Ahh, the joys of tycooning. From business empires beginning with the lowly lemonade stand to the otherworldly - even imaginary - heights of the lunar colony and shilling potions. What do we find at this tycoon stop? Fish! Not deep-sea trophy fishing, or anything like that ... but rather the brightly colored little darters that fill our hearts with joy and our fish tanks with, well, fish.
That's right, in Fish Tycoon you get to start a fish farm/pet store that caters to lovers of aquatic companions. Begin with a simple set of starter equipment and a meager fistful of cash to raise a first generation of fishies that will begin your empire. Cross-breed some of the fish and sell off others with an eye towards supplementing your cash supply. Spend cash on equipment upgrades, consumables, and decorations so your fish thrive and your customers are impressed - and suddenly you're several generations in, rolling in cash, and tinkering with breed mixes while searching for the seven magic fish.
No, really - magic fish! There are seven breeds that have a magical aura about them, which help the other fish thrive as well as being great sellers.
You'll begin with the potential for two work tanks and one sale tank (this is where you keep fish for customers to buy). Each of these screens looks just like an aquarium, and each tank has its own feel. This screen also lets you snag fish with the stylus and drag them into an "isolation" tank for breeding. When you do this with a pair of fish there's a kissy noise and then the fish are released back into their tank with a pregnant fish now expecting babies! The "grab and drag" function also applies to fish that are deceased. You need to keep an eye out for this and keep your tank clear.
Inventory is also on your tank screen, so you can do things like administer vitamins or growth hormones, and food is an ever-present option on your inventory. The menu gives a few other options, which include "supplies," "species," and "sell fish" options. Supplies is where you get your list of tank improvements, research upgrades, you know ... "stuff." Species is essentially your screen to examine the parentage of fish and to the set prices at which you sell various breeds. Sell fish is where you can see your store-front and watch as customers wander in and look at your fish. Thought bubbles tell you what they like and don't like, and what they think of your pricing schemes.
Now for a big secret: I've never actually played Fish Tycoon. That is, I've never held the DS in my hands and driven the bus, so to speak. I was relegated to "watch over the shoulder" status, "go find stuff on the web when we're confused" duty, and "ask pointed questions that suggest new strategies" consultant - as the game was claimed by our resident PhD in developmental biology and genetics ... Dr. Mrs. Oz. Here, with me, to complete our review, is said doctor!
On to a short series of questions to get to the real meat of the game:
Oz: OK, let's think back to the FIRST stuff we tried. We have no clue, we have $350 of starter cash in hand, and we're ready to rule the aquatic world. What did we try out, and why? How did we attack the game?
Dr. Oz: Well, the tutorial showed you how to buy a shell for your tank, and made claims that this was a good thing. So, that was the first move. After that, we bought vitamins because the tutorial claimed that the temporary life boost would help our babies live. It's important to note that the first game was on normal - and that makes a big difference, normal is hard - but all subsequent experience indicates that these moves were not good. You don't have much money when you start out, so the first purchases are really important. Shell and vitamins ... not so good, so don't trust the tutorial. EVENTUALLY we found that a good way to attack a "fresh tank" was buying upgraded food, and then some doses of medicine to help your new babies fight off disease. (Oz: A little online research indicates that this, indeed, is a decent way to go.)
Oz: So it was pretty grim going there for a while, wasn't it? Lots of dead baby fish, not much in the way of profit, and some frustration. Now, we have thriving tanks and strong sales! What are the high and low points of each segment? Often, tycoon-style games are really good in the mid-game, but getting started can be hard and the end-game can be unclear ... talk a little about each section.
Dr. Oz: The thing that helps the early game the most is being able to identify "stillborn" fish. They're alive, but they're totally not going to make it. If you spend money and use vitamins, growth hormones, and medicines ... they STILL die. This means you have dead fish AND no money. It's a huge deal to know who's beyond hope, and it's kind of a lousy thing to have to do, but it's really needed. So the early game is all about knowing who you CAN save and who it's WORTH saving.
The end-game is mostly about managing tank space. Each tank has 20 spaces, so you can only have 60 fish at a time. Seeing new fish is cool, but you can't keep them all in your tank, so you have to let some go by the wayside - even if you like them - because you just don't have any room. Also, some crosses are kind of random in terms of result - so you can't even "plot" your space; there's going to be some trial and error. While that's exciting, you don't want to feel like you've LOST work as represented by "retired" species.
Oz: What's the most amusing biological quirk in this game?
Dr. Oz: Undoubtedly the lack of gender. You can take a fish, and drag it into the isolation tank. Then you drag a pregnant fish in with it. *BANG* both fish are now pregnant. Ha! Actually, though, this is sort of helpful. With the limited tank-space in the end game, it would really suck to have to worry about keeping males and females of the breeds you want to preserve. This way you just have to make sure you keep one around. It's also wacky that some species traits may or may not pass on. A spined species A + a spined species B may result in a bulbous species C! Often, either trait or species is preserved, but not always.
Oz: What was something you really liked about interfacing with the game?
Dr. Oz: Required inventory is fairly limited. This means that your stuff is always readily at hand, and you don't have to menu surf to do things. Most things can be reached or accomplished with just a few button presses or stylus twitches. The biggest pain is "fish scrolling" where you change focus, sequentially, to each fish in your tank. This means that in a full tank, you could be 10 clicks away from focusing on a certain fish - but that rarely happens, and if you can SEE the fish you want you can just nab him with the stylus!
Oz: OK, the flip side. What wasn't so great about the interface / what would you have liked to see?
Dr. Oz: The single biggest thing to improve the game would be a "roster" screen. This would summarize all the fish in your tank for you, including age, health level, and status (Oz: as in, diseased, hungry - etc), and possibly let you jump to a fish by clicking on him in the roster. As it is now, you have to scroll through all your fish to see their status, or look at your tank manually and hope you can spot problems.
Some form of "sales" interface would also have been good, to allow you to do mass re-pricing of your fish based on the suggested prices. Doing so now requires going into the species menu - which isn't particularly intuitive.
Oz: Which aspect of the game was the hardest to get a handle on, or the most confusing?
Dr. Oz: That would be the game speed. Finding the sweet spot in time-adjustment is a little tough. You generally want to play at double speed - but STOP TIME when you're not playing. Letting your fish tank go when the DS isn't active (Oz: fish can continue their lives while your DS is powered off, if you want.) is a huge no-no, but playing at normal time speed gets kind of boring. Essentially, a finer scale for time adjustment was needed to populate the valley between "nothing's going on" and "oh heck, all my fish are dead." Sadly, quite a few fish paid for this lesson learned with their lives!
Oz: What are you doing to try and find the 7 magic fish? Is that going well?
Dr. Oz: I'm taking a random approach, mostly based on what's pretty! I DO try to hit as many combinations as possible, but you have to give up some breeds because of lack of space. Mostly, I try to let the mega-cheap fish go when I need space, but you also can't just keep expensive, luxury style fish - because some of your customers don't have a ton of money. So, really, I don't have any method for crossing breeds, crossing traits, or crossing colors ... it's all spur of the moment decision! I have a few of the magic fish, so I suppose it's going well enough.
Oz: What about the financial empire? Is that going well? How rich are we?
Dr. Oz: Money's really just a means to an end for me. I make money because money is useful in keeping all of my pretty fish alive! I normally price at recommended +50%. There's little impetus to change that price point. Selling for less means you just make less money because your fish sell cheaper. Selling for more means you just make less money because less people actually buy your fish. One thing that's cool is that selling a variety is important. Just breeding your most expensive fish will sell well for a little and then NOBODY wants that fish!
Oz: Is the game pretty? What do you like about your aquarium?
Dr. Oz: The bright colors are nice. Fish variety is good. The tanks themselves are full of hiding places, though, so pretty things can get in the way of finding and nabbing your fish. Just hanging out and watching your fish swim around, and watching babies grow in specific, is kind of fun. You can watch the babies evolve into their adult state and see what traits carry through and what has changed from the parents.
Oz: What's your favorite fish?
Dr. Oz: The red one with the big tail! (Oz: Here the DS comes out and powers up for show and tell) The comet something ... or something comet. (Oz: here the DS is up, and the fish turns out to by the small-finned comet.) Big tail, small fins, pretty color!
Oz: OK, the big question! How much more are you going to play the game? How many of the nearly 800 fish breeds do you feel compelled to discover? Would you start a fresh game to do things differently? What about normal mode, would you go back to playing on normal mode and deal with the increased fish death, just to see if you could do it?
Dr. Oz: Yeah, I'd try normal mode again. (Oz: at this point, the music of the game kicks up. I should note that it's fairly fitting. It's not quite "smooth jazz" or "easy listening" ... but it's definitely "store" music. You don't raise fish to ska or 150 BPM techno, apparently. It's well done, and we noted at one point, "Man, that guy is going to town!" when a particularly soulful strain broke into our conversations.)
I don't really know JUST how many breeds I'll want to chase down, but it's certainly a lot more than I have now. I'm certainly still having fun, and despite the somewhat intimidating start with all of its fish-death, I like playing and taking care of my fish. I think that, eventually, choosing which breeds to let die out will become the sticking point, and will probably be what finishes the game off. Finding those last few breeds won't be worth picking fish to let go, and decision-lock will set in. The main issue is the tank space.
Oz: There needs to be a "retirement" tank where breeds you HAD, but no longer have space for, can hang out and swim around?
Dr. Oz: Yes, that would be good!
So, there you have it folks. Fish Tycoon is officially endorsed by 1 out of 1 doctors sampled by GamersInfo.net. Admittedly, this is a fairly big "margin of error" for the poll - but I'm confident that gamers who love this genre of game will find something to enjoy in Fish Tycoon. I've had a good time playing by proxy, and co-strategizing and deciding what fish to cultivate and what to let go has been fun and interesting.