This eight kilobyte game sure packs a wallop and is a very unique addition to any 2600 library. Now, the concept might not seem that great on paper - the player starts off with a small fish and must eat fish that are of equal size in order to grow while avoiding enemies. As the game goes on and the fish grows, it can attack smaller fish, too.
That doesn't sound all that great, does it? So, why do I love this game? Simply put, the execution is everything here. Go Fish! is loosely based on Shark! Shark!, a game for the Mattel Intellivision. That's important to note because Go Fish! plays like one of the better Intellivision games in that subtle strategy and a unique concept is more important than the rapid-fire gameplay which was common when the 2600 was in its prime.
Swimming around and eating fish while avoiding jellyfish, larger fish, eels and that nasty ol' shark might not seem like the makings of a great game, but Montgomery has added enough fantastic elements to this title to truly make it special. For one thing, inertia plays a heavy part in this game. At first, that's not that big of a deal - it's not that difficult to get a little fish to change directions and dart off here and there. But, it becomes more of a challenge once the fish grows and feels much "heavier" than it did in the beginning. That large fish doesn't accelerate from a dead stop as quickly, and it isn't as easy to reverse directions and avoid enemies, either.
And, on the subject of enemies, they become more common as the fish gets larger. So, it's not only harder to avoid them, there are more of them, too. Oh, and grabbing smaller fish becomes more difficult after a time, too, because they will dart away as soon as they spot the larger beastie. The difficulty level ramps up very naturally, see, and makes for a challenging and enjoyable game. This game, indeed, has that coveted "I've got to play it just one more time" quality to it.
The control here is great and the use of physics, as I mentioned, is implemented well. Similarly, the graphics are quite soothing - the undersea environment was captured well by Montgomery, although the single-colored enemies and the player's own fish is nothing too exciting. Animation is used well here as the fins flip around convincingly when the player's fish is swimming around the ocean.
The sound is better than most Atari games. Well, kind of. You get the usual "blips" and "bloops" that are standard in Atari games, but there's a whimsical, musical ditty that plays throughout the game. I happen to like it, but I could see how some people might get annoyed with it after a time. It can be turned off with the "color / B-W" switch on a 2600 or with the "pause" switch on an Atari 7800. This game also supports the AtariVox - which is available through AtariAge - for some speech and to save high scores. I don't own an AtariVox, so I really can't say much about how well the game utilizes it.
There is a two-player mode here that's worth mentioning. The players, essentially, are on the screen at the same time and try to score points against each other. Their fish can either grow or not depending on the difficulty setting, and the player with the larger fish can eat his opponent. According to the manual, two-player mode cannot be played with the AtariVox, but that only makes sense because the speech-synthesis unit plugs into the right controller port.
If there's one flaw in this game, it's that you only get one fish. That's right. Forget about the "extra lives" that arcade fans just love. Once your fish is eaten, it's time to start again. But, given the nature of the game, the lack of extra lives is really no big deal. Protecting that one fish just adds to the challenge of the game.
This game, like most recent homebrews, just screams quality. In addition to the excellent program, you get a full color label designed by Renato Brito and a fantastic manual by Tony Morse. The whole package looks wonderful, and underlines the point that this game would have probably been at least fairly successful had it been released back when Atari was king.
This is one of those games that, in my mind, every serious 2600 fan should purchase. It's not only a great game, but programmers like Montgomery should be encouraged to keep producing fantastic titles like Go Fish! Top-notch homebrews like Go Fish! help keep the Atari 2600 alive and kicking, and we fans of the system should all be grateful for that.