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SummaryWhere is the Fishdom we have known and loved?
The Good"Fishdom: Depths of Time" could actually be called "Fishdom 4" because it's clearly the latest part of the basic series. It's closest to "Fishdom 3": the same graphical style, the same gameplay mechanic with no level score, a simplified system of cups for well-developed aquariums and experience points. Making this comparison is also useful insofar that it allows noticing a few improvements. In "Fishdom 3" the system of experience points wasn't fully developed yet. Experience points were only given for purchases, their results such as winning a cup, and for feeding fish and cleaning tanks. Achievements weren't integrated with gameplay - they were just an extra feature, just for satisfaction. Achievements are a popular idea in games since the advent of platforms such as Steam, but not always are they really integrated with the rest of the game and in "Fishdom 3" they weren't. In "Depths of Time" the abovementioned lacks were corrected. Now also each completed level gives not only virtual money, but also some experience points, both money and points are also given for each achievement... Since most achievements are won in match-3 gameplay, not in aquarium area, an icon indicating a new achievement appears and the player can pick up prize for this achievement.
Unfortunately, the amount of points received is quite small and, as before, the game progresses very slowly after the first few experience levels...
Some new features have been introduced (I will elaborate more on the unfortunate changes to the bonus system in "The Bad"). For example the game includes new impediments: old tires (they can be "recycled" by making a match next to them, but unlike boxes and frozen pieces, can be directly swapped with other tiles), time bombs (they need to be defused by matching them with pieces of the same color) and oil. The oil will spread unless a match is made next to it and, if there is an oil barrel on the level, it can't be completely removed, the player just has to complete a level while also taking care to keep the oil in check.
As before, the game also offers an easier "Relaxed gameplay" mode in which the timer and also the two most difficult impediments: oil and time bombs can be switched off. There even seems to be a "consolation prize": when playing without a timer, you don't get a time bonus, but the level bonus is slightly higher.
While I generally liked the graphical style of "Fishdom 2" and the spin-off titles "Seasons Under the Sea" / "Holiday Edition" and "H2O" best, I greatly appreciate the graphics. As in "Fishdom 3", decorations have the advantage over previous releases that they can be resized and put in almost all parts of the screen. The games I liked best in terms of graphics were beautiful, but had the disadvantage that the appearance of the background was fully predetermined and no decorations could be put there. Now there is much more place for decorations and so they aren't as crowded as, for example, in the most extreme example - the holiday game(s). Plus another thing I like very much: the price of background enhancements doesn't seem to increase. While each new tank and background is progressively more expensive, the enhancements - additional parts of the background which make the aquarium look more interesting and not as empty - seem to cost more or less the same (approximately 150-500 coins each) for each consecutive background. In "Fishdom 3" their prices also used to increase.
The music is nice and optimistic, though not very interesting. But I must admit there is one thing I greatly miss: one melody from the online version of "Fishdom 2". Not repeated anywhere - not even in the same game's full version! Compared to that one, the others sound dull.
As in the previous game, fish are more individualized. They have names, they have a bit of a personality and they make funny comments with some new lines. It's often worth reading what they say to each other - for example I liked how one fish explained to another what is photosynthesis and that because of it I don't need to feed the plants...
The BadThe changes made in "Fishdom 3" were quite substantial - introduction of experience levels, elimination of "Fish" and "Comfort" points (cups awarded for the "Beauty" aspect only). Now quite drastic new changes have been introduced which cover the match-3 gameplay itself.
Match-3 is, in itself, a popular genre of puzzle games, but there are different types of such games. The two most common seem to be one type in which the player needs to color or decolorize tiles (like in all previous "Fishdom" games apart from the spin off "H2O", which was not a match-3 game at all, but a hidden object game) and another in which the goal is to make some items drop to the bottom of the playing field. It seems the designers wanted to make the game more varied and so, for the first time, match-3 mechanics other than "clear the golden tiles" were introduced. In some levels all fields are already clear and the goal is to make diamonds drop to the bottom and in some the bottom of the field is stuck with earth tiles and the player needs to "dig" by making matches next to these tiles and to uncover buried gold or gems (this was already introduced in "Fishdom 3", but always only as an extra addition to the familiar gameplay type). Later in the game, the most insidious gameplay kind appears: clearing a given number of tiles in a color (which is simple by itself) and using a given number of bonuses of a certain kind. Especially bonus combos can be really hard to create and align. And what is worst, these really hard levels give very little reward - only the time and/or level bonus. There are also some levels quite far in the game which only have a few golden/silver/locked tiles in tight spots - so the reward for such a level is also small... I feel like it's just unfair to the player, it artificially extends the game at a moment where much virtual money is already needed...
The worst thing is that the bonus system has also undergone drastic changes. The four types of explosives, which have been with us since the first game, are now gone. Instead there is a whole new system of bonuses. As before, lightning is the most powerful one because it clears all pieces of a given color. Now it is gained in a different way: by making a straight-line match of 5 pieces. A match of 4 pieces (no bonus in the previous games) yields a line bonus which clears all pieces in a row or column. An L-shaped match of 5 pieces (note that opportunities for making this kind of match are generally more common than opportunities for a straight-line one) means a bomb bonus. Unfortunately, it is usually quite useless - just slightly stronger than the Firecracker in the previous games (like the Firecracker, it has a radius of just one field, but including the corners - so, together, 9 fields are covered, not just 5)... However, all the powerful explosives from the previous games seem to be completely gone and without them, the game becomes much harder. And something I liked about "Fishdom 3" was that at some point - even quite early - the difficulty levelled off. The same level designs were repeated periodically and so the difficulty didn't simply increase, it was just about playing more and more levels. Now it's so hard that it stops being fun.
The bonuses are now much harder to actually use (which is not necessarily such a bad thing, but since I'm describing them now, let's conclude the topic). In the previous game explosives could be used anywhere on the screen - they could be clicked or swapped with any other free tile. Now not anymore - except the lightning bonus, all others are bonuses, but they are also colored tiles which work just like ordinary ones. Which means that to actually set off a line or bomb bonus, you have to line it up with at least two other tiles of the same color.
On the other hand - feel free to combine bonuses. It's difficult to align them in the right way (they have to be next to each other so that you can zap one bonus with the other), but it's of course possible. A lightning + lightning or lightning + line combo can quickly clear much of the screen.
And, in a way, the fun fell victim to complication. Tiles are quite large in this game - something not bad by itself; in some of the earlier games, especially in "Fishdom 1", they were sometimes so small that not just once have I clicked the wrong tile just because my hand quivered. But in this case they seem made so big simply to make the whole field look larger. These boards are mostly small in terms of number of tiles, very often they have tight spots just to make the game harder. Yet in earlier games they managed to create some tight spots while keeping the whole field bigger and more fun to solve.
The amount of virtual money won through playing levels increases very slowly. At game level 95 and experience level 20, the amount has just started to regularly exceed 1000. And some decorations are very expensive, prices of new tanks seem to increase even sharper than in "Fishdom 3", so progress becomes very slow. On the other hand, even though the amount of experience points won through different actions is now smaller, at least the number of points required to reach a new level increases much less sharply.
As I already wrote in my comments to screenshots from the "Holiday Edition" game, I don't particularly like anthropomorphic and zoomorphic decorations. I prefer my fish and other water animals to be the only undoubted living creatures in my tanks, so I also prefer just plants and objects as decorations. And this game again has lots of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic decorations, particularly the "Medieval Europe" tank - hardly any other decorations there... And I know what annoys me even more about them: the tank no longer looks very much underwater. Really, when seeing some screenshots, and particularly from that tank, I get the impression that I see some flying fish, floating among people... And more generally mistakes of this kind are common for less-than-realistic, more childish games which take place underwater: we are a terrestrial species and so game developers, being just normal humans, find it hard to imagine what could underwater life look like if it had a highly developed civilisation like we do. Usually they repeat lots of solutions from our world without thinking that they would not necessarily function in underwater environments - a good example are fences and gates (a mistake I pointed out in case of the Freddi Fish educational adventure games), which would be simply ineffective underwater (could not keep anybody out because creatures could just swim over them) and, if anything, could only work as a decoration.