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Halfbrick tries for a 10 with Fish Out of Water

Halfbrick Studios held a media lunch at GDC to show off its brand-new original title, Fish Out of Water. It's the company's first since the very popular Jetpack Joyride arrived a few years ago (the Australia-based studio is also known for making Fruit Ninja). As we'd previously heard, Fish Out of Water is more casual than Jetpack, and it boasts the same great polish and beautiful work that fans expect from Halfbrick.

In Fish Out of Water, the main mechanic simply has you throwing fish. You're presented with a school of various creatures, all with different shapes and sizes (and all adorably named -- the big whale is called "Micro" and the fastest one is called "Rocket"). To play, you grab one with a finger, pull it out of the water, and fling it off to the right as fast as you can.

That fish flies through the air, and the game tracks number of skips on the water and total distance traveled. A high toss will likely earn more skips, and the type of fish you throw affects that as well. For example, Rocket is big on skipping, but the dolphin simply jumps in and out of the water rather than skipping across it.

Distance is affected by fish type as well, and both stats are also affected by the weather. The game runs on a clock up in the left corner which ties in to your real local time wherever you play the game, and different weather conditions, like sun or rain, will affect your skips and jumps as well.

During the course of a round, you can throw three different fish, and then you're judged on your throws by a line of crabs, who are also very adorable. They put up numbers (and each crab is also named and has a favorite piece of the game: Skippy Steve really enjoys it when you score a lot of skips), and the average out of 10 is your final score for the round.

That's the game: Throw fish, try to score as best you can during the three throws, and then the crabs will boil down your score into one number out of 10. It's not super-hard: Even in my first few throws, I was able to pick up an 8.5 and an 8.7. But to score a perfect 10, you'll need to put a little bit of strategy into the game, picking exactly the right fish for the right weather conditions, and even choosing fish based on which throw you're doing. You can use a big whale for the first throw for distance, for example, and then choose a fish that splits into multiple fishies to ramp up your skip score.

As you skip along the water, you also score coins that both give you a speed boost to use (with a strangely placed button along the top of the screen) and also allow you to buy various upgrades and cosmetic items for your fish. And finally, you can collect gems as you play, which can be assembled together into crystals that give you various abilities like double skips or an automatic 10 from one of the crabs. The crystals system is actually pretty complex: You can pair up two colors to try and form a specific crystal, or experiment a bit. One of the most powerful crystals is a black crystal, which sends a huge school of fish out to join the one that you throw.

Just like Jetpack Joyride, the game is very social as well. Players can join "leagues," which award trophies every single day for the highest scorers in each league. Leagues also win prizes on their own, so there are lots of rewards to go around for all players involved.

Fish Out of Water will launch at a price of US$0.99, which feels a little fishy on Halfbrick's part: The company has had a lot of success at turning their Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride games into freemium titles, and it's a bit surprising that they're not embracing freemium right away with this one. Still, as good as the game looks and plays, you can't blame them at all for charging a little bit out of the gate -- even at a buck, this looks like a terrific game.

It is more casual than Jetpack Joyride even. After you throw the fish, the game is more or less hands-off, as you sit there and watch your fish skip along to victory or defeat. And that casual approach may leave a few hardcore players out of the boat on this one. But not to worry, Halfbrick told us at GDC this week. The company has quite a few more titles in progress, including some games that are a little more complicated and deeper than this one. So if Fish Out of Water doesn't quite float your boat, just wait a bit and we'll see what else the company is working on soon. Meanwhile, you can get ready to go swimming with this one fairly soon.

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