In 1991, Towachiki and Sofel released a Game Boy game called Fish Dude. I know, right? Fish Dude. My mind is, ah ha ha ha, swimming with all the possibilities that this title conjures up.
Is it the story of a man - a "dude," if you will - who really likes fish, his affection for all the creatures of the deep eventually defining his personality to such an overwhelming extent that the local children simply refer to him as "Fish Dude"? Perhaps it's the tale of a grotesque half-man, half-flounder creature who thinks about becoming a costumed vigilante but soon realises that you only have great responsibilities if you have great power, and as his powers mostly consist of filter-feeding and being high in Omega-3 he can safely spend his time watching TV and guzzling TetraFin. The potential is endless!
Which makes so much more disappointing when you realise you're just a fish. That's you there, the black fish with the five o'clock shadow from the Homer Simpson collection. No dude, all fish. I suppose the developer though they couldn't get away with just calling their game Fish, even if it would have been much more accurate.
Okay, so you're a fish. What is your goal as a fish?
Above all else your goal is to eat, to devour, to attempt to satiate the roaring emptiness of your infinite hunger while knowing full well that this ravenous need cannot by quelled for long. There are smaller fish than you in the sea, and to finish the stage you need to consume a certain amount of these minnows.
Fortunately, Fish Dude can unsling his jaw to gobble up his prey, although he's sophisticated enough that he must chew his food before swallowing. His father didn't just swim over his son's egg and spray it with a cloud of reproductive material, oh no - he stuck around and taught him good table manners too.
The game works like this: you have eight-way movement control over Fish Dude, and it's your job to make sure he gets fed. When you see a smaller fish than you, press the A button to open your cavernous gob and swim into your target. Once it's in your mouth, you repeatedly press A until it stops struggling and Fish Dude can swallow it.
The other side of the gameplay is survival. Fish Dude isn't lucky enough to be at the top of the food chain, and there are bigger fish that will try to eat you on sight. If they touch you, you're eaten and you lose a life.
At least I think you get eaten. Devoured, spun around, it doesn't matter, You lose a life, come what may.
So, Fish Dude is a red-in-tooth-and-claw-em-up, SimDarwinism, survival of ther fishest. Eat your fill before you get eaten. It's a simple game - it's essentially just Pac-Man, after all - but there are a few little quirks that shake things up at little.
In most stages, you can leap out of the ocean briefly to evade your predators!
Unless your predators are sea birds, in which case congratulations, you just jumped straight into the mouth of something that wants to eat you. The other birds down at the bird pub are never going to believe this guy's story about the time lunch jumped into his beak.
I'm not sure what birds those are supposed to be, though. Sea birds, obviously, but I dunno... gulls aren't the most pleasant birds, but even they don't look like they were built by some mad god who only had knitting needles and coathangers to work with.
It's a good job I had some context to work with that helped me identify it as a bird, because if I'd been presented that image and hadn't seen it flying in the sky, I would have classified it as "A Thing, Maybe A Squashed Insect Or Summat?"
Not every stage has the freakish birds patrolling the surface, however. Sometimes the sky is clear and you can leap about to your heart's content, or at least until the inevitable happens and you land right next to a hungry fish that was lurking at the edge of the screen. Oh, and some stages have cats.
Again, context is key on this one, because without the knowledge that cats really like eating fish, this thing is only a pair of pointy ears away from looking just like a wide-eyed child with slicked-forward hair and ruddy cheeks.
So, yeah, there's a cat in a sailboat that wants to eat you. Well, a cat's head at least. The rest of it is all ship. Hang on...
There you go, it's canon now. Fish Dude takes place in the Parodius universe, because surely there can only be one universe with cats that have seafaring vessels for bodies.
There are octopuses, too. They're even visually identifiable as octopuses without the need for context clues, making them the crowning acheivement of Fish Dude's graphics. What do the octopuses do when you touch them?
Yes, very helpful. You don't die or anything, the screen just becomes a negative image for a while. This is probably supposed to represent the octopus' ink or something, and maybe it helps keep the big fish off your scent for a while or something but I can't say I noticed.
That's about it for Fish Dude. After three stages you grow a bit larger, but then so do the fish that are trying to eat you so I guess the lesson is that there will always be someone better than you out there somewhere. Or maybe the lesson is that if you eat lots of fish, you will grow bigger but not large enough to deter potential predators, so if Timmy from the year above is bullying you at school eating twelve dozen fish fingers is not going to make him stop.
It's nothing special, but Fish Dude could have been an acceptable little time-killer if it wasn't for a few hiccups. The main problem is that the predator fish are just too damn good at predating - they're fast and pretty relentless, which would be okay if it wasn't for the fact that you can't see them most of the time. You have to get pretty damn close to the edge of the screen before it will start scrolling and the enemy fish seem to be able to see you before you get on the screen, so you suffer a lot of frustrating, single-hit deaths because a fish you couldn't see suddenly popped up right in front of you with murder in its glassy, side-facing eyes. Imagine trying to play Pac-Man if you could only see the an area a few squares around Pac-Man, an area that only scrolled when you got right to the edge, and all the ghosts knew full well where you are, and you had to stop for a couple of seconds to eat each pellet. That is the Fish Dude experience.
I would complain about your fish's tendency to accidentally catch little fish in your mouth when you're trying to escape from the big fish. You move faster with your mouth open. That makes sense - I know whenever I run anywhere I have to do so with with my gob flapping open, gulping in lungfuls of sweet, precious air, and it truly is a sight to behold. Sadly this means that fish get caught in there and you can't move. In Fish Dude, I mean, not when I'm running. I struggled with this until I realised you can press B when you have a fish in there, which makes it disappear. If you do this, it doesn't count towards your fish total but it's better than getting swallowed.
Fish Dude is also a very short game, although whether that's a good thing or a bad thing depends how much you like the game. There are only eighteen stages, and by that I mean there are actually nine stages and two difficulty levels. Once you reach stage 3-3, you've seen everything the game has to offer, although it does at least give you something different to do in the final stretch.
There are only big fish in the last stage. It turns out you can actually eat the big fish, you just have to get behind them and hope for the best, because even if you think you're coming at just the right angle half the time they'll turn around at the exact moment you reach them and punish you for your insolence in attempting to usurp the natural order. Thankfully you only need to eat three of them.
And hey, there's a dude! Finally, the game's title makes sense - it's actually supposed to be Fish, Dude. The diver just floats around the stage, getting in your way, completely unanimated. In fact, everything in this game is unanimated. No flapping tails, now paddling frogman legs, everything just hovers around the screen. It looks like shit.
If you manage to eat three big fish - and it's an infuriating, haphazard process so no-one would blame you if you just gave up - then congratulations, you've sort-of completed Fish Dude. Your medal's in the post, killer.
I feel a bit bad for that eel, though. Banner-pulling duties are hardly the most glamourous job in the ocean. Those seahorses that pull Neptune's chariot will be laughing at him behind his back, and given how long an eel is that is a lot of back to be laughing behind.
After you've done that, you can go through the "advanced levels," which are just the previous stages but more difficult, with higher fish-munching thresholds and all that. There are five big fish in the final stage as opposed to three. It's about as exciting as it sounds.
Yes, I am the champ. The champion of eating fish. Lord of the pelagic zone, master of mouths. That eel somehow looks more disconsolate than ever despite having the same sprite.
So long, Fish Dude. Your odd name drew me in but your awkward, limited gameplay pushed me away. As a game I suppose it's not too terrible, in concept at least, and the fact that it's a handheld game means that the short stages and overall brevity of the game get a bit more leeway from me. It's just not much fun, and it's ugly to look at, although the music's not bad.
And finally on the subject of fish who are not dudes, here is the box art.
That's not a fish. That's a dolphin. Dolphins aren't fish, not even when they're wearing totally tubular and radical hats spewed forth from the neon-patterned bowels of the 1990s. Everything else is fairly accurate, apart from the octopus' way-cool shades, but that is most definitely not a fish. You had one job, cover artist, and that was to draw a fish. I'm... I'm sorry, I'm too overcome with disappointment to continue. Goodbye to you all.