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Nemo's Reef

For: iPhone   Also on: Android, iPad

Hook, line, and stinker

Product: Nemo's Reef | Developer: Disney Mobile Studios | Publisher: Disney Mobile Studios | Format: iPhone | Genre: Casual, Simulation, Virtual Pet/ Toy | Players: 1 | Networking: wireless (network) | Version: Europe | App version: 1.2.1
 
Nemo's Reef iPhone, thumbnail 1
This is a freemium game review, in which we give our impressions immediately after booting a game up, again after three days, and finally after seven days. That's what the strange sub-headings are all about.

Nemo's Reef is, of course, based on Disney and Pixar's Finding Nemo franchise. Which, if you haven't seen it, is about fish.

Fish haven't traditionally made for strong subject matter in video games: Seaman was a commercial flop, the fishing bits in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D are dullsville, and the moist ones rarely have the personality necessary to become a household name.

Perhaps Nemo's Reef bucks this trend. Perhaps this is the moment our scaly friends come into their own and show this medium who the real stars are.

Or perhaps this is another freemium world-builder designed to pickpocket you as fast as possible. Who can tell?

Me, that's who - because I've spent the last seven days playing it. Here are my thoughts.

First Impressions

Nemo's Reef's visuals can't possibly attempt to replicate the multi-million dollar visual spectacular that is the film, but it does at least try to get the basics right. Nemo and his pals are all immediately recognisable, and the world around you looks like a colourful and detailed sea bed.

The premise for the game is as simple as can be: you, in the guise of Nemo, have to build a reef and attract as many different types of fish there as you can. To this end you'll be creating coral and plants to make resources so that you can tempt familiar faces from the film to move in.

Three types of currency are in play: Sand Dollars, Algae, and Pearls. The first buys plants and so on, the second grows them to maturity, and the third is your premium currency, which speeds everything up and buys exclusive items.

IAPs explained
Pearls are the premium currency, with 85 Pearls setting you back £1.49. They're used to speed up processes and purchase rare items, but it's possible to get through the challenges of the game without them. You're given upto 5 of them for logging into the game every day for 5 days, as part of a Daily Bonus.

You may also splash out on Sand Dollars and Algae, but they're relatively easily acquired, if all too slowly.
You also earn XP for completing tasks, and it seems like you have to keep the happiness of your reef high, but I'm yet to find out how. I'm happy to keep going and find out the whys and wherefores, but at the moment it seems like a very standard entry in this genre.

One issue that's immediately clear is the frequency with which the game serves you ads. It seems like every two minutes a new advert for another game pops up, obscuring your view of the play area completely, and that's just too often to be acceptable.

Day 3: Watching fish

Thankfully, the ad issue has cleared itself up. In fact, I don't seem to be getting any ads whatsoever, which is a neat bonus and takes a lot of the hassle of waiting to hit the "close this damned ad" button out of the equation.

I'll also say this of Nemo's Reef: it's a very relaxing game, largely thanks to the predominantly light strings-based soundtrack. It's ethereal and slow-paced, calming and delicate, and a brilliant bit of composition to accompany the watching of fish.

Of course, watching said fish can get boring, and Nemo's Reef doesn't do much to counteract this. It rewards you for staying in the game for longer periods of time - the fastest algae-producing coral, for example, have short wait times and offer large pay outs, meaning that it pays to hang around to repeat the process frequently.

Similar titles offer mini-games to keep you entertained while your resources grow, but not this one. As a result, I've often found myself grinding out resources by simply having the game run in the background while I'm working and checking it every couple of minutes.

Even the challenges take just a little bit too long to complete. Those in which you have to gather a number of Sand Dollars, for example, can take several short playing sessions to finish - but if you have the game running in the background you can rattle through them in no time.

Visiting friends is a rote exercise in tapping their coral and plants to give them a bit of a hand. You're also only given a small number of action points to perform these activities, which again means you'll find yourself with little to do.

Day 7: Seaing little return

I'm not sorry to have concluded my time with Nemo's Reef.

Put bluntly, it's boring. I don't feel like I've made that much progression with anything the game has to offer, and I've little to show for it in any case.

Having finished more challenges, I can say that the only way to move forward is the 'always on' method described above. Unless you're constantly going back and gathering resources, you simply don't gain enough of them to progress.

Over the weekend there was a special event involving a shark that turned up and scared away all the fish, and I was asked to find and return all of them to the reef. I searched and searched, but to no avail, not finding a one of the little blighters. I'm guessing I missed something, but if the game's not prepared to tell me how to finish a task then I'm not prepared to get involved.

It's still a very laidback experience, but it's so laidback as to be horizontal.

A bigger problem is that there's no sense of ownership to proceedings. It usually matters very little where you place elements of your reef, and so you're left with a - very natural-looking - smattering of coral and plants strewn across the playing area.

Each tile representing a specific type of coral looks similar to the next, even if it's a completely different species.

Unlike, say, a house or plot of fertile land in a farm-themed world-builder, the coral in Nemo's Reef is otherworldly and unrelatable. There's no compulsion to make your plot of land recognisable as anything other than a random collection of objects that equate to the acquisition of resources.

Also, the intrusive ads are back. Hooray.

Too simple, too ad-focused, and too boring to be entertaining, Nemo's Reef is a disappointment. It's extremely relaxing, but so is temazepam - we wouldn't recommend either if you're looking for gaming thrills.

How are you finding Nemo's Reef? We'd love to hear your thoughts on the game, so tell us and the rest of the PG Community your opinion by dropping a comment in the box below.
 
Nemo's Reef
Reviewer photo
Peter Willington | 18 January 2013
Like watching fish in a tank, Nemo's Reef can be a relaxing and even pretty experience, but there's so little to do that you'll quickly flush it from your home screen
 
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