Let me tell you a story. It’s a story about a small gold fish and the wacky world he lives in. Don’t write off this pint sized piece of aquatic cuteness, however. That’s what he wants you to do. When your back is turned he’ll pounce. It’s what he’s good at.
This a story of deception and rage. This is Launching Pad Games’ Mighty Fin.
I was a bit of a skeptic when I first picked up this iOS title. Perhaps it was the control scheme and gameplay — both are extremely simple. You press down to have Fin dive; let go and he’ll jump; collect bubbles in the water for points to shoot for a high score; if you collide with an object or enemy you’ll die.
Simplicity couldn’t be the source of deception, though. When you think about it, the Mario Bros. franchise got its start with a similar simplicity. By that I mean jump, collect coins, repeat. No, simplicity is definitely not a downfall. When done right, it can make a game rather elegant. For all intents and purposes, Mighty Fin is indeed an elegant game.
The deception lied in the first stages.
I can’t avoid saying this: the first several stages of Mighty Fin toe the line between uneventful and boring. Nothing stopped me from snagging that gold medal rating at the end of the beginning stages. In retrospect, it took every ounce of that sharp, playful art style to keep my attention from drifting. Let’s save that discussion for later. Right now, I want to talk about how that goldfish lunged for my jugular — just when my defenses were down.
Before I knew it I was dying and, surprise to me, I was religiously coming back for more. You see, that little fish wants to ease you in and then once you’re in the water, turns up the heat. Call it a good thing you’re not diving and jumping blithely unhindered for long. Prepare to die. A lot.
All of a sudden Mighty Fin starts throwing obstacles at you with gusto. You’re quickly met with narrow passageways and fast coming boulders to which you must react almost by sheer reflex. The slightest hesitation is almost 100% tantamount to death.
Some would call shenanigans — where there was virtually no challenge in the beginning, without warning you have one of the hardest games you’ve ever played. That goldfish isn’t cute and innocent anymore. He’s calculating, cold. Fin is a downright bastard.
I’m ambivalent in this regard. There is a definite imbalance in difficulty. At the same time, I say it’s good to have extreme challenge. It can help sharpen one’s hand-eye coordination.
Albeit, what’s rather exceptional about Mighty Fin is that when you die, you’re not restarting the same level again. By that I mean: every time you take another crack at the stage the obstacles and bubble patterns are rearranged. It makes the sadomasochist in me scream out in pleasure.
While we’re at it, let’s talk about the obstacles. There are floating boulders and icebergs. Hungry penguins and sharks. Misplaced octopus tentacles. Cyborg robots … wait … shurikens … cake? Yes, if anything can be said about this game, it’s that once the challenge and creativity kick into high gear they never let up. You do have to wade through some blandness to get there, but you’re rewarded with an ever increasing difficulty curve and artistic visual stimulus.
Mighty Fin offers a variety of different themed levels, from a nondescript ocean to a futuristic utopia with saucer shaped building rising out of the water, a candy land that has Fin swimming through what looks like Kool-Aid, and a play on Katsushika Hokusai’s famous wood block print The Wave. These themes are all represented through a cardboard on cardboard artstyle, similar to what is seen in LittleBigPlanet. The visuals are really sharp and a treat for the eyes, especially in the later stages.
Alas, what else can I say about this iOS game that looks like a pipsqueak on the outside, but acts like a serious game? How about the replay value?
While there are only 16 levels, Mighty Fin offers three modes: Campaign, Survival and Endless Zen. If the Campaign challenges weren’t enough, try Survival mode where instead of having to beat the clock or reach benchmarks like other games, you have to navigate through the level at constantly increasing speed. Endless Zen, which is basically a play-till-you-die affair, is the least stressful of the three game modes.
There are also 60 costumes to collect through special bubbles and achieving high scores. It can be fun to see a fish with an eye patch and an unflinching bird on its back jump in and out of Kool-Aid-like water through a candy land. My favorite is the Hulk Hogan costume — “Mean, blond, and ready to wrestle” says the caption. These costumes are purely cosmetic, though, no special power ups which leaves something to be desired.
Overall, Mighty Fin is a competent game that airs on the side of simplicity to deliver addicting, challenging arcade game play. Some may find the difficulty curve rather steep, but, in the end, I will be surprised if anyone regrets paying 99 cents for this iOS title which can be played on both the iPhone and iPad.