Fish have been a staple of games ever since Herman Melville adapted Moby Dick for Babbage's legendary Difference Engine and the posthumous sequel, Moby Dick 2: Queequeg's Revenge, was published for the PDP-11 . Certainly on WiiWare we've seen some real blockbusters centred around our finny cousins, prompting many forumites to declare that merely the presence of fish in a WiiWare title is a recipe for success. DK Games' treatment of the downloadable game from Farbs certainly fills the net for Wii gamers with water on the brain, offering up several play modes for solo or multiplayer enjoyment, all played with a mere press of the button.
Your titular fishie is continually starving thanks to having a "hole in his stomach" (according to the in-game tutorial) and must eat smaller fishies to survive through multiple game modes, including Story, Survival, Skill Run, Capture the Star and Soccer. You may well wonder how you could possibly control an ever-hungry fish with a single button, but the explanation is both simple and elegant. Your fish is constantly swimming in circles: pressing reverses the direction of travel and pressing repeatedly results in a forward swimming action with more rapid presses producing a burst of speed, a la Sega's Ecco the Dolphin. To ensure you get the hang of things you'll have tutorials to walk you through basic moves and supplements which address mechanics specific to the different play modes included.
There are two broad categories: Quick Play and Championship, which have a couple of overlapping play modes, but can be thought of more or less as collections of single player and multiplayer games. Each game mode can be played at Easy, Normal or Hard difficulty, with their own unique stages and different medals to achieve. Outside of Story Mode and Skill Run, all games feature four players, with any player not controlled by a human given life by the CPU.
As single player affairs, Story Mode, Skill Run and Survival are the most successful. In Story Mode players are tasked with completing four sets of five levels in each of the three difficulties. Your score increases as you eat fish without pause; if you go for more than a second or two between bites you'll lose your multiplier and end up with a lower score. You need to complete all five levels in the set to get a score recorded – not an easy task even on Easy difficulty because your fish dies if it goes without eating for too long, and mastering the single-button controls can prove to be a challenge even for experienced gamers. Though there is some frustration to be experienced due to the requirement to eat every fish to finish a level, it's not too bad thanks to the ability to quickly have another go without repeating the levels you've already completed (assuming you don't choose to quit) and you'll find with a bit of practice you'll be eating fish with the best of them. The difficulty ramps up gradually with static fish patterns giving way to fish that swim away from you and finally the introduction of "nasty fish" who hurt you if you touch them and serve as obstacles.
Skill Run is essentially about players mastering the controls with the only competitive aspect being to eat a string 10 fish before time runs out (and before other players in a multiplayer match). Each player has their own target fish with a five second timer on it; if it runs out before you reach it your game is over, but if you manage to eat it in time a new one will spawn elsewhere on the level and the process will start again. There are 2-second boost items which will add to the clock, but otherwise it's all about precision. As you increase in difficulty the target fish will swim away from you and then those nasty fish will show up to get in your way.
Survival is a 4-player game in which the difficulty is married to the score required to win: 5, 10 or 15 levels; with players 2-4 being played by the CPU if you don't have anyone else to play with. You play through a series of levels until only one player remains who gets the point. Levels appear to be a random selection from the Story Mode of play which will sometimes repeat, but competing to get the most fish keeps things fresh. It's fast-paced and works well either alone or with others.
Less successful as single-player games are the Capture the Star (capture the flag, but with a starfish instead of a flag) and Soccer variants, simply because your AI teammate will act without any regard to your actions, making it very difficult to win against the AI team which actually behaves like a team. In these games little fish are present to bump up your health along with bonus items that have gameplay affects like slowing down the action, speeding up your fish or temporarily surrounding your goal with nasty fish. Multiplayer is clearly where these games shine with frantic button-pressing as you jostle with other players to hit a ball through a goal or run a starfish back-and-forth between bases. If you only have one other person to play with you can play a co-op match against the CPU or face-off with AI teammates in tow in either a one-off match or full multi-game tournament. For those with only a couple of Remotes, it's nice to know that other players can use the Nunchuk if necessary, pressing instead of to make their fishies swim.
The graphics are nice and colourful, and there's a large range of arenas on offer with quite a bit of variety in level shape and the presence of obstacles in the form of rocky reefs to swim around and the aforementioned nasty fish that can create quite a challenge. There's also cute little touches like your fish making amusing comments when it dies ("What, I'm dead? Cool!") and entertaining lines of poetry introducing each level in story mode. The peppy music loop and splashy swimming sound effects round things out, with the odd squeaks of little fish when you near them (and crunch when you snack on them) being a particular favourite.
Fishie Fishie isn't the deepest game in the world, but it provides a sizeable diversion with all the play modes on offer. Though its simple controls make it more accessible, it will take a bit of play to master. The "moreish" gameplay will keep you coming back for an extra go, though we think it's more likely to be a hit in households with multiple gamers than amongst the solo gaming crowd.