Let's face it; you can't simply release a match-three puzzle game on Nintendo's range of handhelds today and expect to come across as unique. Developers are entering into an eShop saturated by shiny things just waiting to be lined up, so there needs to be some kind of hook to get players interested. Fishdom wears an intriguing aquarium mechanic as a badge of distinction, but is it enough to tread water?
The basic idea is incredibly familiar, and tasks you with matching up a variety of aquatic objects to form lines of three or more. You'll earn points for longer combos, and can use a selection of powerups to help clear grids of the golden objective blocks in order to move on to the next level. A time limit and increasingly complex stage layouts add to the difficulty, but puzzles are generally solved by a combination of luck and perseverance, as mindlessly swiping with no real plan often pays off well enough.
A few match-three gameplay standards are thrown in for good measure as well, such as certain objects being locked into place until you clear a line using them, and explosives cropping up occasionally to help clear some space. From wimpy fireworks to destructive warheads, these start appearing after you've formed a combo of at least five objects. Their area of effect is generally set to a limited radius, but the lightning powerup actually destroys all objects of a certain type on the screen. The ever-pleasing cascade effect is present, as one row drops down to fill another. Nature abhors a vacuum, and apparently so do fish.
So far, so familiar, but the slightly damp ace up Fishdom's sleeve is an interactive aquarium that you can customize by playing through the main game. Upon completion of each level you'll earn cash based on your performance, with longer combos and speedy completion times netting you the most. You'll be spending this hard-earned money on items ranging from decorations and cleaning equipment to a choice of tropical fish, all in the name of making your tank look faaabulous.There's no way to actually decide where these decorations will be placed, however, as the game will set them down itself without even stopping to ask if you like where that giant fan has gone.
The aquarium is displayed on the top screen while you work on puzzles below, but is also available through an "Enjoy Tank" mode, where you can interact with your creation directly. The graphics and fish themselves are certainly colourful, but nowhere near polished or dynamic enough to spend any more than two minutes on before getting bored. You can tap the screen to feed them, or swipe them upwards to literally fling them out of the water like some psycho toddler, but that's about it. There are nine different aquariums in total, with are unlocked as you buy everything available for the previous tank.
Progression is similar in the main game as well, as you go from level to level trying to beat the generous time limit and move on to the next stage layout to see if things get any more interesting. In short; they don't, but if you're truly addicted to match-three games then it's a solid experience with responsive controls. Swiping and tapping works great, though we were reminded about the basics a little too often, with notices popping up on our screen completely at random to make sure we knew how to clear lines for the tenth time. Arrows suggesting possible moves also make things a lot easier, so it's a relaxed challenge to say the least.
A match-three puzzler with a pretty mediocre gimmick, Fishdom just barely manages to stay afloat thanks to some solid core mechanics. It works, but it's very tired indeed, and will only appeal to fans of this specific puzzle genre. Even though Joindots GmbH has opted to release its title as DSiWare, you can also snap up the fishiness on 3DS' eShop as well, and neither the price nor file size will break the tank. There are no multiplayer options, and no easy way to replay older levels while still progressing, so it's more of a puddle than an ocean, but even those can be fun to splash around in on occasion.