GDC 2013: The developer of ‘Fruit Ninja’ returns to show you how not to fish

Fish Out of Water

Halfbrick Studios has demonstrated a real gift for balancing casual accessibility and hardcore sensibilities. Fish Out of Water, the latest iOS exclusive (for now) from the Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride dev, may lean a bit more toward the former than the latter, but that doesn’t mean you should write it off. It’s definitely unique within the company’s catalog, but not nearly as much as you might think.

The concept is pretty simple: fling a variety of fish out over open water, with the goal of skipping them across the surface as many times as you can while also aiming for the most distance. A  single game consists of three such throws, with players drawing from a pool of unique fish; each can only be used once in a given game, forcing you to choose wisely.

The dolphin-like Finlay, for example, cuts through the surface of the water and leaps back up and out in a sine wave-pattern. Fling him at too steep an arc and he’ll strike the ocean floor, bringing that particular run to a rapid close. Micro, on the other hand, is a large, heavy blue fish with a flat bottom, which allows him to skip along on the surface of the water. Errol bounces on the surface as well, but he stands out because of a spiky, green exterior that cuts past any physical obstacles.

Wind and weather conditions play a big role in Fish Out of Water. A sunny, mostly windless day means undisturbed waters, perfect for skipping flat-bottomed fish along the surface. High winds and rain bring choppier waters, a perfect situation for the surf-cutting Finlay’s abilities. Errol’s spiky exterior comes in handy when the jellyfish swarm appears at sunset. Weather conditions change every hour (real time), so the level and types of goals will continually change.

Fish Out of Water 2

The important thing to keep in mind here is that you can’t actually control the fish directly, beyond the opening fling. There’s a boost meter that you can use to extend your distance; simply press and hold on the screen to activate it when you’ve got some juice in your meter. That’s it though. Fish will travel along to the best of their abilities; once you’ve tossed out three to complete a single game, a group of crabs appears to grade your performance. Anyone that has played Angry Birds, and there are a LOT of you, should at least have a passing familiarity with the mechanics, even though Fish Out of Water  uses them in a completely different way. 

This, of course, feeds into an elaborate leaderboard system that allows players to join and compete in daily challenges that apply to individual clans. Gold, silver, and bronze medals can be won, though there’s nothing other than bragging rights attached to them. For now at least. Halfbrick does have an extensive history when it comes to post-release support.

Separate from the daily challenges are “Goals” which, much like Jetpack‘s missions, ask players to complete a given objective in exchange for a reward. Complete enough of these (and score well enough in the game) and you’ll eventually level up. Rewards come in the form of charms and charm parts. Charms offers single use buffs, such as bonus skips and/or distance for a particular throw. Partial gems can be mashed together to create different effects; a blue charm might gift you with an extra 20 skips on your next throw, but combining a red and a blue creates a purple charm that boosts both distance and skips.

There’s a decent amount of depth in Fish Out of Water‘s relatively simple idea. It might not appeal to every core gamer out there, but there’s enough here to hook (no pun intended) those who are open to relatively simple play with some beefy progression behind it. Halfbrick hopes to release the game soon, with a target price of $0.99.