In terms of offbeat games, Sega is undoubtedly a market leader. Teaming up with Harvest Moon developers Natsume could only produce something like Finny the Fish and the Seven Waters, an underwater adventure starring an unlikely and reluctant ichthyoidal hero. The title makes it sound like a kid’s game when it’s not, but that isn’t the game’s main problem; the problem is that it’s unfairly destined to obscurity.
The surprise inside the box is that Finny the Fish is designed for an older crowd even though the appearance and content suggest otherwise. While parents won’t feel guilty for letting Finny the Fish baby-sit their child while they desperately try to recapture their own failed youth through badly scripted sitcoms, it may actually be a bit too challenging for youngsters. Being the result of a wild, alcohol heavy and contraception light night between Sega’s fishing titles and Ecco the Dolphin, there’s something here for anyone who likes those games as well as those who find themselves addicted to any game with collection aspects.
The thin, vague story suggests some lurking evil overtaking the waters that Finny and his soon to be sushi friends inhabit. In a ‘Matrix’ meets ‘Finding Nemo’ twist, Finny is told he’s the chosen one and must find the source of this disturbance. Even the game’s ending fails to explain these seemingly intentional ambiguities, but this is an action driven game, not a story driven one. Filled with colorful characters, Finny the Fish includes a disturbingly happy frog with some gender identification issues and a possibly semi-lobotomized bird who says “dude” way too much, among others.
Underwater puzzles dominate the game, accompanied by some collection and a few fishy fights. There are six main areas plus an area for the final battle (thus the Seven Waters), and in each of these six is a master from whom Finny must retrieve a statue. The quests for each of these statues are where the puzzle solving comes into play; most of these are simple fetch quests, but the obstacles Finny has to overcome are varied enough to prevent boredom. Some are logic puzzles, while others add a platformer feel. Finny is extremely easy to control but young children may get frustrated at barriers that require extremely precise inputs, another reason this is not a kiddie game.
No fish can survive on an empty stomach, and if Finny is good at anything it’s eating. The lakes, rivers, and streams that make up the seven areas are teeming with other fish as well as crustaceans, amphibians, and insects. Swimming and leaping out of the water are tiring prospects for our hero, who happily chows down to keep up his stamina. Some prey can be swallowed in one gulp, but others require epileptic movements of the analog sticks. As any Discovery Channel viewer can tell you, sometimes the predator becomes the prey, and larger fish are out to make Finny an instant hors d’oeuvre. They must be avoided or fought into tasty submission.
If being chased by giant piranhas and eels isn?t enough, there are anglers to worry about too. Some of the morsels Finny chases down are actually cleverly disguised lures, and he?ll be hooked if he tries to take a bite. The line can be snapped and the lure stolen, and this is part of the collection aspect of the game. There are one hundred lures and even more types of prey, and the completist will want to try for every one.
That makes this a great game for that type of player, but the rest of us might feel that Finny comes up a bit short. Playing to the end without trying to collect all the prey and lures will take only five hours or so, about half the length of the serious gamer?s average Halo 2 session. Collecting all the prey will take another five hours or so, and getting all the lures relies on luck as much as skill. Length is the only real complaint, as the game is interesting enough that ten or fifteen hours would have been enjoyable.
Finny the Fish doesn?t break new technical ground, but the graphics are impressive and the sound is accomplished. Underwater distortion effects add a touch of realism, and the reflections on the surface of the water are notable, but most striking is the detail in the environments and creatures Finny meets up with. All of the handful of characters are voice acted, and though the voices are cheesy, they?re not bad.
Aside from being shorter than John Wayne Bobbitt before reconstructive surgery, the only complaint comes from the slightly skewed difficulty curve. There aren?t any challenges that are too hard for even young players, but the game seems to get easier as it goes along instead of harder. For example, As Finny finds scales that upgrade his abilities, his hearing gets better which allows him to detect lures more easily before he bites down on them. This means that getting hooked happens more often early on, before those scales are found, and later in the game lures are easier to identify. This helps with lure collection once the main quest is completed, but can make the early areas a bit frustrating.
Because of the title, the box art, and the timing of release (right after E3 2005), Finny the Fish and the Seven Waters is unfortunately bound to go unnoticed. This is really a gem of a game that, while short, is a steal at a release price of $30. Like a good bourbon, it goes down smooth but is over all too quickly, but this isn?t a reason to marginalize it. As a surprise title with an innovative concept, Finny can be favorably compared to recent breakthroughs like Katamari Damacy, and like that game it takes a certain aesthetic to appreciate. If you?re still playing Half-Life 2, by all means keep doing essentially the same thing you?ve been doing since 1997, but if you?re looking for something new, Finny the Fish is a refreshing diversion.