Feed the greedy penguins in Seabirds

Seabirds is a new iOS release from Shamrock Games. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, but despite its recent release it is not, in fact, a brand new game. Instead, it is a free-to-play rerelease of the paid game Greedy Penguins from earlier this year, which was originally published by Chillingo.

Seabirds tasks players with ensuring that a variety of colored penguins get their favorite fish to eat. Each penguin will only eat a fish of a corresponding color — if the wrong thing enters their mouth, they will throw up rather graphically and the player will fail the level.

The game takes the form of a series of physics puzzles. It is not possible to move the penguins directly — all the player can do is release fish or other objects from nets and flying storks by tapping on them and hope their timing is accurate. Certain levels provide an optional video “hint” that actually shows the whole solution — the first of these is free, but subsequent ones must be unlocked by expending the golden fish acquired after successfully completing a level. Between one and three fish are awarded to the player after a level has been successfully completed according to how quickly they completed the challenge, and additional fish may be acquired via in-app purchase. Fish are also required to unlock later “worlds” in the game, meaning that in-app purchases may be used to effectively “buy progress” through the game.

Seabirds provides a decent amount of physics puzzling fun for free, but its execution is far from perfect. The most glaring issue is that the player’s taps on fish frequently fail to register — particularly when attempting to release one from a moving stork — and this can lead to frustration. The ability to buy progress through in-app purchasing somewhat undermines the game’s own structure, and the banner ad present on the game screen is obtrusive and distracting, though does not tend to actually obstruct the game screen and may be dispatched with any in-app purchase.

Another issue with the game is that it launches the player into its challenges without any explanation whatsoever. The game does not explain that the aim is to get fish into the mouths of penguins of the corresponding color, and the only mechanical guidance it gives is a small pointing finger suggesting things to tap on. Sometimes this is useful; at other times it simply shows that the player can tap on the penguins to make them perform amusing animations. Some more “core” players appreciate not being talked down to by their games, but the casual player market which this game is clearly aimed at generally appreciates at least a little guidance for them to get started.

Perhaps a more major problem, however, is that the game is quite unfriendly to color-blind people. While the different-colored penguins are easily distinguishable by their different body types and accessories, the various fish are identical aside from their color, and there is no “color-blind mode” to assist. This is a criticism that was leveled at the original Greedy Penguins and does not appear to have been addressed since its initial release. While the problem is a rather specific one that will not affect many players, a good proportion of puzzle game developers in the last few years tackle the color-blind issue either through making the various colored items visually distinctive or by providing an optional “color-blind mode” with additional distinguishing interface features.

Despite the issues, Seabirds is fun game and a good example of mobile gaming as a five-minute diversion. It’s not very deep, it’s not especially original, but it does have a decent degree of visual charm about it, and it’s easy to pick up and play even without an initial tutorial. The fact it is free will also encourage people to take a chance on it, though whether or not it offers enough variety to maintain players’ interest over time remains to be seen.

Seabirds is not presently ranked on our tracking service AppData. Check back shortly to follow its progress through the App Store charts.