By: Armaan Khan
In Lightfish, you play a glowy neon fish living in the glowy neon depths of the ocean, and your goal is to eliminate the glowy neon threats endangering your survival. Apparently, the best way of doing this is by drawing boxes around everything. I had no idea undersea survival looked like Flow and played like Qix. If you don’t know what Qix is, here’s a rundown. There’s a rectangular arena filled with baddies and other obstacles, and your job is to capture at least 75% of the territory by drawing rectilinear shapes inside it. Complete a shape and the enclosed area is yours, but if you or the line you’re drawing gets touched by a bad guy, you die. If you’re not drawing a line, you can only move along the perimeter of the hostile area, but while drawing you have free reign to go wherever you want.
Lightfish takes this formula and applies it to 45 levels spread across five worlds. There are two game modes available, adventure and time trial; both of which take you through the exact same set of levels and gameplay, except that time trial obviously gives you a limited amount of time to achieve victory. It’s not a hard game to get the hang of. It gets challenging toward the end, especially when you’re trying to get the highest performance ratings, but it lacks any sort of player engagement whatsoever. In my entire time with Lightfish, I never felt like I was having fun. I was just going through the motions of capturing territory and completing levels because that’s what had to be done, not because I wanted to do it.
The biggest problem is that there’s no payoff for winning. When you complete a level, you’re told “You Win”; your points are tallied; and you’re given a rating out of three stars. There’s no fanfare, no celebration animation, nothing. Even if you three-star the hardest level in the game, you’re treated the same way as if you zero-starred the easiest. When you complete a world, you just move right on to the next without even being told you finished. And when you finish the game, you simply get sent back to the main menu.
It might seem shallow to criticize a game because of a lack of victory animations, but I’m just using that as an example to show how Lightfish fails the gamer. Without an overt reward for doing well, the player isn’t motivated to play, which means he or she can’t become physically or emotionally invested in the experience. If there’s no investment, there can’t be any fun. There are lots of other ways to add joy to a game, and Lightfish doesn’t implement any of them. The game’s enemies are more annoying than threatening, the levels all look the same, and the gameplay is vanilla Qix with none of the cool innovations found in other clones. To top it off, it’s all wrapped up in a visual style that was interesting five years ago, but is simply cliché today. The music is great, though. I’ll give it that much.
Conclusion – Is It Worth The Money?
I don’t want you to think that Lightfish is a bad game, because it’s not. But it’s not a good game either. It’s just uninteresting. Objectively, there’s good value for money here. It took me two and a half hours to beat both the adventure and time trial modes, and it would probably take me another hour or so to get three-star ratings in everything if I were motivated to do so. That isn’t bad for five bucks, but with video games, there’s more to value than just volume of content. Fun is a big factor, and there’s none of that to be found here. I mean, okay, if you absolutely loved the original Qix, and you’ve already played the only other, better, commercial clone of it that’s available on Steam, then by all means go ahead and buy Lightfish. Otherwise, you should save your cash for something that’s more fun and rewarding.
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