Revisiting Aquarium Games on the iPad with Tap Reef

Tap ReefIt’s been about a year since virtual aquarium applications splashed onto Facebook, but that doesn’t stop the occasional iteration from seeping through to mobile now and again. The most recent is a game by the name of Tap Reef HD on the iPad. Developed by Jirbo, it’s free, and also available on the iPhone. It could be the app for aquarium lovers who prize high-quality visual effects more than innovative social features — in fact, it already is for many, having reached some top positions on the iTunes App Store leaderboards.

Bef0re we get into the details, here’s a refresher in virtual aquarium games. Essentially, players are tasked with caring for a digital fish tank and raising a wide variety of colorful salt water fish in the process. With Tap Reef, the functionality is no different from previous titles in that players purchase fish from the store and feed them periodically so they don’t die. Most apps we’ve seen let users sell fish for a profit assuming they’ve cared for them properly.

Each fish also comes with a set happiness meter which is affected by regular feeding, the cleanliness of the tank (users must sponge the algae every few hours), and “petting” one’s fish. It’s a bit odd, for sure, but this is merely tapping on the fish itself. What is curious, is that this is one of the visual perks of the game. The app is actually 3D, and tapping on a fish allows the user zoom in on the animal, following it closely with the camera.

Close Up FishFor an aquarium genre that has ranged everywhere from cartoon-fish to stiff, Photoshop cutouts, Jirbo’s title actually looks very nice with actual 3D fish models. Are they perfect? No, when zoomed in, there are a number of visible texture seams or z-buffering issues, but for a mobile game, it’s certainly one of the better titles out there.

Despite all the colorful fish swimming in all directions, it is surprising that the game has no real decorum. The focus of Tap Reef is solely on the fish (and there are a lot) and the only decorations involve new backgrounds and some soothing musical scores (well, there’s also a clam and a diver).

Obviously, this is one of the negatives of the game, as other fish titles, such as Fish World, had the décor affect the fishes’ happiness level, creating a function to the aesthetic, and allowing the fish to sell for more. Here, happiness still affects the value of the fish, but there is less involvement to it.

Another aspect worth noting, is that each type of fish comes with a “hardiness” rating which is indicative of how easy it is to care for. The hardier it is, the less it has to be fed, pet, or the tank need be cleaned. As with real salt water fish, however, the fancier ones require much more attention, but are also worth more coin. Also, once fish reach adulthood, they can also be bred. Doing so will cause a pair of fish to swim together for a time until the new baby is born. Of course, once again, aside from the visual, this is a mechanic that has been seen and done before.

Exotic Creatures

On the social front, Tap Reef is integrated with Facebook directly. This allows for automatic importation of any Facebook friends that also play the game, as well the ability to easily share achievements and screenshots. Also ,within one’s profile is a visible set of stats (fish born, fish deaths, fish sales, etc.) that display just how good a fish keeper one is. Additionally, there are global leaderboards that compare all Tap Reef players together.