In what can only be described as a natural transition, Bossa Studios have followed up physics based platformer I Am Bread with I Am Fish. The premise remains similar, but you could say that yeast has been swapped for beast this time around, as you take control of four different fish and help them escape to the ocean.
But the journey from bowl to surf is far from simple. From the early build I played, I'd say I Am Fish is an absolute nightmare, both in the sense that it's difficult and also genuinely frightening. Don't let the cutesy Pixar look fool you; this game will have you in tatters.
So far, I Am Fish perfectly captures what I imagine it feels like to be a fish in and out of water (mainly out of water). That's pretty impressive, considering I'm sitting at the top of the food chain as someone who enjoys cod and chips at the beach. This confidence melts away the moment you step into the scales of the game's four fish: a puffer fish, a flying fish, a piranha, and a goldfish. Suddenly, you're all gilled up in a restrictive orb of glass, and those useful human constructs like stairs and bookshelves and roads transform into terrifying obstacles that stand between you and the hallowed H2O.
Not that the atmosphere in I Am Fish is particularly foreboding, at least from the four early levels I sampled. They were all set in an idyllic take on the English countryside where I imagine Postman Pat does the rounds and Paddington Bear goes for walks. If anything, the ambience was rather upbeat and extremely pleasant. You've got warm fields and gentle streams, and one level had me gliding between the soggy roofs of a cute market.
On the surface, the Finding Nemo extended universe I Am Fish presents is somewhere I'd normally love to visit. I'm a sucker for a place where I can buy overpriced fudge and stroll around an abbey with my arms behind my back. As a fish, though, I'm less keen. My main focus isn't on seeing the sights, but scanning them for pockets of water; a pipe; anything to keep my little heart beating.
And this impending sense of calamity saturates every subtle tweak of your fins. Water is everything, and if you do not have it, you will have nothing, because you are dead - capiche? Every movement must be carefully considered if you are to live, whether that be rolling down a staircase at just the right speed, or flopping from the kitchen counter and into the sink. As a puffer fish, you'll blow yourself up into a ball and career down hills in search of precious agua. As a piranha you'll go from chewing a hammer and launching yourself out of a window, to tumbling down a busy country lane in a glass jar. Pilot a flying fish and you'll soar across fields scanning for puddles. Later, you might control a goldfish as you dodge needles in sewers.
This last scenario as the goldfish was the most frightening of the levels I sampled. After I'd escaped the sewer system, I landed in a mop bucket and had to push myself to freedom: a swimming pool on the other side of a quaint park. On my way to said park, I'd quietly rolled past a man in a farmer's hat cleaning his car and thought nothing of it. "Oh, that's a nice piece of set dressing", I remember thinking to myself as I carefully navigated rocks and bumps in the grass.
Then that feeling struck me - that one where you instinctively know you're being watched. So I turned the camera to find the man in the farmer's hat pelting it towards me. It wasn't set dressing at all! It was an actual human who wanted to murder a nice fish! What sort of person would do that?! If I saw a goldfish in a mop bucket rolling down a park, I'd watch with glee. I'd egg it on with whoops and hollers. It would be the best thing I'd ever witnessed. But no, this guy had given up cleaning his car to snuff the life out of a fish in a bucket. Resident Evil Village's Lady Dimitrescu, Silent Hill's Pyramid Head, the many grim giants in Dark Souls... they are nothing on the man wearing a farmer's hat.
What ensued was a terrifying chase sequence where I hurriedly smashed my golden head into plastic to shimmy the bucket along. I cursed the park for being geologically unsound. I swore at the dirt and at the rocks. I held in and released my breath so tightly, I emitted sound at a frequency only cats can hear, which is the last thing I want. I turned the camera around to see him, a farmer's hat perched on top of a monstrous tangle of limbs. He loomed over me as I realised I was stuck. "The rocks, the fuc-", I mustered, before - I kid you not - he just booted my mop bucket over. There were two people on the bench nearby having a chat as I suffocated.
Despite this harrowing experience, I really want to play more I Am Fish. Yes, it's infuriating at times, but it makes those wild dashes to freedom truly spectacular. And some of the screenshots from future levels look brilliant, especially one where you're a puffer fish in a nightclub. The man in the farmer's cap surely isn't partial to a night on the cobblestones is he? Surely not.