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Written by Starfox   
Tuesday, 01 May 2007 18:00
Fish Fillets 2 -- Agents Tina Guppy And Max Flounder

Reviewed by: Starfox
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Altar Games
Publisher: IDEA Games
Official Site: http://www.fish-fillets.com
Demo: Available from the official site above (529 Mb). It's in fact the full game and you just have to bought a license code to turn the demo into the full thing.

Funny disclaimer: any vague resemblance of the characters depicted in Fish Fillets 2 with the ones from a well known former Fox TV show is purely... intentional... Where would be the fun otherwise?

Although the developing studio Altar Games is better known for their UFO series of action/strategy games (namely UFO: Aftermath, UFO: Aftershock and the latest UFO: Afterlight) and that IDEA Games is better known for other titles like the FPSs ArmA: Armed Assault and the upcoming in stores (already available online) Alpha Prime (that we hope being able to review soon) they decided to team up to revive the good old trend of straight puzzle games with Fish Fillets 2.

It's not one of our strong habits here at The Foxhole to review pure puzzle games but this time around I decided to give it a shot and let me tell you I don't regret it. Fish Fillets 2 is one of those "low-profile" games you may have never heard of but that is worth of the detour away from your common shooting stuff. Yeah, that's right, in Fish Fillets 2 you won't find any gun (well, just one but not very frightening) you won't have to shoot things but you'll definitely have to use your brain. Furthermore, this game is what I would call a "family" game. No violence, no profanity... just many hours of brain storming that you can even spend with your children (and maybe you could have the surprise to see them solving the puzzles before you -- kids are really that surprising sometimes).

So let me introduce you to Fox Mulder and Dana Scully... Er, no, wrong show here, excuse me... Let's start this again, shall we? So let me introduce you to Max "don't call me Max" Flounder and Tina Guppy two fishes that I bet you'd like to have in you're aquarium just to listen to them discussing endlessly about the validity of extra-terrestrial plots. These two fishes are agents of the F.I.N. which is a secret fish agency -- or fishstitution as developers put it --, so secret that nobody even knows what the hell F.I.N. exactly means. As secret agents they are used to investigate a lot of weird stuff like why seaweed floats or why the ice doesn't fall down... nah, just joking. But it's a good idea to set up the storyline of the game at that point of the review so here's a bit.

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The solution is out there... But where?

So our two friendly fishes Flounder and Guppy are tasked by their anonymous (but weirdly human shaped) boss with the investigation of a case of abductions among the sea community, abductions that are initially believed to be the fault of Jack The Fisher (yeah that's about normal, always point at the guy with the fishing pole when fishes disappear). The last abducted member of the community being Virgil Crab the brother of King Crab, the well known rapper (that is, well known among the fish stardom) and since the guy is a celebrity, the F.I.N. is afraid to not be able to keep the case out of the press much longer so they send Flounder and Guppy to solve the mystery as fast as possible. But soon, our friends find out that Jack The Fisher might not be the real culprit after all when they find both Jack and one of is supposed victims frozen... And as usual I stop there before giving out too much of the story.

A really simple gameplay... You bet!

The basics behind the gameplay in Fish Fillets 2 are plain and simple: lift and push... or push and lift... Or anything in between which may not sounds much but don't be fouled by the appearances. In each level of the game, you're presented with a room, several objects that you can move around and an objective which is generally to get out of the room (more rarely another special objective like reaching another character). To get out of the room involves pushing and lifting objects to free the way out. Presented that way, it seems pretty simple, huh? Quite not in fact. Because there is only one way to move the objects so you can get out of the room and this way is far to be obvious in most cases (well the very first tutorial levels aside). Although the first set of levels are fairly easy (basically the levels you can play in the demo), the difficulty is increasing rapidly afterward and soon you find yourself with melting brain cells just trying to figure out how you can use your environment the right way. The difficulty is increased with the fact that each character in the game has its own abilities regarding how it can use objects. For example, Flounder can lift and push steel pipes while Guppy can go in narrow passages forbidden to Flounder and his big... Oh wait, he hates it when people talk about his weight. Further in the game, you'll have to deal with other characters and their own different abilities as well.

So getting out of a room generally involves a lot of teamwork (teamwork that increases and/or change in nature each time you unlock a new creature with its own abilities that will accompany Flounder and Guppy in their adventures) and you have to think ahead if you don't want to find yourself stuck. And because you will get stuck many times no matter what, Fish Fillets 2 comes with some features that allow you to try out different things without having to restart the whole level. For example you can go back a few moves if you just did something wrong (in fact you can even go back step by step up to the beginning of the level thanks to the game that keep track of each of your moves) or you can save your position at some point (if you're sure that up to this point you did everything right) so you can even leave the game and when you load it up later, instead of starting from the beginning in the room you were in you just have to load up your last save point. A useful feature considering that some of the levels may take hours to figure out.

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Probably because developers understand that not being able to solve a puzzle can be quite unnerving after a while, they made the game with several parallel chapters so you always have at least 2 or 3 rooms available to work on at any time (as shown in the game map above -- first pic from the right -- the pearls representing the rooms, the top most ones being the ones still to be solved) and if you're stuck in one you can always go visit another for a while. It makes the main plot a bit more difficult to get because of the different storyline branches but overall the developers managed to keep everything consistent enough so you never get completely lost regarding global understanding of the story.

What happens if you're stuck in all the open rooms at the same time (and believe me that's a possibility)? Well you can always go and try to get the many starfishes here and there that you left behind if you didn't already. Starfishes are not essential in finishing the main game but they unlock bonuses like game features (including 2 reusable jokers allowing you to skip up to 2 levels if you really can't find the solution) or mini puzzles that are not as challenging as the game itself and are always welcome between two real brainstorming. However getting all of the starfishes in the game will be more than challenging because for that not only you'll have to find the normal solution for the rooms containing them but you need to find the über solution that will allow you to solve the main puzzle while getting the starfishes at the same time.

A dose of humor is never wasted

What makes the real savor of Fish Fillets 2 in my opinion, beside the puzzles, is the omnipresent humor. This is a refreshing change from the whole lot of games lately that tend to take themselves so seriously. Humor is something that was common at one point in the gaming history but after the mid 90s it became more and more rare up to a point that no matter the genre (even in adventure games that were once a real niche for humor) you more often than not feel like if gaming was a most serious thing in our world that should not be tempered with. So when you find a little pearl filled with humor, you don't want to let it go even if you have to work hard for it -- and your brain cells will have to work very hard in Fish Fillets 2, trust me on this. It's a healthy work though, the kind of work everyone should do from time to time.

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So Is there really nothing wrong with that game?

Well, you can always run through every tiny detail and find a problem in every game because nothing can be perfect. The only real problem I had with Fish Fillets 2 regards the dialog. Some of the rooms (let's strike that: almost ALL the rooms near the end of the game) are pretty long to solve and the fact is that after a bit you start to hear the characters repeating lines they already said. Let's say that when you hear a piece of joke for the nth time, it hasn't exactly the same flavor than the first time. It's like in love, you have to vary things a bit once in a while to keep the interest strong. But well, this is really the only blame that I could put on the game. And probably that this problem is due to no small part to the fact that I apparently really suck at solving puzzles flawlessly.

Still developers tried to reduce this problem with some funny bits like when you're waiting too long before moving and that Virgil says: "Hey player! Time to move or your screensaver will come on". And there are enough funny dialogs in the game to prevent the occasional lines repetition to become a real pain in the ass.

On the hook or "Online we went..."

Fish Fillets 2 also comes with an online component that can be found at http://online.fish-fillets.com. Strictly speaking, it's not a multiplayer component. You register in the online system with the license code you got when buying the game and afterward you can send through the game the results of your progress to the server. These results are stored and you can compare your prowess to these of the other players through a system of classification (the game even keeping track of the number of moves you made to solve a room). It's a bit like the Unreal Tournament online stats system... without frags. So you can log into your online account and enjoy being really good compared to other players or -- if you're like me -- you'll just feel crappy...

There is a small contest running with the online component of Fish Fillets 2 too (try to read the last words several time in a raw without laughing -- no, stop doing that; this is not part of the contest!) Each month, three of the players having finished the last room of the game win a special Fish Fillets t-shirt (one for each, not one for three of course). there was also another contest to win a Nintendo Wii console but I believe if I'm not mistaken that this one is over since one player already finished the game and collected all the bonuses (that was exactly the challenge of the Nintendo contest).

And since we are on the subject of interaction with other players, IDEA Games confirmed me that a level editor will be released in one or two months so Fish Fillets 2 users will be able to create their own puzzle rooms full of stuff to drive other players crazy... erh, I mean: to challenge other players in a friendly way, of course. And sure enough we'll inform you when the editor is available.

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Technically speaking

Well I won't bother you with a long speech about computer requirements here. Fish Fillets 2 being a puzzle game any computer able to run F.E.A.R., DOOM 3 or Half-Life 2 will be more than able to get the job done and I know most of our visitors played at least one of these and most probably all three. The setup I used to play the full game was more than enough although being still in the middle range of today hardware. Only problem I encountered was when testing the demo on my laptop which fully meet the hardware requirements but runs Microsoft Vista Premium. I got an awfully crackling sound on Vista, especially on the speeches. Such crackling sound problems are reported by a lot of people in a lot of games (I already had this problem myself with CSI 3: dimensions of murder) so I don't think Fish Fillets 2 is at fault here. It is more likely that either the sound drivers or Vista (maybe both) were not completely ready for prime time. But let's not get started on that, it's not the place to discuss why the heck Microsoft did pull out the Hardware Audio Layer from Vista. The fact is that IDEA games warn their customers on their download site that their games released so far have not been tested under Vista so they can't guarantee they will work with the new OS. Fair enough I'd say...

Other than that the character's voices are quite nicely done (especially Guppy -- Amy Huck -- which for some reason always reminds me of another well known actress' voice except that her voice is slightly higher pitched) and the music convey a serene atmosphere to relax you as much as possible while your brain is fuming -- make sure to keep the fire extinguisher at hand. I'm not sure but it seemed to me that some of the music scores for Fish Fillets 2 come from another game also developed by Altar Games, UFO: Aftermath (that I played a Looong time ago) or are at least from the same author(s). But well, I may be mistaken, it happens a lot.

About the graphics they are adequate for that type of game and even benefits of some background effects so you don't always have the feeling to be playing what remains however a 2D game.

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Time to conclude

If you had to play only one puzzle game in your life, Fish Fillets 2 would definitely be the one. If you want to play something in family, this is also a must have because of the fact that it is suited for anybody from 7 to 77 years old and over... And let's face it, the need to train our neurones increases with age. To some Fish Fillets 2 might seems a little "old school" but "old school" doesn't mean bad and it is more than proved by this game.

Fish Fillets 2 comes packed with humor, a cartoonish pleasant look and 112 levels of brain challenge not to mention 80 starfishes if you dare to try and collect them all. It means many hours of playtime during which your face will probably go through all the colors of a rainbow especially green, red and blue but not necessarily in that order... Here and there you will also notice a little pink (this representing the liberation of having found the solution you've been looking for for several hours). That gives a 9 out of 10 well deserved from The Foxhole and of course the Silver Award going with it.

Late Notice: For those who are puzzling themselves over this tiny fact, we were discussing Fish Fillets 2 in this review which means for all those of you who can count that there was a Fish Fillets #1. It was commercially released in 1998 then released again in 2002 under the GNU/GPL license (which means free of charge and open source so users could modify it which was exactly what happened with a new release by users in 2004 titled Fish Fillets: New Generation). Best of all, both versions (the original and the user-modified) are available for download from the official Fish Fillets site. I hope that clarifies things for you ;)) And since I'm in a good mood, in order to clarify furthermore what F.I.N. means, I'm gonna deliver to you this secret conversation I recorded between Flounder and Virgil while they were not looking:

Virgil: So what does F.I.N. stands for anyway?
Flounder: It's for Federal Investigation Agency.
Virgil: So what does the N means?
Flounder: It's the N from iNvestigation.
Virgil: So what happened to the A from Agency?
Flounder: ... You're not cleared for that.

Charming blue eyes eh?


Game Rated 9/10

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