spending hours looking at them it’s nice to see that some care has gone into their creation.
The fish tanks we stock and decorate between games are equally appealing. We fill them with dozens of fish modeled after real-world species (we’re even provided a few sentences of trivia for each). We can also add plenty of “beauty” items—plants, statues, buildings, figures, and the like—and several comfort objects, including heaters, filters, and oxygenation devices.
Players can then take pictures of their aquatic habits and send them to friends via email, admire them in screensavers, or set still images as desktop backgrounds. Extras like these only work when a game’s artistic design stands out from the pack, and Fishdom 2’s definitely does, all the way down to its oceanic soundtrack, which is filled with nautical tunes full of bubbling percussion sounds and nautical effects. You can access the songs outside the game as well, should you desire.
As for the game itself, it feels like plenty of other match-three games to come before. However, few such games are so finely tuned.
The object of each level is simply to clear it, thereby earning points that can be applied to purchasing items and fish for your small collection of tanks. In order to clear a level you have to make matches over all of its yellow tiles, turning them blue. Some tiles are stony, meaning you need make a couple of matches to clear them, and some have one or two chains that have to be removed via one or two matches.
As the game progresses, the levels gradually become increasingly difficult, with yellow tiles squirreled away in lone columns and rows that make matches tricky. Luckily, we’ve been provided plenty of power-ups in the form of firecrackers, depth bombs, dynamite charges, and warheads. These power-ups appear if a match of a certain number of like tiles occurs. Clicking on them or swapping them with another tile destroys all tiles around them within a radius of between one and four tiles. A fifth power-up, simply dubbed “lightning,” will appear after you’ve used seven of the explosive power-ups. It eliminate all tiles of a given type—very handy for removing annoying tiles stuck in corners and deep within jutting protrusions from the grid.
You can choose whether you want to work against a clock or just putter along in relaxed mode. Truth be told, though, the timed mode is just as relaxing as relaxed mode. It’s rare that the clock will play a significant factor, at least not until much later in the game.
Again, there’s very little new here, and this lack of innovation may be a sticking point for some players. Plus, aside from the joy of matching tiles, the only reason to continue playing is to unlock a few different tank themes and then populate and decorate them. We eventually earn bronze, silver, and gold cups for completing goals in the areas of beauty, comfort, and fish diversity, and these cups provide a bonus to the number of points we earn each level. Decorating tanks is fun, but it’s not exactly a driving narrative.
That said, the play has been so expertly executed and with such artistic verve that I really doubt many people will begrudge this sequel’s lack of original concepts. If you’re a fan of match-three games, Fishdom 2’s intuitive design, relaxed pace, and visual and auditory stylings are almost certain to appeal.