A Good Catch

My Sim Aquarium
Gameplay
graphics
audio
value
fun
Genre
Reviewed On
PC
Available For
PC
Difficulty
Easy
Publisher(s)
Developer(s)
ESRB
ESRB
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If you are like me, you have probably owned a fish at some point, or at the very least admired a deluxe tank in the store or at your dentist office’s waiting room. Fish and fish tanks can be extremely soothing, almost mystical in their ability to relax and calm people. Perhaps this is evidence that we came from the sea, or perhaps it’s a desire to go back there. In any case, fish can be a lot of fun to watch.

Unfortunately, they can also be a lot of hassle. For the privilege of being able to gaze intently into your own tank, you have to do a lot of work. The tank needs cleaned. The water needs changed, and can get pretty smelly. Sometimes fish get sick and need medicine, just like any other pet.

The most interesting fish to look at are probably tropical ones. Since they are used to tropical climates, they are normally brightly colored and also somewhat aggressive. And a salt water tank, as most of these are from the ocean, is ten times worse to maintain than a simple goldfish and fresh water type. A few degrees of temperature one way or the other or the wrong PH and it’s belly up city.

But now there is a way for the entire family to enjoy watching tropical fish swimming in aquariums that would cost thousands of dollars in real life, plus a lifetime of care and maintenance (yours, not the fish). My Sim Aquarium is an amazing little program that combines the fun atmosphere of a virtual pet sim with the realistic atmosphere of an educational title.

When you start playing the game you have an empty tank. You then can visit the pet store where they will sell you all kinds of interesting accessories to fill it with from the customary treasure chest that bubbles every few seconds to various forms of plant life to a replica of the Taj Mahal for discerning fish. You don’t seem to have a budget, so you can pretty much fill your tank with whatever decorations you wish. Make a Japanese palace or a replica of New York City, or try to make your fish’s environment as realistic as possible. If you don’t feel like building up from scratch, you can load any of 10 pre-made ones which are pretty good.

No matter which one you build or choose, you will be blessed with a panoramic view of the tank. You can sweep around from side to side or zoom in to get a fish-eye’s view of the environment.

But a tank without fish is still a little dull, no matter how amazing it looks. At the pet store you can purchase 48 different species of fish from the popular clown fish to the odd but fun sea horse. Here you have to be a little careful because some fish don’t get along with one another. You are given an encyclopedia that tells you all about the different fish, so you can stock your tank with ones that won’t start a gang war.

You also have to pay attention to make sure you have a good mix of male and female fish in your environment, as one of the goals of the game is to get them to live long enough and be happy enough to have babies. Clicking on any of your fish will give you an indicator about its mood, how hungry it is and how aggressive it is feeling towards others in the tank. Keeping fish well-fed and with plenty of space in their tank is key.

In addition to seeing their basic moods, you can click on any fish to follow it around. Here you get to swim just behind your pet, watching it as it explores its world hunting for food and diving in and out of different obstacles you have put into the landscape. The fish AI seems real enough, and fish of the same type tend to bunch together for mutual protection, and probably because they just enjoy hanging out with their own species.

You need to feed your fish from time to time, and here there are some little funny things you can do with them. Giving them neon food for instance will make them glow. If you don’t feel like dumping food in the tank all the time, you can put the game into "lazy mode" and whenever a fish gets hungry the game will automatically give it the correct food.

Eventually if you are able to breed five different species of fish, a magical mermaid will show up and live in your tank so long as you keep it clean. When the mermaid is present, she will reduce the aggression levels of all the fish, enabling you to bring in some that normally would not get along.

Once you have the tank the way you want it, you can make your new fish palace your computer’s screensaver. This is a really nice function because here is a fish tank that you have built yourself which suddenly becomes your screensaver. All the fish screensavers I have seen pretty much make you take whatever is pre-built into them. As a screensaver alone, this makes this title a great one to own, especially if you like watching fish.

This is not really a complaint, but more of a warning. Especially on lazy mode, a lot of the game you will simply be observing your fish. Unless something goes wrong or you want to change their environment, remove troublemakers or add new species to your world, the aquarium pretty much works like a normal aquarium in that humans mostly watch it. Don’t expect to grab a laser and shoot sharks or anything. The 3D "follow-fish" view helps add to the interactivity, but I got the most joy from the game by feeing my fish well and having the game constantly run on my system like a real aquarium. It ran well on most test systems we tried it on, even older ones, so long as they could support Windows XP.

The game is currently being sold on Amazon for $18, but even if you find it at the full price of $30, it would be a great value for those that like fish or virtual pet type titles or who are looking for a great screensaver that they can customize. As such, My Sim Aquarium is a great catch.

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