An evolution of the comedy simulator into something much more polished, I Am Fish is a quirky and fun puzzler. The Finger Guns Review.
I recently wrote in our monthly upcoming indie games round-up that I felt that “Bossa Studios are the undisputed champions of the irreverent simulator genre”. Between I Am Bread and Surgeon Simulator, they pioneered the intentionally-tricky-to-play comedy sim games that has exploded in the past 5 years with players and influencers alike.
Before playing I Am Fish, I expected the game to follow the same formula as its namesake I Am Bread – Tricky controls, janky physics and enough charm to carry you through the moments of frustration. That’s not at all what I Am Fish is however. The charm is certainly here in spades and the physics can have the occasional moment of absurdity but this is otherwise a much more polished and varied product. In fact, it more closely resembles a physics based adventure like Glyph or Human Fall Flat than the previous Simulators from Bossa.
As should be very obvious, I Am Fish has you take control of a fish. Well, 4 fish to be accurate. The quartet of aquatic protagonists begin the game in a pet shop. The owner of said shop is out one day when they’re given a very special loaf of bread that moves of its own accord. Back at the pet shop, the owner feeds this special bread to the fish. Imbued by it’s special energy, the characteristics of each fish are enhanced to unnatural levels. It’s at this moment that 3 of the 4 fish are scooped up and sold to new owners. Inspired by the image on a box of fish food, each fish aims to escape their individual circumstances and make their way to the sea.
Each of the fish in the game have their own abilities which inform the obstacles you’ll have to overcome to reach the big blue. You begin the game controlling the goldfish who, like the poor kid who got given the heart ring in Captain Planet, gets short shrift when it comes to super-powers. This goldfish has the ability to shine really brightly in sunlight which, as you can imagine, is almost entirely useless in a physics based quest to reach the sea. Instead, your time controlling the goldfish works as an extended tutorial to help you get accustomed to the way the fish of I Am Fish move.
All of the 4 fish are controlled in the same way – the left thumb stick moves the fish around on a vertical plane while the left and right triggers raise or lower the fish in a body of water. For a reasonable portion of game though, that body of water is in some kind of container. Whether it be a sealed, perfectly spherical fish bowl, a mop bucket on wheels or a lidded jar, sometimes the fish will be contained in something. While trapped inside these containers, the fish have to swim against their sides in order to get them to move. This gives way to some pretty interesting and unique physics platforming; Unlike most games where you’re guiding the centrifugal force of a shape around obstacles, you’ve got to be mindful that it’s the fish that’s pushing the inside of the objects in a direction in I Am Fish. Turning requires that extra half-second as the fish travels the length of the container before they can start to apply any force in the intended direction. It takes a bit of getting used to, but that’s what the goldfish content is here for.
Standing between the 4 fishy friends and their goal is a whole dry world of nightmares. Busy roads, inconsiderate humans, sewers full of trash to get caught in and seagulls are just some of the active dangers that they’ll have to avoid in order to survive. Of course, being fish, a simple dry patch of ground can be enough to slip them of their mortal coil so they’ve got to be careful not to smash or flip their containers too. Drying out by spending more than a few seconds outside of water is the primary enemy to these fish. Thankfully, there’s a generous checkpoint system in the game in the shape of floating shells which also help to mark out the path forward.
To that end, I Am Fish is a game that constantly asks the player to figure out what to do next in order to reach the next checkpoint. For example, the goldfish’s first obstacle is getting down from the high perch in which it finds itself. Simply rolling off it onto the wooden floor will see its fish bowl smash leading to a quick, dry end so it has to navigate a way down via other items of furniture. Later it’ll have to ride that goldfish bowl down washing lines and over busy streets while avoiding cars. Then it’ll be doing its best Free Willy impression as it attempts to jump over obstacles then pushing a mop bucket through a park in order to reach a pond. Every second of I Am Fish is posing some kind of physics based quandary to the player and it’s really, really fun.
The creativity in I Am Fish really blossoms once you’ve completed the Goldfish’s initial arc and you’re allowed to control the other 3 fish. Their powers enable a whole host of other possibilities – the piranha can bike through or onto particular objects in the world, the flying fish can glide through the air after leaping out of the water and the puffer fish can inflate into a ball, either allowing gravity to do its job down a hill or propelling it into the air if ballooning up from under a body of water.
Each fish’s chapter has a different theme to it as they take their own unique journey to the sea. The flying fish is challenged to leap from deep puddle to deep puddle and over the top of a market(!), making use of the water collected in the overhead tarps as stopgaps along the way. With the piranha, it regularly finds itself inside shallow water that it’ll need to rise up by biting its way through to other water sources. In one level, you find the piranha in a bathroom tasked with ripping into pipes and radiators, clogging toilets and chewing shower heads in order to flood the room to reach an exit. With the puffer fish, you’ll be rolling down banks and over waterfalls and then using the inflatable force to launch the fish out of the water and onto platforms. Later, the puffer fish finds itself in a nightclub and ends up in a situation which I don’t want to spoil here but gave me a wry grin.
Unlike most other comedy simulator games, I Am Fish provides most of its humour through structured, creative content rather than intentional jank or physics glitches (although you will likely come across a few times when the physics decides to freak out). These fish are fun to play with and get into some really funny scrapes that are quite thrilling to power or think your way out of. Not everything in I Am Fish lands – there’s a section with a jar (which is difficult to manoeuvre anyway) and seagulls which swoop down and attack should you more too regularly that I could have done without – but most of the game is simple yet creative problems to solve. It’s a game that displays plenty of refined game design skill and iteration too, drawing the player to solutions naturally without having to beat them over the head with it. An example of this is when playing as the piranha. In each location in which it has to raise a water level by chomping its way to new sources of water, there’s nice little details and red coloured world objects that basically tell the player “hey, this might be important?” without having to put a waypoint marker on it.
I have to mention the charm of I Am Fish too. Each level in this game, packed with colour and character, feels like part of a much larger world. In the towns, you can see a surprising amount of detail has been put into areas that you’ll never actually be able to reach. This games the game a much larger feel than it is in practice. It also helps make the fish feel so much smaller in regards to the challenge they face getting to the sea (and beyond?).
For completionists however, I have some bad news. At the end of each level, you’ll be judged on your performance based on the speed in which the level was completed and how many times you had to respawn. This isn’t progress blocking and new levels will open up regardless of whether you put in a 5 star performance or a 1 star one – but for you folks that like to get that 100%, there’s currently a glitch in the game that might prevent those higher scores. Regularly after respawning, the fish will simply stop moving. The camera will move with the right stick but none of the fish powers or movements seem active. This is always fixed with a press on the reset button, respawning in exactly the same place. The fish comes back to life again. This does however mean that when you respawn, there’s a chance you’ll actually have to do it twice which pushes that elusive 5 star rank further away.
There’s also a chance you’ve arrived at this review of I Am Fish because you can’t actually access the game. There appears to be some kind of clash between I Am Fish and the Xbox firmware which means that when you load up the game, you might not be able to progress through the title screen at all. Instead, the fish on screen will continue to animate but no button press will register. This glitch is the reason my review is late after release. There’s a simple fix to this – turn off your Xbox and then turn it back on again. Yup. The classic IT fix works here. While it’s annoying to have to do this, it does mean that you can at least play the game.
Hopefully fixes are on the way for its technical issues because otherwise, I Am Fish is a fun and charming physics puzzle title. This game feels like the next evolution of the comedy sim genre that’s replacing the wonky, janky nodding goats and intentionally poor control schemes for a more deliberate style of comedy that’s much more accessible, interesting and polished.
I Am Fish is available now on Xbox Series X & S (review platform), Xbox One and PC.
Developer: Bossa Studio
Publisher: Curve Digital
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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