iQuarium steers crystal clear iPad waters

Spoiler alert! I’m not sure if it’s a game or a window decoration but iQuarium is stunningly gorgeous. If you love fish, you’ll love this app. If you love killing zombies, this app will be far too slow and contemplative for you.

You may recall Friday that I discussed the delicate tightrope of writing this blog two weeks in advance. The downside is that the world could end and when this blog is actually posted, it will read as though the world were still going on as usual. The upside is that I can suddenly decide to abandon all responsibility, totally flake out, and return to the blog two weeks later and no one will even know that Carol had to track me down in two states, hire a lawyer and check me out of rehab.

But I can conjecture about what will be happening on this date two weeks from now, and my conjecture is that the 2012 election campaigns will be already be gathering steam. Attack ads will be launched against whatever party is now in power telling us how they’ve kept none of their campaign promises. Attack ads against whoever is now out of power telling us how they do nothing but keep the party in power from promoting their agenda.

Sarah Palin will drop even stronger hints that she will be the Presidential candidate, either for the Republican party, Tea Party, or new party in opposition to the Tea Party who managed to get elected and turned out to be just as incompetent as the Republicans and Democrats. And the Democrats will pray very hard, even if they have to convert to do so, that Sarah Palin wins the Republican nomination or splits the conservative vote by running as an independent.

The only question will be whether Christine O’Donnell or Karl Paladino will be her running mate. Sharron Angle will be her Secretary of State.

In the meantime, whatever the outcome of the election, the Democrats should take advantage of the lame duck session to push through whatever legislation they frittered away over the last two years. After all, they’re either leaving office with a President who won’t veto their bills because he’s on their side and they might as well do something while they still have the majority. Or else they remained in power, which means they really did have a mandate and they should learn the lesson of the previous two years and push that legislation through before the new campaign ads get even nastier.

Fortunately, fish don’t care.

The beauty of fish is that when you don’t want to hear the the 2012 campaigns gearing up, you can shut off your TV, radio and email and watch the fish. And imagine what life will be like in a world where the humans will have finally wiped themselves out and your species will be allowed to evolve into something more intelligent and healthy because the planet finally recovered from the mess we left behind.

Digital fish are even better because you don’t have to buy all that equipment, spend all that effort keeping up the tank only to have to clean up the mess and explain to the kids why Dori died when you forget to feed her (or him). Unless you buy iQuarium. Then you do have to feed the fish or they will die. But you can always replace the fish and not feel guilty because it wasn’t a real fish.

And the kids won’t know the difference.

Full disclosure

iQuarium’s developers Infinite Dreams offered to provide me a promo code if I reviewed the app. This is the first time anyone’s offered to let me have a peek at the app without paying for it, so after considering possible conflict of interest issues for a second I emailed back and said yes.

I should also disclose that I’m really not a big fan of fish. I like pets that interact, and fish don’t really interact. At least not with people. And even if I did have fish they wouldn’t survive a day in a house filled with Siamese Rescue cats who would interact very quickly with them. Just not in a way the fish would probably enjoy.

The same developers gave us Let’s Create! Pottery, an app that I previously reviewed and rated as a best buy. In the months since, I haven’t changed my mind. I still play with it occasionally even though I earned every brush and material there is to earn long ago.

I can’t go quite that far with iQuarium. But it’s stunningly beautiful and probably one of the most realistic aquarium apps I’ve seen.

The care and feeding of fish

As I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult to tell if iQuarium is a game or a display app. It’s very much like the pottery app in this respect, but it seems even more closely modeled on the current social network games where you have to buy stuff with real cash once you start to play.

They don’t twist your arm to wring every last penny from your account like ngmoco:), Team Lava and other developers (including Zynga who just released the Facebook fan favorite Farmville for the iOS). It’s only a couple of dollars, but the additional charges are there.

Kind of like the hidden charges with pets and kids. You think you’ve finally purchased everything they need and suddenly its a vet bill, a torn screen that needs to be replaced, a couch that needs reupholstering again or an entire shelf of laser discs whose covers were ripped to shreds overnight. It’s almost a given these days that an iPad app will cost more than the purchase price.

Nonetheless, iQuarium is designed to emulate the real experience of caring for fish. You start with a single goldfish in a tank. You have to feed and care for your fish and the longer it stays alive the more points you earn to dress up your tank. If you forget to feed your fish he gets agitated and eventually dies. When your fish dies, you lose everything and have to start again with a new fish.

The art of fish interaction

The iQuarium fish do actually interact with you. Sort of. When you tap on the iPad touch screen they turn and look at you. Briefly. Then they swim away because humans are kind of silly and boring.

The interaction is the key to successful fish feeding. It took me several days to figure out how to feed the fish because the faq files aren’t that illuminating. A can of fish food floats in the top corner of the screen and the instructions say you have to shake it. But you have to do more than that.

You actually have to keep shaking until your fish approaches the food, shake while it swims next to the food, and stop only when the fish swims away to tell you it’s had enough. Once you earn enough points, you can buy blue fish food which, over the course of several weeks, will change your fish’s color. You won’t notice until enough time has passed that you’re convinced he’s staying orange, and then suddenly you launch the app and he’s blue.

As your fish swims around the tank, you should treat it like any other real fish. Go about your daily life and check on it occasionally to see how it’s doing. You accumulate points and the more points you earn the more swag you can add to the tank—rocks, clocks, plants, backgrounds and a weird assortment of decorative objects that include derelict airplanes and ancient ruins.

As you earn points you can shop for new decorations and backgrounds.

If you want to score points quickly you can download 5000 points at a time for a dollar each (up to 15000). The first 5000 points also buys you access to new themes with more unlocking with each 5000 points. Or you can wait forever and earn the points, which seem to accumulate at about 1000 a week. When you switch from your own custom designed theme into the optional themes your fish won’t die. They won’t earn points either, but at least you know they’ll be there after a long trip.

Many of the items can’t be unlocked with the purchased points, so you will still need the patience to earn them and see what you can add to your aquarium on any given day.

Additional themes include a Zen garden…

…and pirates’ cove.

According to the faq file you can change a fish’s color by feeding him different colored fish food, and when you earn enough points you can add additional fish. This, again, is slightly misleading. You have to buy ten thousand points to change fish colors and earn extra fish. And the extra color is blue (which, as I mentioned takes weeks to change) and you only get a second fish.

Feed them the right food long enough and suddenly fish turn blue.

This will probably be the biggest disappointment for players who envision iQuarium as a tank filled with fish of different species in the traditional model. There are only goldfish, and, so far as I can tell, only two of those. Infinite Dreams may add fish for an additional charge as the game develops, but they only promise to keep developing the game.

Splended graphics

I’ve already said the aquarium is gorgeous and it is. The gamma is bright and the detail superlative. The only glitch I’ve noticed is that the fish can swim through the decorations, but I’m sure this will get corrected in future releases.

Whether or not you will like iQuarium depends on whether you have the love of fish or the patience to let a digital creature develop in what seems like excruciatingly slow real time. But this is very much like the experience of slowly adding to your own real aquarium as your enthusiasm develops.

Or, if you don’t have the patience for fish and forget to feed them, they die. Just like real fish.

iQuarium is a contemplative and quiet app, not at all suited for people who have to experience blood, viscera and explosions to enjoy their iPad. Nor can you sit and tinker with it for hours because there’s nothing to tinker with. You have to walk away and return to see what happens. But you will earn the points and your aquarium will evolve over time if you have the patience to let it.

And after the election results, I suspect, America will proceed for a year or two and hopefully wake up one fine Tuesday morning in November 2012 and realize we need more contemplative fish people to clean up the mess made by the zombie killers

Jenny Manytoes rates iQuarium

Jenny Manytoes would purr all over iQuarium. Those gold fish lookdelicious. She knows better than to stick her paw into the touch screen to go after those gold fish because I’ll squirt her with water if she does. Even digital fish deserve their dignity.

But I can see her when she sits on my shoulder waiting for the opportunity to pounce on those fish as soon as I get distracted. That’s how real they look.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 4 Stars - Purr, Entertainment, iPad and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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