I Am Fish is hands down the weirdest game I’ve played this year and it seems to have been created by crazy people. In other words, I really enjoyed it. It’s an intentionally frustrating physics-based platformer and a literal fish-out-of-water story that challenges you to overcome ridiculous obstacles. Escaping captivity isn’t always as fair or forgiving as you’d hoped, and can be downright infuriating at times, but overcoming your absurd challenges is often a beautiful thing. As a glutton for punishment, I found I Am Fish to be a challenging and entertaining ride that made me laugh, curse the seagulls, and occasionally sob uncontrollably on the carpet when I had to restart a section once more.
This is a strange and exaggerated story of a quartet of fish eating sensitive bread (which you may remember from I Am Bread) that awakens in them a human-like sensitivity and intelligence. Naturally, they use this to wreak havoc on their human overlords and destroy entire towns, much like a nihilistic version of Finding Nemo. It’s truly one of the weirdest premises I’ve ever seen and it made me laugh and shake my head in disbelief throughout the entire process, about 10 hours.
Perhaps strangest of all is how I Am Fish develops and expands the stories of I Am Bread and Surgeon Simulator, giving plenty of backstory and exposure to those games in what appears to be an incredibly ill-advised attempt to establish the BGU (Bread Gaming Universe, obviously). And honestly, I’m here for it. The completely absurd attempt to create a cohesive series out of an ironic bread-and-butter game only adds to the charming stupidity that called me in the first place.
Like I Am Bread before, the main obstacle you face in I Am Fish is that your playable characters are really difficult to control, but precision is almost always required. And when you’re constantly threatened by everything, like cars running over or, oh, I don’t know, coming into contact with air for more than a few seconds, you must expect to die a lot. As I struggled to steer a rolling fish tank or dropped into a body of water, I never felt like I was completely in control of aquatic animals, which is both annoying and hysterical. If he added up all the times he yelled something like “Oh, give me a break!” on the screen and gave you the number that you would probably think is my least favorite game, but it’s all by design. I cried tears of joy when I finally passed a particularly annoying section where seagulls were trying to kill me while I was rolling in a glass bottle, and I burst out laughing when cars repeatedly ran me over.
I Am Fish has four playable fish, three of which have unique abilities that must be mastered in order to solve puzzles. The piranha, for example, can bite and destroy just about anything in its path, while the flying fish can, well, fly. The introductory levels for each fish are highlights, where your new skills are fresh and the puzzles gradually become more challenging as you learn to make the most of your latest set of fins.
There are some really stellar levels, like one where a drunk man swallows you in a club and you have to make him stagger into a bath from inside his stomach before he pukes you up. Or when you roll your fish tank over the rooftops of a city using electrical wiring as guide rails. Discovering how to think like a fish and overcome absurd obstacles is a worthwhile experience, even when you’re dying a lot.
That said, not all the frustration that comes your way is fun; some sections cross that delicate line from being entertaining and annoying to just making me want to turn it off and play something more casual, like Demon’s Souls or Battletoads (1991). The bottle sections, in particular, feel downright cheap at times as I found myself squirming helplessly in a very unwieldy bottle while trying to navigate extremely accurate landscapes. In another, I found myself painfully inhibited by my own AI-controlled allies enthusiastically following me wherever I went and constantly getting in my way, causing me to die a half hundred times or so.
These kinds of extreme and unnecessary frustrations actually made up a not insignificant amount of my time with I Am Fish, enough to develop a kind of love-hate relationship with it. To make matters worse, some sections are too long without a checkpoint, forcing me to play parts repeatedly, increasingly irritating than the last. It’s a shame that he tried so hard to annoy me sometimes, because when things were sorted out I didn’t care or realize how much I was dying just because the obstacles thrown at me made me laugh. But I Am Fish pushes those limits fairly regularly and laughter is replaced by deep sighs and stress eating.
Screenshots of I Am Fish
If the normal controls are somehow not difficult enough for you, there is also the Bossa style of control, which makes you move the joystick like a fish’s tail in one of the craziest control schemes I’ve ever used. For masochists interested in a quick kick in the pants, this can be quite entertaining, although I can’t imagine myself wanting to go through that kind of agony for more than a level or two.
I Am Fish isn’t very long, with only 13 levels that I was able to get through in 10 hours or so with a fair amount of bullshit, but there’s quite a bit of replayability. The levels are mostly linear, but they usually have a few different paths that you can use to reach your goal. You can also chase star ratings by finding the fastest route through levels and completing quick races with as few kills as possible. Naturally, the collectible pieces of bread offer an optional challenge: they are found on the most difficult routes or out of the way to cause more pain, if you like that kind of thing. Collecting enough pieces of bread and getting higher star ratings also unlocks a bonus level, making repeating levels and honing your skills a worthwhile endeavor.