This resplendent paragon of the puzzling genre from the Czech team Altar Games is like if the set from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was actually submerged and all the props floated to the perfect positions to furnish stiff, two-dimensional and rotationally impaired sea critters with tantalizing escape room after mind-boggling escape room. That's largely what you're doing sat in your bathyspheric center of operations: shoving loose, mostly lifeless, mostly dumb types of debris around with living, mostly articulate types, and what a pleasure that can be! 1998's Fish Fillets you may remember offering the very same basic formula and clever puzzles, but this one tops it in right about every aspect!
The most immediate separator between the senior and the junior is the art style and humor having both been shifted in a sleeker and more family-friendly direction. The environments and the aforementioned debris is varied and pleasing to the eye... in fact, this is surely some of the best presentation you'll ever find in a puzzle game. The banter is still as amusing and can now be enjoyed in professional English voices as well as Czech. The dialogue revolves around the overarching missions of finding a missing crab sibling and shutting down the murderous Jack the Fisher with the requisite twists along the way to provide the hook (poor fish!) that keeps you happily scratching your pate through to the cathartic conclusion.
The old familiar rules (the big fish can lift and push any loose parts, the small only light ones but does fit through narrower gaps) are regularly augmented by additions of the following: likable new characters with their exotic idioms, with their count well more than the only three mentioned in the Steam blurb; quite a number of confounding new mechanics like seaweed and ice, inert and buoyant respectively to complement the normally denser-than-water objects; and new objective types besides releasing everyone from their consistent custody, with the most important one being hoovering up all the starfish. With the first game, the kids had to stay firmly in the passenger's seat and soak in whatever entertainment came from the quipping and chattering objects because anything past the tutorial would have proven insurmountable to an IQ far below Mensa standards. In the sequel, the majority of the challenge is inherent only in finding the obtuse ways to reach the entirely optional starfish scattered about most levels. To boot, each novelty is introduced inside a safe, padded tutorial chamber that feels like it's more on your side than not.
Speaking of chambers, the puzzles themselves, I am eager to announce, deserve resounding applause, all having a homespun "TLC" quality to them – with some concepts so prodigiously clever that you could rightfully compare them to the masterful Sudoku challenges paraded on Cracking the Cryptic. The developers have taken the simple to simple-ish rules and molded from them the most unexpected ikebanas and bonsai trees that you could hope for. You'll find, among others, a fully functional ice cube dispenser (for you to break), a torpedo boat, a Tower of Hanoi puzzle and a trash compactor. If there's a single cell in your body missing mystique, this game will deliver in spades, win over hearts with displays of diamonds... and crack you on the head with the classiest of conundrum clubs. Two thumbs way up and a Top Dog for sure!
TIWIKs: Things I Wish I'd Known
- You can access extra features after picking up a few stars: 'G' to show a grid and 'D' to display the outlines of all the items. It's a bit strange these aren't available by default, actually, as they are both quite useful.
- To interrupt a line of dialogue, just hit enter.
- To save your progress in a puzzle, hit the bubble on the bottom right. To reload, click on the bubble that floats over to the bottom left.
Reviewed by: LotBlind