‘Pozor!’ the sharklike fish tries to warn me. But it’s already too late, the skull crashes on his goldfish friend and kills her. Time to restart the level and plan my steps more carefully. But before that I will take a break and tell you about this very unique puzzle game I am playing right now. Basically it’s an intriguing cross between Tetris, Soko-Ban and Boulder Dash. Oh and if you couldn’t already tell by the opening quote: It’s also from a smaller Czech indie developer. Therefore the fish only speak in Czech… fortunately with multilingual subtitles. Well, this does have a certain charm, doesn’t it?
So what’s the game about? Your main goal is to guide the two fish through several dozens of maze like levels. The actual challenge consists of objects (roughly shaped like Tetris blocks), which are littered in fixed passageways, and which the two of them will have to move out of their way, before they can move on. While they can lift them, push them around, drop them on a ledge, stack them on their back, they will get killed by falling blocks or might get stuck if an object ends up in the wrong place. It’s kind of hard to explain, but if you take a look at the screenshots, it will become much clearer. There is a whole set of rules (thoroughly explained in an excellent tutorial level) to those movements, which make for some deviously cunning puzzles.
Speaking of cunning: If the game has one main flaw, than it has to be it’s difficulty. In the beginning everything looks nice and easy. Just move a couple of blocks out of the way, drop them into the next gap and of you go. But things get hard really fast, and almost impossible in the final levels.
One of the main reasons is the absurd and somewhat counterintuitive logic of which moves will kill you, and which won’t. For example: Normally you can’t move blocks stacked on a fish without killing it, but there are some parts (namely angled ones) which can be moved this way under certain circumstances, plus the fish itself can move freely under the tiles. Also the smaller fish can’t carry or move steel parts, yet she can push parts on which those unmovable objects rest on. There is undeniably a logic to it (just not a very rational one), and the game never breaks its own rules. But for the most part the game’s puzzles rely on finding ways to exploit this somewhat abstract ‘physics’.
On top of that a good portion of the levels is incredibly crowded with stuff, which means it’s far too easy to lose track of where to go and what to do. It’s annoying how often you miss some important detail at the beginning, which you won’t notice until the very end, when one tiny object blocks your way. That one small glass eye you inadvertently dropped to the floor at the beginning of the level? Well you can be sure, that after carefully plotting your way through a maze filled with dozens of tiles, pushing some of them step by step through narrow areas, you will end up in a situation where it either innocently cuts of your escape route or were you would have needed it to drop something on top of it. With only one save game per level, this means you will have to do the whole level all over again, which wouldn’t be so bad if the levels were a bit shorter. You really have to plan your path very carefully… or be ready to do a lot of reruns.
And as if things weren’t already hard enough, the controls are a bit unresponsive too. Mostly that’s because the characters move very slowly, so your commands are a bit delayed. Plus if they move over longer distances, they start to accelerate, most often at the worst time possible (i.e. when they are about to hit something). So you have to watch every little step you take and stay focused, which can be really hard if you have to retry the level over and over again and are about to lose patience.
So far this might sound a bit punishing, but while it does get tedious at times, finishing a level feels like a real accomplishment. Yes, some of the puzzles do take their time (maybe days or even a week), but once you get the couple off screen, hear them exult a ‘Dobry!’, it really feels like all of your troubles were worth it. Maybe it’s because with all the game’s faults the difficulty almost never gets unfair, rather really challenging. Maybe it’s the interesting level design. Or maybe the very unusual style with its rather unique atmosphere.
There are lots of smaller touches and nice bonuses, which make for an all out more rounded game. Some of the blocks you have to move around are animated, like crabs waving their claws and rolling their eyes. And some others even start to talk and sing. Especially one scene comes to my mind, where the background music suddenly stops and a couple of vikings start to complain about it. Soon they are singing and whistling the tune themselves instead. Somehow these details manage to keep the game fresh, because in almost every level there is something new to discover. And those of them that do look like they were recycled, always contain an interesting twist to the setup, which makes for a whole new solution, and therefore a whole new experience.
Also considering it’s a puzzle game, it has a surprisingly entertaining plot. It’s about the two fish being some kind of agents, who single-handedly try to solve a couple of mankind’s most famous mysteries, ranging from Atlantis, to Long John Silver’s treasure to UFOs (you can clearly tell, that the X-Files were very popular at the time this game was originally published). Oh, and the proprietor of one very rundown nuclear power plant (let’s call him Mister B.) tries to get rid of his waste by dumping it into the ocean. While the general story arc isn’t overly complex but rather very cliched, it’s still nice to listen to the two fish babbling about some hints at said storyline placed in the levels. Many of them are very humorous (especially since they are in Czech ), yet sometimes it does get a bit tired, after listening to them over and over again.
Apropos, I think it’s time to finally retry that level. If you should be interested in puzzle games or if you are a collector of rather unique games, you should join me and take up this true challenge. Deep down it’s an excellent game marred by some stupid mistakes, therefor you should try and see how much fun it can be to keep those two sea creatures from becoming fillets, even if only for the first few easier levels.
PS: In particular I would advise you to give the almost identical, yet more adaptable, remake/port Fish Fillets - Next Generation a try.