October 13, 2009 by Lisa Haasbroek
The first Fishdom game made a splash with challenging match-3 gameplay and fishtank decorating, while the sequel, Fishdom H2O, switched over to hidden object gameplay. Both games were well-received by players, but match-3 fans will be happy to know that Fishdom: Spooky Splash has gone back to its match-3 roots. Like the first Fishdom, Spooky Splash has you swapping tiles and earning cash to decorate Halloween-themed fish tanks.
You might be wondering what makes this game "spooky." It's certainly not scary, but the backgrounds and decorations include a few obligatory pumpkins and goblins, and some of the tiles are Halloween-themed. The music has a mildly eerie quality, but you could easily overlook it if you weren't told. On the whole, the atmosphere remains light, so it's still a family suitable game.
To play, simply swap adjacent tiles to make matches of three or more of a kind. Making large combos earns you more cash, plus extra power-up tiles. Your goal is to make matches over all of the gold tiles in the playing field before the timer runs out. The faster you match, the better your score, and the more cash you can earn. You can pause and enjoy the fishy backgrounds at any time by clicking the eye button in the left-hand corner.
As for those power ups, you get plenty of explosives. Matching five tiles at a time can earn you a firecracker tile, which blows up everything in a one-tile radius when swapped or double clicked, or a depth-bomb tile that destroys everything in a two-tile radius. Dynamite is unleashed when you match six tiles, but the best is the lightening bonus, which zaps all instances of the tile type it is swapped with.
To make the game more challenging, the match-3 playing field is large, and the boards are unusually shaped. Often, there's a bottleneck effect which makes some areas difficult to reach, so you need to form a strategy to reach certain spots. There are also special obstacles, like chained tiles which don't budge until matched, and double chained tiles which must be matched twice. Occasionally, you must make matches over one space multiple times to reach the gold tile. Sometimes a whole section of the playing field is blocked by chains, which must be cleared to allow tiles to flow through. The levels become more and more difficult as you play, but you also earn more cash for completing them.
Just like in earlier Fishdom games, you can use the cash you earn to design and upgrade different fish tanks. Unlike in past games, you can buy an unlimited number of new tanks, although these only differ based on how you decorate them. For each tank, there are three gauges to fill: fish, beauty, and comfort. Buying new fish fills the fish gauge, while buying tank decorations fills the beauty gauge. The comfort gauge is filled by buying functional items like filters and lights. Once you've filled up all three gauges, you receive a shiny new trophy. For each tank, there are three trophies to win. The game play itself is unstructured, so you can work on any tank, and upgrade any gauge whenever you wish. In fact, you can keep playing the game indefinitely, since there is no official end to the game.
The fish tank items include a bunch of new additions like pineapple coral and fish bone ferns, along with many Halloween-themed items like a plastic skull, assorted jack-o-lanterns, and a bat sculpture. There are 100 unique items in total, and you can place most of them anywhere you'd like in your tank. The fish include a few familiar favorites, like the Blowfish and Discus, along with some new ones like the Seadragon and a fictional Spooky Fish. If you like a bit of realism, you'll be pleased to know that most of the fish and plants in the game are actual items you could put in a real fish tank.
The graphics are well done in cartoon style, with plenty of fun animations to watch. Fish swim across the screen, and plants float naturally in the water. As an extra perk, you can enable the screensaver option, which allows you to view any of the in-game fish tanks on your desktop.
If you've already played the first Fishdom, you might not find the new additions enough to justify upgrading to this version. The Halloween theme is fun, and the game play is just as good as the original, but not too much else has changed. You'll find the same familiar game mechanics, the same rules, and even the same power-ups and obstacles.
Despite that, this game is a pleasure to play, and subtly addictive. The new additions are colorful, and there aren't too many games like it. If you want a Halloween game that's not too frightening or dark, but celebrates the fun side of the autumn holiday, then Fishdom: Spooky Splash is a great choice.
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