FishCraft

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.

Developer Frozen North inexplicably invokes Minecraft's name for its Angry Birds clone in FishCraft, a physics game in which players launch fish at cats and other structures. The term "clone" generally gets tossed around to describe a product which draws inspiration from another, but FishCraft truly feels and plays like an Angry Birds clone, only with its birds and pigs replaced by fish and cats. The level structure, menus, graphics and overall presentation are largely the same as it is in Rovio's breakaway cellphone hit. Game developers looking to adapt popular titles with some minor changes are nothing new, and Xbox Indies have a few to call its own already in the likes of Cyber Lander, CheneyStar, and The Legend of the Dragonflame High School to name a few. Some clones go above and beyond the source, striving to provide a better experience as Gravitron360 does, becoming the definitive experience within its genre, while other clones are content to kick back and ride its father's coattails, contributing little beyond being a me too attempt at a cash-in. FishCraft without question follows the latter course, an insincere attempt to latch onto another game's success, but while this may put off some people ethically, there's little denying that FishCraft remains a pretty good experience.

Fans of Angry Birds will notice the similarities right from the start, the fish leaping out from the waters just as the birds fly through the air on the title screen. Move on, and we find that the game retains the same menu design -- the same, exact style -- with the game split into three separate chapters of 21 levels each. Once the game starts, there's little denying the influence with the angry fish matching the abilities of the angry birds to a tee and mostly keeping the same color scheme as well. Players fire any of five different fish from a cannon (the rubberband of Rovio's slingshot likely too time consuming to copy) in an effort to kill all of the cats on a level. FishCraft is a simple artillery game, players adjusting the power and angle of the cannon before launching their fish, occasionally making use of special abilities of the fish after their launch. Players can activate a speed burst for the yellow triangle fish, while the round black fish can explode on demand, demolishing nearby objects and destroying most cats in range. As the game progresses, the cats are sheltered better and more difficult to eliminate both due to improvements in their structures and their stamina. Wood, ice, and stone -- yes, the same materials found in Angry Birds -- each offer progressively better protection, and toppling them within the bird limit typically involves using gravity to its advantage, letting the weight of higher items crush others below.

The problem here is that in any physics-based game, the physics has to be good to facilitate gameplay, and that's where FishCraft fails to deliver. While the birds fire all right -- even though fine tuning the cannon's power with the D-pad and aiming with the analog stick feels more complicated than necessary -- FishCraft runs sluggishly once the birds are launched. Then, when the birds strike the objects, arbitrary chaos ensues, sometimes propelling objects at ludicrous speeds in directions they really just should not be traveling. I've whiffed on blocks and still sent them soaring, and the physics engine takes so long to unwind that it's not unusual to have to wait nearly a minute for the simulation to play out. I've had cats randomly die on me at times, presumably the long delayed result of an earlier shot's odd ripple effect through the level. The tendencies of the three material types is off at times as well, having the wood planks exhibit stone properties on 2-9, my yellow darting fish slamming into a cracked beam with no effect. Finally, for a scoring game, some of the criteria seems strange to me, my playthrough of 2-3 rewarding me with just two of three possible stars despite one shotting the entire level and destroying nearly everything for a 119,000 point score, whereas other levels I've used more birds and scored much less yet achieved the best ranking. FishCraft isn't a particularly challenging game, but those odd moments of judgment and unreliable physics can make it feel more like a guessing game at times than the tight skill shooting challenge it seeks to copy.

Frozen North tries to copy Angry Birds so hard, but it just can't replicate the charm and excellent level design of the source. The developer takes some liberties with the formula, sticking in an enormous cat "boss" which takes multiple strikes to defeat and a giant rotating world which is as aimless and glitchy as can be. The final level looks dinky next to the cellphone game; the dull equivalent of Saddam Hussein's bunker meekly trying to show up Angry Birds' mammoth fort. The levels are mostly playable, but some odd design choices and abandonment of the game's physics engine results in a lackluster experience at times with elements of a stage suspended in air instead of crashing down below, and some obvious hints in the way things should play out not unfolding as the developer surely intended. I also was particularly annoyed when, having played through half the game, found that it did not save my progress and scores, the game requiring players to use the exit option to save but not bothering to inform players to do such.

Aside from having to replay the game FishCraft due to the save "bug," I enjoyed my time with FishCraft. Then again, if the game was truly fun, I wouldn't have minded a second trip through Frozen North's angry fish adventure. With 63 levels and a fair amount of replay value in chasing higher scores, FishCraft remains a mostly solid arcade game even if it never lives up to its source. Passable graphics and music and a proven gameplay formula leaves players with a decent, console alternative to the cellphone hit for those people relying on prepaid burners such as myself. I found the game worth its price in Microsoft points, because even though Gerbil Physics and its sequel come across as better, more complete games, the launching gameplay of Angry Birds just feels more enjoyable and natural, even when burdened by the changes and flaws presented in FishCraft.

★★★★☆
February 23, 2011
February 20, 2011 | 80 points
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