Review: Penguins & Friends - Hey! That's My Fish! (WiiWare)

Cool as ice or a bit fishy?

What does a short supply of fish, a continually sinking ice float, and a bunch of greedy penguins have in common? They all star in the board game 'Hey! That's My Fish!' which was originally brought to the gaming scene by Phalanx Games and which is now available for WiiWare under the moniker Penguins & Friends. This abstract strategy title delivered in a deceptively cutesy package may appeal to some.

The order of play couldn't be simpler: use your two to six (a max of four in the original) penguins to collect the most fish on the board, while cutting off the competition in the process. The board consists of a number of fish tiles, bearing a yield from one to three. You may only place your penguins on the one-fish tiles at the start-point. Each turn you may move your penguin as far as you want in any direction from its hexagonal float with the only restriction being that penguins may not pass other penguins or hop over empty spaces. Every time you move you collect the amount of fish on the tile your penguin was on. Once a tile has been collected it effectively sinks, creating an ever-shrinking board. If a penguin cannot move it is eliminated from the game. The game ends when all penguins are out of play.

While the board game lets you build any old shape for the playing field, Penguins & Friends restricts play to fifteen preset shapes, although the placement of fish is always random. Making the best of choke points to block and isolate other players' penguins is the key to winning, which may be easier said than done depending on where the fish concentration on the board is.

As it is a board game, don't even bother picking this up for single-player. It's all about the multi-player. The missions single-player mode features the fifteen boards from easy to hard, although the AI, which isn't the brightest to begin with, doesn't seem to ramp up much in intelligence if at all. The only effect the difficulty levels have is that the size of boards and the number of penguins in play increases. To note, you're bound to be mind-numbingly bored when the AI takes turns on the bigger boards, as it takes it about fifteen to twenty seconds to make a move in the first ten turns or so, which becomes increasingly horrendous as the number of opponents increase. Sure, it's nice to have the option to play by yourself, but single-player is particularly flawed.

In multi-player you're freely able to select any of the available boards and play with AI and/or humans. We'd suggest to only stick to friends and family because this is where the fun lies: bullying and trash-talking is the order of the day. Not being hampered by AI the game is just like the original, and can provide for a reasonably good time. Each player may pick from a selection of distinctively unique penguins, and play is entirely handled by one Wiimote. Just pass it along.

Yet there's a rather glaring omission: you'll never exactly know what your fish tally is until the very end of the game. Why the developer decided against including such a vital feature is anybody's guess. Having to add your score on a piece of paper does seem rather silly. Also, being forced to watch each "paralyzed" penguin individually leaving the board can break the flow of the game, especially when there may be four or five unmovable ones.

As far as presentation goes, it's nothing to write home about. The three different playing environments, which feature day, sunset, and night, are all rather plain, and the penguins surrounding the board might as well be stuffed animals. Not that you're going to see much of either while actually playing the game. The individual and cutesy design of the penguins help to make it look less drab. The audio is of a non-descript garden variety with a set of quite forgettable music tracks; at least each of the penguins feature their own calls.

Conclusion

Yes, one could consider Penguins & Friends a deal when comparing it to the actual board game, of which the deluxe (and now only) version costs over four times as much. Yet, at the same time, the board game has a much better portability factor and allows for more flexibility. Ultimately, Penguins & Friends does provide for fun with friends even with its slight drawbacks, but we can't help but feeling that you may be better served sticking to the table-top version.

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