Saturday, October 24, 2009

All N-GAGE Games Here… [BiNPDA]

Hooked On: Creatures Of The Deep is one of Nokia’s flagship first party games, and one of the most eagerly awaited titles of the new N-Gage platform’s launch. It’s been published by Nokia itself, and the developers are the Polish company Infinite Dreams, who are well-known in the smartphone community for their acclaimed high-quality games such as K-Rally, Sky Force and Super Miners (all of which are available for N-Gage phones, just look for the versions labelled “Symbian S60 3rd Edition”).
HO:COTD is a sort of combination of a fishing simulator and a role playing game, with every successful catch earning you experience points (XP) that bring you closer to “levelling up”, which unlocks new features, playing areas, items and even mini-games. You can just fish at random if you want, or you can choose to take part in a quest (usually to find a particular object lost underwater, or to catch a certain creature), or you can take part in tournaments which are held several times a day in the game world (they’re offline tournaments against computer players, so you don’t need an internet connection). All three activities can be done at once, so for example if you get bored of a quest you can go off to join a tournament.
The game takes place in four real-life fishing resorts in Costa Rica, Alaska, Scotland and Thailand. Some of the characters you meet exist in real life, and the resorts themselves are represented by locations in the game based on real maps. You start the game in Costa Rica but as you earn experience you’ll unlock the other locations, and you can fly to them from each resort’s airport. As you level up, new fishing tackle will be available to you from the resort shop (you don’t have to pay for it, just reach the right level of experience and go and collect it).
The controls for the game are very, very simple: you move with the direction pad, and you select things with either the direction pad button or the top gaming button (the A button). You also occasionally have to choose an option with the blue soft keys. The simplicity of the controls means you can play the game just as easily with one hand as two, and the game plays just as well in horizontal/landscape mode as it does in vertical/portrait mode. HO:COTD is suited to practically any phone model with any button layout.
You choose where to fish from a detailed 2D map which you drive your boat around. The map is animated, so for example you can see where other boats are fishing (if there are any), and the depth of the water is visible from the colours of the sea or lake. Once you decide on a place to fish, you just click the button and you’re presented with a 3D view of the spot where you can look all round and up and down.

Using a golf style power meter, you press the button to cast your line, and then press it again to choose how far out you want the line to go. If you’ve managed to obtain a depth meter, you’ll see a chart showing how deeply your lure has sunk, which is important as different lures sink at different speeds, and different fish live at different depths. Reeling the lure in keeps it at that depth, though it may drag it away from an interested fish. When a fish does try to take the bait, the game’s camera zooms in on the end of your reel, and if the fish is ready to be reeled in a blue icon will appear telling you to press the game button.
This is where the excitement begins: you have to get the fish all the way back to the boat, with that distance represented by a blue bar. At the same time, the fish has to get away from you, so it tries to pull on the line as hard as it can, and the strain on your line is represented by a green and red bar next to the blue bar. If you don’t reel the fish in it will get away, but if you do reel the fish in it will cause strain on the line. Your task is to balance the strain with the reeling, and this is where the essence of the game lies, in “playing chicken” with the strain gauge so that it goes as close to breaking point without actually breaking. This is made very difficult by the constant changes in direction of the fish, and you see it spinning you around in the main display, occasionally even jumping out of the water in a rather spectacular manner.
If the above process sounds complicated, it isn’t, you get to know the game very quickly and fishing becomes an instinctive process. Catching a fish feels very much like a duel, which is probably as it should be.
If you manage to get a fish reeled all the way in, you receive experience points based on how rare the fish is and how difficult it is to catch. You can then either keep the fish or release it (the game generally rewards you for releasing fish, especially rare species).
Sometimes you’ll find a fish is very easy to reel in, and then you’ll discover it isn’t a fish at all but an object of some kind. It’s worth keeping all the man-made objects you find, as you receive bonus experience points for removing rubbish from the water, and the objects may help you solve certain quests. Particularly interesting are the messages in bottles that you catch from time to time, which reveal the back-story to the location you’re in at the moment. For example the Costa Rica resort has lots of ancient maps and messages from Christopher Columbus.
You’ll also very occasionally catch a creature that isn’t a fish, such as a turtle, crocodile or even (if you’re lucky) the Loch Ness Monster.

Some Important Hints
One of the problems with HO:COTD is that it doesn’t really have a tutorial to get you started, so let’s take a break from the review for a moment and look at some important things you should know before playing the game:
* The “Pause” menu is your best friend, it contains all the important information you need to play the game.
* The “Pocket” section of the pause menu contains your tackle box (where you can choose the fishing equipment you want to use), as well as a Pokemon-style bestiary of the fish you’ve caught in that resort, and a “Live Well” section containing all the objects you’ve kept.
* Don’t repeatedly pound the game button to reel in the fish, just keep it pressed down to reel in and release it if line tension is too high.
* When you’re at an appropriate level you can collect new tackle from the resort, represented by an orange circle with a house in it. You have to collect it for it to appear in your tackle box, and you have to then select it from your tackle box in order to use it.
* Tackle unlocked when you reach a higher level is NOT necessarily better than tackle from a lower level, quite often a lower level item works better than a higher level item. For example some of the higher level lures sink much more quickly, which means they’re useless in trying to catch fish which live near the surface. You need different kinds of tackle for different kinds of fish, there are no simple tackle “upgrades”.
* The green and red dots represent quests, just go to them and click on the button to find out what they are. If you want a further hint or a reminder of what you’re supposed to do, go back to the dot and click on the button.
* The game does have a variety of different lures, rods, lines and other equipment, but these aren’t open to you when you begin. As you progress, the fishing techniques you can use become more subtle and complex.
* Different fish live in different places, come out at different times of day, and live at different depths, so try to vary where and how you fish as much as possible. The depth meter will help you do this, as will an appropriate choice of tackle.
* Your level, experience and tackle box only count in the resort you’re in. You earn experience, levels and equipment completely separately in each resort, so for example you might be level 10 in Costa Rica but only level 2 in Alaska. In effect, each resort is a separate game.
* If you want to use the rumble feature, as well as switching it on in the options menu you also have to have vibrating alert switched on in the phone profile you’re currently using. For example, if you have the phone in offline mode, you’ll have to activate vibrating alert in the “offline” profile for the rumble feature to work in the game. You can usually find the profiles icon in the “Tools” folder on the main menu screen.
* Let the main menu of the game run on its own and you’ll see fish and objects you’ve recently caught float by in a virtual aquarium.
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