What do you get when you cross Bejeweled with a Rubik’s Cube? Either something which will fetch you a fair bit of money on eBay (a jewel-encrusted Rubik's Cube would sell for thousands), or Aquattack, a Mini from indie developers Mere Mortals.
As in the age-old gem-swapping puzzle game, you must match three or more objects – in this case, fish of the same colour - by switching the objects around. However, there is a twist: when you move one fish, you also move its entire row, or column, depending on whether you are moving it side to side or up/down. Pressing X moves the fish downwards; Triangle moves it up; Square to the left; Circle to the right. When a fish is moved off one side of the seven by seven grid, it appears on the other. Three, four, or five fish of the same colour can be matched, and if three or more happen to find themselves next to each other, they will automatically disappear and be replaced with randomized fish – or something else.
Matching three fish will yield three new fish. Matching four fish creates a bomb, which will explode if a fish is matched in an adjacent square, destroying nearby fish and coral and giving you extra points. Matching five fish creates a star, which will give you a large point bonus if fish are matched next to it.
The rest really depends on which mode you are playing. Arcade, the first option, is the simpler of the two. You have 60 seconds to earn as many points as possible. Each successful match/explosion/star will give you extra time. After you finish, you are given a score. The top five scores are recorded; if you have not yet played five times, they are filled by laughably poor placeholders – the default number one spot is 5000 points, which you can easily beat by pressing one button. I know, because (since the game has no “instructions” or “help” of any kind) when I began to play, I thought that you could only press X, to move the fish down. I only figured out that fish could be moved in the other three directions, thereby making the game significantly easier, when one challenge stated that I could only move left or right. Even just pressing X, I got 8900 points. My high score stands at 48,000, in 4 minutes 45 seconds.
In fact, that high score was attained by button mashing. I decided to see how effective it was, and apparently it makes the Arcade Mode easier. Because any match you make by moving the fish gives you the points, and because every fish in the row/column moves along with the fish you intend to move, the majority of matches will be unintentional even if you are thinking about every move. This really damages the sense of accomplishment. However, while it is a help in Arcade, it can often be a hindrance in Challenges.
Challenge Mode is, of course, the second of the two game modes. Each of the fifty challenges sets you an objective and a time limit, usually 30 seconds, but which can go as low as 15 and as high as 120 seconds. Matching fish here, for some inexplicable reason, does not give you extra time, making it significantly more difficult. The challenges are rated out of three for their difficulty, three being hardest and one easiest. For the most part, these difficulty indicators are accurate.
Though some of the challenges have only score limits and time limits, many add an extra complication, such as only being able to move Left/Right, or not being allowed to detonate bombs (these ones are murderously difficult, since most bombs detonated are, again, done so unintentionally). Others have you matching a certain number of a certain type of fish, or getting “rainbows” for having one line with every single colour of fish (seven in total).
In addition to the fish, a few other things can spawn. Coral is a pain in the neck. The row and column in which the coral is located cannot be moved, and it can only be destroyed by detonating a bomb in an adjacent square. Electric Eels are set off if fish are matched next to them, and destroy all fish of that colour on the board, giving you a point bonus in the process. Both of these appear in Arcade, if you survive long enough – arcade throws these two in, and adds more types of fish as you progress - and in certain challenges.
One of the main problems, as I previously mentioned, is the lack of any kind of help or instructions. Each challenge does have instructions, but if you had never played a challenge involving coral, you would have no idea how to get rid of it in Arcade. The game doesn’t even deign to tell you the controls.
Another problem is related to the automatic matching of fish. This is fine by itself, especially in Arcade mode, where you earn many points and get significant time bonuses for these matches. However, while these matches are taking place, you can move your cursor, but cannot move any fish. One challenge involved matching twelve blue and twelve yellow fish. I had matched twelve blue fish, and ten yellow. I had three seconds to make the final match. It would have taken one move. But because the game kept finding so many matching sets, I lost the challenge, the only Hard-difficulty challenge I had come close to winning.
Visual design is decent, but a little bland. One background is repeated across every single stage, and this really begins to get monotonous. The fish look interesting, in their different colours, spread across the board, and the animation used when fish move and disappear is strange, but somewhat entertaining. One audio track, about five seconds long, loops through the entire game, which gets on your nerves after a while, even though you aren’t really concentrating; you’re too busy matching fish. A sound also plays when fish move or are matched, and this sounds somewhat watery, which is a good thing. The game runs at a reasonably steady framerate, but there is noticeable lag between actions, such as the explosion of a bomb and the destruction of nearby fish. However, this doesn’t really affect the gameplay, and as such is no more than a minor issue.
The lack of an online leaderboard for Arcade destroys any real replay value therein. It is laughably easy to knock the computer out of every spot, and unless you want to keep beating yourself (you get no rewards of any sort for getting a high score), you’ll stop after a few playthroughs. Around half of the challenges will take several tries to complete, if you have the patience to complete them. Some of these, however, are so difficult that you'll most probably give up beforehand. On the other hand, the first few levels can be easily beaten in one go. Each will take around two minutes, on average, so you’re looking at a little over an hour and a half of gameplay, which isn’t terrible for a Mini, but isn’t fantastic either. And if you’re bored, and you have nothing else on your PSP, and you’re on a very long bus ride, you can always try and get a high score on the arcade mode.
Aquattack is reasonably enjoyable, but bland.. It’s certainly playable, and actually quite decent, but there is nothing particularly exciting about it. There is nothing cringe-worthy, but then nothing will really make you feel like you’re having a huge amount of fun either. Puzzle fans will find a nice time pass here, but there are better Minis out there.