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Formosoft and Viva Media have paired to bring My Sim Aquarium to the US, and it’s not exactly a winfall for either gamers or aquarium fanatics. My Sim Aquarium promises realistic aquarium sim action plus integration of your fishies with your screensaver for some frame-breaking game integration on your PC. It’s an odd idea, for sure, and, unfortunately, it’s the best thing My Sim Aquarium has going.
My Sim Aquarium is not a huge game, nor an overly ambitious title. It is admirable that it tries to do one thing right: Simulate an aquarium. However, for all the claims of “realism” made on the packaging and in help files, My Sim Aquarium is not very realistic at all. There is no decision to create a freshwater or saltwater aquarium; they’re all salt water. But don’t fear: You won’t ever have to deal with salination levels or overly sensitive fishes.
That’s not to say that nothing bad ever happens: It’s possible to starve your fish, and some fish might get grumpy with other fish. But there are really no species available that are highly incompatible. Most of the species are labelled peaceful and until they get overcrowded there isn’t much interaction between the fish species.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, buying fish when we don’t have an aquarium set up. My Sim Aquarium begins with building your aquarium. You choose a background theme from a dozen or so possibilities, and then you set up objects and decorations around the tank. At first I went for an Asian theme with pagodas and temples, but then I switched to a Parisian theme creating a miniature Louvre complete with IM Pei’s pyramids. I filled in the rest of the area with sea flowers, plants, rocks, wood, anemonae and mollusks.
It is easy to be satisfied with your designs in My Sim Aquarium. There are quite a few objects to put in your tank, and you have no limit of funds or resources. The only limitation in the design phase are the tools and the space of the virtual tank. For some fish species you’ll want certain types of shelter over other types, but in general you don’t have to pay any attention to substrates, plant species, or other concerns that you would encounter with a real aquarium.
Once you have everything set up, you can buy fish. Well, the fish shop gives you fish. You can sell fish back to the fish shop, too, but that’s only necessary when you aquarium becomes overcrowded. The fish shop only has a certain number of each species of fish, but you can breed more in your own tank.
In order to breed, your fish must be comfortable. To keep your fish comfortable you must keep them fed and keep the water cleaned. Feeding is accomplished by selecting the food and clicking to distribute it. There are several types of food available including: Good, Big, Small, Angry, Neon and Pizza. Of course any dedicated fish-fan will recognize these types of foods, right?
The foods have the effect you’d expect. The “big” food makes the fish who eat it grow larger. The “angry” food makes the fish meaner for a short time. It’s amazing to see: In a game that is supposedly about simulating an aquarium you have these wacky foods. It would be fun if this were a cartoon aquarium or something, but as it is, there’s a complete incongruity between the realism of the setting, species, and visuals and these crazy food types.
Other elements of fish care have been horribly simplified or mis-represented, too. Cleaning the tank happens in a button-press. You don’t have to manage pH levels or anything, either. Getting fish to breed is a matter of making sure they have enough habitat, enough space and enough food. Beyond that, there’s no need for the intricate methods known in real-life for getting often-troublesome tropical fish to breed in captivity.
And, of course, managing your aquarium is anything but thrilling. You have some pretty bad controls for moving the camera around the tank in full 3D, and you can have a camera automatically follow a fish, which leads to a distinct feeling of seasickness. Other than a lot of watching your fish, there’s not much to do (which is, after all, exactly the case with a real aquarium).
Once you realize how little you can really do to interact with the game it becomes very tempting to put it in “Lazy Mode” where everything is taken care of automatically. In Lazy Mode your fish won’t grow or breed, but it will maintain the status quo in your aquarium. And status quo is pretty good if what you really want is a super-snazzy personalized aquarium screensaver.
The screensaver mode is an advertised feature of My Sim Aquarium, and it’s not bad. The biggest problem with the screensaver mode is that it really hammers home the final nail in My Sim Aquarium’s coffin: The graphics are just bad. The models are not very inspiring (especially the models of decorations and elements inside the tank), and the fish movement is lackluster. A heavy-handed “light through water” reflection persists on every element except the fish themselves, making them look like they are not swimming in the water, but hovering just in front of it.
Ultimately, this is where My Sim Aquarium fails most. An aquarium is, after all the fun work of putting it together and planning your mini-ecosystem, a visual experience. Watching fish swim, plants bob in the water and the relaxing sounds of the bubblers and filters– these are the reasons people love aquariums. They are soothing to observe and beautiful to behold. Sadly, My Sim Aquarium is neither a good simulation of building a contained ecosystem, nor a beautiful visual experience. And that makes it not worth playing.
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