Nemo’s Reef (iOS/Android) review

Nemo’s Reef is a new iOS and Android game from Disney Interactive, based loosely on the Pixar movie Finding Nemo. The game sees players following the further adventures of Nemo and his father as the latter is assigned a class project to build a new reef. It’s a free-to-play title with in-app purchases of currency, available now from the App Store and Google Play.

Nemo’s Reef is a simple building game in which players must plant various types of undersea plant in an attempt to attract different types of fish and produce income. At heart, it is essentially a well-disguised citybuilder — players produce goods (in this case, algae) to supply other structures (in this case, “living plants”) and subsequently attract additional population (in this case, fish). There is no real “goal” to the game as such beyond attempting to attract all of the available types of fish on offer in the game, many of whom are characters from the Finding Nemo movie.

Gameplay in Nemo’s Reef consists of several steps. The player is initially provided with a few plants and pieces of coral that produce the game’s soft currency of “sand dollars” and the algae goods. From here, the player is invited through a linear series of quests to plant “living plants,” which require three applications of algae to grow to maturity, and surround them with various ornamental items. The particular combinations of living plants and ornamental items the player uses determines which fish will arrive, and part of the game’s challenge revolves around determining exactly what various types of fish will need to take up residence in Nemo’s reef. Hints may be purchased using the game’s hard currency if the player finds themselves stuck, but the game provides enough of an income stream to encourage a bit of experimentation and, as always, the game’s three currencies (sand dollars, algae and hard currency pearls) may be acquired via in-app purchase if they find themselves coming up a bit short or are simply impatient.

There is a lot of sitting around waiting in Nemo’s Reef, even early in the game. New plants must be fed three times before they grow to maturity, with a significant delay between each feeding. These wait times may be bypassed with hard currency if the player desires, though to prevent accidental expenditure, the game prevents the player from using this “speed up” function once the remaining wait time drops below ten seconds. The player is explicitly introduced to the use of pearls to speed up lengthy building projects in an early quest, so they are made well aware of the options for spending their hard currency.

Nemo’s Reef is very well-presented and captures the character of the movie well in its visual style — but it has its flaws. The most serious of these is the interface, which occasionally simply fails to register taps on various items, or sometimes “lags” by a few seconds before anything happens. It’s not clear whether this is the fault of the game engine itself or whether it is dependent on the user’s Internet connection, but it happened frequently enough during testing to have a markedly negative impact on the experience. On a related note, starting the game for the first time requires the player to download a 7MB update within the game itself before it can be played — making it impractical to start the game while on a slow mobile connection or in an area with no signal. Quite why this 7MB update couldn’t have been included in the main app package itself — which is only 36MB as it is — isn’t entirely clear. Some sort of “offline” mode for the game would clearly be a sensible addition for those who like to play on the go.