Review: Ace of Seafood

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I have special faith in Japanese developers to not only come up with wild concepts, but to make them work. They made a plumber with a drug problem one of the biggest franchises in the world, after all. “Open-world tactical fish combat” might not be quite as out there, but Ace of Seafood seems to be a pretty unique offering even years out from release. Everything from the combat to the pacing will take some serious adjusting, but for your effort you’ll be getting something with real wonder to it.

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Following an undefined apocalypse, humanity has all but vanished and the seas have grown unruly. Setting out into these harsh tides as a small fish or prawn, you must amass a fleet of like-minded creatures to secure your place in the world. Destroying other fish and creatures gets you resources and their genetic code, which allows you to spawn them as allies in your aqueous gang. You’ll battle other groups for control of reefs, explore the vast ocean, and eventually face off against the hardy vestiges of humanity and a sinister force threatening all who call these waters home.

There’s an interesting bit of dissonance in elements of the presentation, starting with your own combat creature. You can control any denizen of the sea you can spawn, from salmon and shrimp to sea turtles and squid. Movement is a very basic twin-stick affair, but the UI for control is like the HUD for a fighter jet. Your chosen creature fights with an array of laser beams and energy blasts, and most fish have a charging attack that turns you into a glowing torpedo. When you finally start encountering humans you’ll find yourself larger than their tiny battleships, yet the reefs you capture that are formed around sunken human objects like cars and bathtubs are enormous.

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The odd presentation adds a lot to the experience, giving the game a sort of earnestness about the prosecution of war between laser-shooting fish. There’s no dialog or expansion of the story beyond what you get up front, so departing a sunken watchtower to sink tiny battleships with your squad of tuna is simply how things work in this world. The gameplay is entirely built around the cycle of unlocking new fish, conquering new reefs to expand the limits on your six-fish fleet, and using more powerful fleets to take more reefs. You can spend hours exploring the vast ocean but it seems all you’re looking for are new reefs, and they can be tucked up against broken coastlines or lying at the bottom of a twisted trench. The shallow waters are pretty inviting but prepare for some deep dives into yawning abysses to reach all of your destinations.

Combat is the other cornerstone of gameplay, perhaps the hardest part of the game to adjust to. Every fish has an assortment of attacks, usually several kinds of lasers along with a melee bite and a charging attack. You’ll want to stick to the lasers though, because when you’re punching up at bigger foes they can shred you in an instant. There’s a real learning curve to recognizing what you can take on and what you can’t, as even seemingly weak fish can gang up on you. Some foes like crabs have armor you’ll have to get around, while others like battleships seem to only take damage from certain weapons. Combat is fast-paced and hectic as well, and the lock-on for your weapons is not the brightest so there’s even a learning curve to aiming.

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Along with the balance and combat issues, the graphics have the feel of a Unity passion project with lots of simple models and blurry textures. The menus in particular are chunky text and pixellated photos that feel hacked in by the developer in the hours before launch. This is in no way a black mark but it adds to the low-budget indie feel of the game, which isn’t going to appeal to everyone. The music is a real delight, however, thick with sick beats and intense techno during fights. It’s just a strange, clever little game about laser fish fighting to rule the ocean, built around the promise of collecting and fielding different sea creatures. Ace of Seafood is hardly the most polished game around, but it offers a lot that you won’t find anywhere else and that’s definitely worth something.

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