Day 116: FishCraft

Posted: 2011/03/05 in Indie Games

I’m purchasing an Xbox Live Indie Game every day, seeking out the quality titles that got lost in the shuffle and no longer appear in the top 50 downloads. Today is day #116, and today’s game is “FishCraft”.

I know FishCraft is a controversial choice (and doesn’t even fit with my philosophy behind reviewing games not well represented in the top-50 lists but, trust me, there’s a story there, so read on to find out why today’s an exception from the rule). The game is almost never mentioned without a reference to Angry Birds almost being made, the game many say it borrows heavily from. I have never played Angry Birds, making me one of the few gamers on the planet who can probably still say that, and rather than remedying that issue I decided to approach FishCraft from that perspective: is it a good game on its own merits, for someone who knows nothing about Angry Birds? I then played Angry Birds immediately afterward, to see how that would inform my review. I must say, my experience surprised me, and may surprise some of you.

First, from the developer:

“FishCraft is an action packed physics game in which the player helps the fish get revenge against the cats for consuming their friends and family. The cats have constructed mighty fortresses to protect themselves, but the fish pack a heavy arsenal in 63 levels of cat smashing action.”

I intended to play the game today for a few moments. Having never played Angry Birds, nor the game Angry Birds copied (Crush the Castle), I really didn’t know quite what to expect. Next thing I knew those few moments had turned into two hours, and I’d had one heck of a good time. So is FishCraft a fun game taken strictly on its own merits? Absolutely.

The plot’s as throwaway as it gets. Cats have been commiting horrific crimes by eating fish, so the fish are striking back. Many fish will die exacting their vengeance, but they die for the future of all fish so that they may be safe from the cats. The gameplay underneath is very solid, however.

I liked that I could control the angle of inclination of the cannon, and the velocity the fish were shot out at too. This really helped add to the variety of successful approaches to solving each level (direct shots, high arcing shots, etc.). If your fish *just* missed, a slight increase or decrease (depending) to your velocity allowed to tremendously accurate fine tuning of your next shot. With over 60 puzzles, you’ll be at it for quite a while even if you beat every one on the first try (though you almost certainly won’t).

You have the ability to shoot your fish one at a time, or several at once. I sometimes found that a level that I could only beat with a minimum of three fish, when fired one at a time, could sometimes be beat by two if the fish were fired in rapid succession. Each level is graded out of 3 stars, and there were times where I simply could not 3-star a level firing the fish one at a time, but could firing a few in rapid succession as the effect of their combined impact was greater than the sum of their individual parts.

There’s a fair bit of variety in the fish: black puffer fish that explode on command, blue fish that drop bombs, yellow fish that at the press of the “Y” button engage a turbo boost at whatever angle they’re at when you press it, and even a fishbowl that explodes on command releasing three separate fish to provide a scattershot at the cat targets.

There were a few niggles. The odd time a cat seemed to survive a bit more than I would have expected, or took less to kill than I anticipated. I also noted a pretty consistent behaviour where sometimes the structure (or the rubble from a structure) would keep moving for a long time, and the game would shift its focus back to the cannon. Yet if you wait long enough, one or more of the remaining cats might yet die from the dying moments of the chain reactions. That’s all good, IMO (waiting until everything finished moving, when there would likely be no consequence would be like watching paint dry, after all). However, on a few occasions when that chain reaction was started by my last fish, it quickly told me that I had failed the level when the cat(s) did not die due to the initial impact of my last fish, but did die due to a long, slow chain reaction. It was frustrating on these occasions to continue to be told that I had failed the level, when I was looking at a screen with no surviving cats. This was never a problem if I had at least one fish left to fire, as the game would wait until I fire it, giving me all the time in the world to wait out the chain reaction to the end.

Those niggles aside, this is a $1 game (give or take depending on local currency, or 80 Microsoft Points in official parlance) that I played for two solid hours without realising I had invested anywhere near that much time in it. It’s very fun, and the developer is continuing support of it so it may yet improve. Some reviewers, such as Kobun’s (linked at the end of the article) had a worse time with the physics than I did. While not perfect, I found the physics significantly more reliable than he did, and I can’t account for that difference. I would love to hear from Mass Deduction readers on their experiences in this department.

Then my girlfriend handed me her iPhone so that I could try Angry Birds, which she had played but which I had not. The game is undeniably similar, FishCraft wasn’t just inspired by Angry Birds’ gameplay but also copied its menus almost wholesale. That’s unfortunate, FishCraft’s fans would have an easier time defending it if not for that.

As to that gameplay, however, and Angry Birds was a huge disappointment compared to FishCraft. You could only fire one bird at a time, and at times where I knew I had screwed up the shot I found the wait to fire again almost agonising (since I was used to FishCraft’s ability to fire another shot absolutely anytime you want). Worse yet, the touchscreen controls were painfully imprecise compared to FishCraft. Gone was FishCraft’s cannon, replaced with a slingshot. I specifically tried to pull the slingshot less taught to see if I could reduce the velocity the shots had on them, but it seemed to make absolutely no difference: pulling the slingshot a short distance or as far back as you could seemed to have absolutely no effect on the strength of the shot. To say I could aim my shots drastically more accurately on FishCraft is an understatement: the analogue stick is far more precise than the iPhone’s touch controls, and the ability to simultaneously adjust the velocity of each shot with the D-pad easily put FishCraft in a different league.

Another advantage to FishCraft is the cannon defaults to pointing the same direction as the last shot, so you can make fine adjustments certain in the knowledge your starting point was exactly the same as last time, something not possible with the touch controls. Sometimes I found myself wanting to fire another shot in the exact same direction (perhaps firing through a second barrier, the previous shot having shot through only the first one) because the angle of the two shots needed to be the same; with FishCraft you simply hit the “A” button again, with Angry Birds you look at the white dots of the trajectory of the last shot on the screen and hope you get it somewhere close.

Between a more precise input method, the ability to make fine adjustments to velocity, and the fact that each subsequent shot starts lined up with the last one giving you a perfect reference point for modifications, my girlfriend was absolutely blown away (pun intended) as I deftly landed fish exactly where I wanted them (more often than not), with a level of accuracy that could only be dreamed of on the iPhone. And while some of that is inherent in the input method (game controller vs. touch screen), some of that is legitimate smart game design and the developer earns full marks for that.

Back to the issue of FishCraft being an Angry Birds copy. There’s no question IMO that Angry Birds is a huge influence on FishCraft, the menus and the backstory of the two games are so ridiculously similar that it would be one hell of a coincidence otherwise. That being said, they have made a real attempt to add upgrades, most notably the ability to launch rapid-fire shots, which changes the game more than you would think, and the ability to adjust the velocity of the shots, which changes the game about as much as you would expect (which is to say, it changes the game a lot). Having played them both back to back, and in the opposite order to most people, I can confidently say that FishCraft is decidedly the better game on the whole.

Oh, and while we’re talking about who copied whom, Angry Birds was a pretty brazen rip-off itself. Check out this video for the flash game “Crush the Castle”.

Crush the Castle came out nearly a year before Angry Birds was released, and the gameplay of the two are undeniably nearly identical.

Back to FishCraft. Presentation is a personal thing, but I appreciated the presentation of FishCraft over Angry Birds. Did you think the music of the FishCraft trailer at the beginning of the article was dramatic classical music, the kind you might see in a movie of medieval warfare, the kind of music a friend of mine said is “good music to die to”? Well, that’s the type of music you’ll be experiencing through the entire game. It’s hilariously over the top, and I appreciated it. The music in Angry Birds fit the motif better, but the game was the worse for it in my opinion. I also found the pips and squeaks of the birds, which I think were supposed to be cute, quickly grated on me with Angry Birds. I’m sure some people love the presentation in Angry Birds, and that’s fair enough: it’s a very subjective issue. To me, though, everything about the presentation in Angry Birds seemed geared towards casual gamers, whereas a great deal about FishCraft (particularly the hilariously overly-dramatic music, to the drastically improved and much tighter controls) seemed geared towards making the game appeal more to hardcore gamers. That’s not in any way a bad thing, in my opinion.

But why didn’t I wait until it had dropped off of the top 50 lists in the Dashboard before buying it? Well, I will sometimes check a game out with the intention of, if I like it, reviewing it later on. A slip of the thumb and I accidentally bought the game rather than backing out. I figured, what the heck, I’m only human. The vast majority of the 116 games I’ve so far reviewed had no presence in the top 50 lists on the Dashboard when I bought them, so I thought you would all forgive me.

Ultimately, this was 80 Microsoft Points well spent, and I can’t wait for an update/sequel that adds more levels, since I’ve now beaten all of the included ones (though there’s still some replay value to be had as I strive for 3-starring them all).

For a second opinion, check out Kobun’s review of FishCraft.

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  1. I actually just featured this game on my site’s XBLIG Spotlight, and came across your review when @Giftinteractive posted it on their twitter.

    My own dirty little secret, I tried Angry Birds for the first time after playing FishCraft too! And yes, I felt the exact same way about the imprecise nature of the sling shot.

    Quality write up.

  2. Some people have told me that they felt able to adjust velocity on some versions of Angry Birds (the PC version was specifically mentioned). It’s even possible that the iPhone version does have this feature, there seems to be some debate about whether it is or not, but that with the less precise nature of touch screen controls that it wasn’t immediately apparent to me (at least not on the small screen). I also suspect it’s far more precise on a tablet due to the bigger screen, though like not as precise as a game controller. I’m sure Angry Birds on the PC is plenty precise with mouse controls. I only had ready access to it on the iPhone at the time of the review, as mentioned in the article, so based my comments very specifically on that version (which, as the best selling version is the “gold standard” in a sense).

  3. […] review from someone who had never played Angry Birds: This entry was posted in Development. Bookmark the permalink. ← FishCraft – Deep […]

  4. David Loves Sandy says:

    Another game to look at that has some very similar attributes to FishCraft, Angry Birds and even Crush The Castle (love that you introduced me to a game I have never heard of) is Gerbil Physics and Gerbil Physics 2. I too have never played Angry Birds and only played the demo of FishCraft as of now (I’ll be taking a closer look at it now that I read this blog) but have really enjoyed the Gerbil Physics game due to their variety of attacks. As for Crush The Castle where can this game be found?

    Thanks so much for these blogs I have enjoyed them so far (I’m just over half way through reading them all) and will revisit them on a regular basis.

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