Fish Tycoon Review for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

Fish Tycoon Review for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

The Aquarium of Dr. Moreau

If you consider yourself a fish lover, have a bit of an entrepreneurial streak, and possess a knack for genetic tinkering, then you’ve likely already found a welcome companion in Last Day of Work’s casual PC hit Fish Tycoon. Watching fish bubble around in their tank is interested enough, but breeding and mutating new types of fish is where it’s at. In a recent jump to a smaller pond on the DS, the award-winning fish breeding simulator makes a few compromises in its presentation, yet still offers a deep tycoon experience with a few extras thrown into the portable version for good measure.

Fish Tycoon screenshot

Players will take on the role of a fish breeder charged with the task of saving the Island of Isola – in a reference to the developer’s Virtual Villagers series – by genetically meddling with different combination of fish to breed seven distinct species of magical fish native to the island. Many wonderful fish once swam in the waters of a magical lagoon, and it’s up to you to restore balance. In order to do so, it’s important to juggle your time between creating new species and successfully running a fish shop to fund scientific research and improvements.

With only a small amount of pocket cash, a handful of common fish, and a bare-bones aquarium to begin with, growing your small start-up operation into a money-making venture is no easy feat. As is often the case in real life, keeping your fish alive and healthy seems to be a challenge in itself. Initially, your aquarium tank will only be able to support an environment suitable for common fish to thrive. Advance your breeding program too quickly and you won’t be able to keep up with the research and technology improvements required to support more exotic species, leaving you with a tank full of dying fish. Your fish will also require regular feeding, occasional medicine doses for fungus and other illnesses, and occasional supervision. They start out small and can’t be identified or bred until they mature to an age of 20. That’s when it starts to get interesting.

Fish Tycoon screenshot

Once you have a few fish which have matured beyond adolescence, you can finally get down to business. The breeding process if short and sweet: you stick the fish you want to impregnate in an isolation tank and then drag another fish you want to pair it with into the same tank. A smooching sound will signal the job is done and you can release both fish into the main tank. It takes awhile, but eventually you’ll have tiny new baby fish swimming around. Each new fish takes on some traits from both of its parents. You can breed two of the same species of fish to mass produce a particular type for sale, or you can mix and match all manner of different kinds to end up with new hybrids. A combination of both is required since you’ll need extra fish to sell and new species to cross breed. You can also drop in some mutation liquid to see what kind of crazy fish you turn up with.

Fish Tycoon runs in real time which means even when you turn off the DS your fish will continue to grow. This can be a double edged sword, however, since they still require food and monitoring. If left for too long unattended, they’ll end up in the big fish tank in the sky, which means all of your hard work can easily be flushed down the toilet. Fortunately, the game has four speed settings. Time can be stopped completely to ensure you don’t miss anything in-between gaming sessions. It’s a must if you plan to take an extended leave of absence from your fish breeding business. For shorter breaks you can slow things down to half-speed, set it back to normal, or ramp it up to double speed if you get sick of waiting around for the fish to grow and spawn baby fish. Regularly adjusting the speed of the game is crucial, both for your success and to keep things moving along. Fish Tycoon is the type of game which plods along at a slow and meticulous pace. That’s not a bad thing per-se as it makes it a perfect casual title. You’ll want to boot it up every so often to check on your fish between longer sessions focused on managing your business. The problem is time often seems to pass too slowly while you’re playing and too quickly when you’re not. Don’t be surprised to start up your game after you’ve left it for awhile only to find a bunch of dead, gray floaters.

Fish Tycoon screenshot

The two main areas players will spend most of their time with are the aquariums where you run your operation and the fish store where you try to make your business thrive. Fish Tycoon transitioned from 2D to 3D in its move to the DS, which was a good thing for the most part. None of the graphics in either section are particularly amazing, but the aquarium is easily the most visually appealing area of the game.

Fish Tycoon screenshot

Your fish will swim around happily against a watery backdrop – complete with sand, rocks, plants, bubbles, and other to-be-expected features – which can be customized with different items. The music and constant bubbling sound is soothing, and there’s a Zen-like quality about the aquarium. In contrast, the store is bright and colorful, yet visually underwhelming. Customers are goofy looking and extremely pixilated. It’s unfortunate you have to sit and wait around in the store until they buy all of the fish on sale.

On the whole, the menu and on-screen button presentation feels extremely cramped. Even with the information spread between both screens, a lot of selection elements had to be crammed into a limited space on the smaller screen. Having to bounce between several different screens to access all the menu items can be a pain at times when previously the bulk the controls were neatly arranged on a single screen in the PC version. The stylus controls are intuitive and simple. You’ll be tapping icons, nabbing fish to move them to different tanks, and grabbing and dragging the screen around to move the view. There is a slight learning curve to grasping the mechanics of fish breeding and running the business, but you shouldn’t have any problems with the controls.

It’s easy to get lost in the breeding and business aspect of the game, completely forgetting the overarching goal is to discover the seven magical fish of Isola. When players do stumble upon one of the magical species, the fish will bestow benefits to the other fish in its tank depending on which one you discover. The first magical fish comes fairly quickly and increases the fertility of other fish in its tank. The others are harder to discover but bestow bonus such as increased health, a need for less food, the ability for wilder mutations, and more. Over 750 different fish species combinations are possible – almost double the amount of the PC game. A constant need to purchase improvements for your tanks, research new technologies to sustain more exotic fish, and get useful items to boost your populations gives you other goals to work towards.

The underlying gameplay in Fish Tycoon on the DS is easily as good as its PC counterpart, and the ability to take your aquarium with you on the go should make picking up the handheld version a no-brainer for anyone who enjoyed the original. A few pacing issues, visual blips, and minor quirks with the menu presentation aren’t a complete killjoy considering the rest of the game is rock-solid.


  • A huge assortment of decorations make your tanks look nicer and help you sell more fish.
  • Based on the leading online and PC game from Big Fish Games that won the 2006 iParenting Media Award and ranked in the top 10 (for 41 straight weeks) among all best-selling casual games of 2006.
  • Brand new 3D environments in the DS version bring your fish tanks to life. Buy Fish Tanks, Decorations, Plants, Fish Eggs, Fish Food, and Medicine to enhance the aesthetic of your tank and attract more customers.
  • Enhance your dish with special plant types (nutrition, fertility, (no comma) or incubation), and chemicals (i.e. one chemical causes a growth burst, another temporarily boosts health while a third causes mutations).
  • Extensive use of the touch screen: use it to breed and feed fish, administer medicine, make purchases, decorate tanks, and much more.
  • Research environment, food, and advertising techniques to discover how to keep your rare fish healthy, feed more fish per feeding, and attract additional customers.
  • Set your own prices for specific fish based on prior sales and present needs.
  • Seven exclusive fish in the DS version, including the Clown Fish and Blue Tang. Yield nearly twice as many fish as the PC version – over 750 possible fish types. Mix and match your fish to create rare hybrids while searching for the genetic combination to each of the “Seven Magic Fish,”
  • Simulated real-time experience brings potential surprises every time you turn the game on. Choose from four speed options to dictate how time passes in game: Paused, Half Speed, Normal Speed, and Double Speed.

    The new 3D visuals look good in some spots and not so good in others. 3.0 Control
    Stylus-heavy controls work reasonably well, but the tight quarters and small buttons you have to tap get in the way. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
    Pleasant bubbling sounds and mellow music are actually quite calming. 4.0

    Play Value
    One you get past the initial slow pacing the game really blossoms as a solid fish breeding simulator.

    3.6 Overall Rating – Good
    Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

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