Many mobile games take a simple concept and build it into an obsession. Previous games from Halfbrick demonstrate how this approach can turn a game into a sensation; Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride are easy to play, but difficult to put down. The studio’s latest title, Fish Out Of Water, doesn’t have the same success. Wading into this experience is certainly easy, but the shallow waters didn’t reel me in.

Your goal is to throw a collection of unique fish over the ocean, making them travel as far and skip as much as possible along the way. This is where I’d normally say something like “The concept sounds basic, but…” except there is no “but” this time. That’s pretty much the entirety of the game.

You get assigned a score from a panel of judges after three throws, and then you start a new round. Appealing to certain judges is the only layer of strategy; one scores higher for distance, but another prefers more skips. Each of the six fish has different properties, leaning toward distance, skips, or a balance. This means you can tailor your selection to make up for lost ground in one area, but luck is ultimately more important than skill.

Once you launch your fish by swiping the screen, events are largely out of your hands. A boost meter (which carries over between throws in each round) gives you a little bit of control over how each fish performs, but the crucial factor is the weather. Depending on what time of day you play the game, the waters can vary from calm to turbulent. High scores are easier to get during fair weather, since an errant wave or obstacle can throw off a fish’s trajectory. Leaving this important aspect of the game to chance is frustrating, though you can see what the weather looks like for the coming hours if you want to plan ahead for clear skies. 

Like Jetpack Joyride, Fish Out Of Water has secondary goals to accomplish, but you only get one at a time. If you don’t like one (or it’s too difficult), you’re stuck with it, which is annoying. Completing these goals leads to leveling up, which in turn leads to you earning crystals. Along with boost, crystals are the other way you can influence your score. They might add some points to your final score, or automatically increase the distance of the next fish you throw. However, gems are also scarce, which is how Fish Out Of Water makes its money. If you don’t want to complete the one secondary goal on the table to level up, you can pay real money for packs of crystals to augment your game.

Making players pay for crystals might have worked, but the game doesn’t do anything to get them invested. You don’t get different stages with varying objectives; you’re always throwing the same six fish on the same beach and trying to maximize distance and skips. You don’t earn new abilities, you can’t customize anything (unless you want to pay $1 to change the color of your name), and you don’t make any tangible progress. You can shoot for achievements or join a league to compete with other players, but with no real advantage or reward beyond bragging rights, it feels pointless.

I respect Halfbrick as one of the developers responsible for shaping the current state of mobile gaming, but Fish Out Of Water is a barebones offering that sinks rather than swims.