The Japanese have a word for "bad" video games: Kusoge. It is used to describe titles which, despite the best intentions of their creators, fall desperately short in terms of quality and contain many moments of (perhaps unintentional) humour and mirth. Ace Of Seafood most certainly feels like Kusoge; clearly produced on a small budget, it is littered with moments of downright hilarity which, you often assume, aren't always done for laughs – there are some amazing examples of 'Engrish' to be found here. However, it's not a total write-off, as is evidenced by the fact that Ace Of Seafood has attracted a cult following since its launch on Steam and PlayStation 4 last year.
The plot – for what it's worth – places you in the role of a sea creature in a world where humankind ceases to exist. The denizens of the ocean fight for supremacy by controlling the multitude of reefs which cover the seabed. From this thin premise, Ace of Seafood's gameplay hook emerges; while it looks like a simple 3D arcade shooter, the objective is to take over as many reefs as possible while collecting resources and harvesting DNA so you can breed other sea creatures and add them to your army.
You're not alone in Ace Of Seafood; you're surrounded by a team of up to five other creatures which act semi-independently. You can instruct them to assume a certain formation or protect you from incoming attacks; when you fire, they add their firepower to yours. As you might imagine, not all creatures in the ocean are equal – a shrimp is weaker than a shark, and is therefore given a higher 'points' score – so it's not possible to have a team made up of six super-strong units. You have to balance your squadron accordingly, mixing up stronger units with weaker ones (which cost less points) to ensure you have the right balance of firepower and speed.
Each sea creature has a series of shot types available to them, including lasers, homing shots and powerful broadsides – some even have the ability to create decoys of themselves or (in the case of crustaceans) regenerate lost limbs. Matching up your attacks and tactics to certain enemies is vital for success; creatures with protective shells can repel your lasers, for example, so you need to get in close and use melee attacks to flip them over and expose their weak underbellies. You might assume that this lends Ace Of Seafood a layer of incredible tactical depth but more often than not, the battles are too intense to reasonably manage, and a more sensible tactic is to issue orders to your team and hang back. As soon as the creature you control dies, you're sent back to the nearest reef and must regroup, so keeping yourself safe is of paramount importance.
Chances are you'll hit a brick wall the first few times you play Ace Of Seafood, as it's easy to approach enemies that are too strong for you to tackle (hilariously, one of the more deadly adversaries you'll face is a fleet of operational battleships stalking the surface, despite the lack of any humans to crew them) so some grinding is required to ensure steady progress. Every piece of DNA you acquire adds another potential ally to your team – or a creature to control yourself – and resources can be used to power-up your existing units or create new ones. Food is another resource which has to be managed, making the game more of a thoughtful experience than you might imagine. The temptation to strike out in all directions and grab as many reefs as possible is ever-present, but mindless expansion usually results in embarrassing defeat. In that regard, there's a lot of gameplay present here, and if you like the idea of slowly but surely expanding and improving your team, you'll have fun.
Sadly, the amount of fun in question is sure to be tempered by issues with Ace Of Seafood's mechanics and presentation. While the controls are functional enough and make good use of Switch's inputs, combat feels clunky and imprecise, and movement is hindered by the fact that your creature often gets stuck in scenery; to make matters worse, rotating the camera results it in clipping through solid objects, obscuring your view of the action. Another big issue is that the menus and UI are designed in such a way that you often feel like it's a matter of trial and error when it comes to selection the right choice – the painful use of English doesn't help, either. Some of the hints and descriptions make little sense, and the tutorial mission is littered with quizzical statements and suggestions.
Visually, Ace Of Seafood isn't exactly an attractive game. Sure, there's something bewitching about a screen packed with fish blasting one another with frickin' lasers, but the actual 3D models are painfully basic and the environments looks like they've been ripped straight out of a Wii game. Despite the primitive nature of the graphics there are moments of awe to be had; exploring the deeper trenches of the seabed can become a strangely atmospheric experience. The music is unfortunately terrible; the same repetitive techno tune plays over and over, and soon outstays its welcome, while the sound effects are functional rather than impressive.
Outside of the single-player experience there's also an online mode which enables you to create (or join) rooms and battle against other players. It sounds like a tantalising prospect – who doesn't want to prove they have the most powerful mackerel in the seven seas? – but the issues which impact the solo side of the game are naturally present here. Online is good for a few matches but won't secure your attention for long.
Ace Of Seafood is proof that even bad games can offer some entertainment value, and if you don't find the idea of massive, laser-shooting fish battling ghost battleships amusing, then you probably need to check your pulse. Beyond its utterly bonkers premise, it offers some surprisingly deep gameplay, with every battle presenting a different challenge and the need to constantly manage your resources adding a neat wrinkle to the arcade action. This fine balance between all-out blasting and tactical play makes this fishy game an intriguing prospect, but its myriad problems – which include poor production values, terrible interface design and awful music – suck some of the fun away. While we can't possibly recommend Ace of Seafood wholeheartedly, we also can't state categorically that you should avoid it; despite our frustrations we still had a surprisingly good time trying to rule its post-apocalyptic waters, and chances are you will, too.