The plot of Tasty Blue, the new arcade "eat-em-up" from Dingo Games and latest installment of their Tasty Planet series has the feel of a children's story to it: Once upon a time, there was a little fishy who wanted to escape his bowl. So he ate as much food flakes as he could, and grew big enough to escape down the drain. Once in the big sea, he grew bigger and bigger as he ate krill, other fishies, manatees, orcas, krakens and, eventually, helicopters, lighthouses and coastal townships. A dolphin at a local aquarium, tired of endlessly pushing balls through hoops, saw this now-big-fishy, and emulated him by eating everything in site. The World Military, pushed to the brink by these dual threats, commissioned the creation of a Grey Goo Shark to combat the menace, unaware of said Shark's desire to consume the entire world if he could... Okay, so it's probably not going to become an Aesop Fable any time soon, but this engaging combination of Fishy and that Katamari Damacy Mini Game is definitely good for an afternoon munch.
Though the view is now a side-scrolling perspective, controls should be familiar to those who have played previous installments in the series. Use the [WASD], [arrow keys], or mouse to direct the current aquatic antagonist around the oceany play field, eating everything smaller than you, and avoiding everything bigger than you. Depending on the difficulty setting, a collision with an enemy may either knock you a bit down to size or leave you consumed yourself. Holding down the [spacebar] or the mouse button will give you a burst of speed that, while making you a bit harder to control, is perfect for leaping out of the water to snatch an errant sea gull and/or helicopter. Most of the over 70 levels of the game will have you merely eating and growing as much as you can as fast as you can, though there are special levels with different requirements, such as eating a certain number of a specific item. A two-player co-op mode is also available for local play.
A note on the rating: There is a sliding "carnage" meter available in the options menu, and by default it is disabled, leaving it safely in the Yellow category of our ratings: people are eaten, but very cartoonishly so. Crank it up all the way, and, well, I guess it's still very cartoonish, but in a "Quentin Tarantio Directs Itchy & Scratchy" sense, include some gushing from things that I don't think technically bleed. I've set the rating at orange to split the difference.
Analysis: In my review of Tasty Planet: Dino Time, I remarked that the Tasty Planet series gameplay was one part to two parts Katamari. Well, in Tasty Blue, the underwater side-scrolling setting may make it more of a one-to-one ratio, but the fact that it still successfully evokes two of the casual gaming greats does a lot towards explaining why it's such a good time.
Video games sometimes have a reputation for offering entertainment through mindless destruction, and true, games like Miami Shark certainly have their charms. However, mindful destruction offer so much more of a visceral thrill, doesn't it? It is not merely that you are caroming all over the map, snapping battleships and airplanes into your waiting jaws, it's also that you can remember when attempting to take a bit out of those things would have meant a game over, and you've skillfully worked your way up to that dominance. The destruction is a reward for your skilled play, not the point in itself. You can find this dynamic in some of the most games of all time: certainly, RPGs have it as a central mechanic. However, it can be implemented as simply and as well as Pac-Man, The Ghosts, and the Power Pills, and a simple mechanic implemented well is definitely what distinguishes Tasty Blue.
AnalysisIt helps that the game is so visually appealing, with graphics like a hand-painted storybook from a slightly demented illustrator: the sea creatures you control are adorable, right up to the point where they open their mouth to reveal a set of razor sharp teeth, then close them on a red-stained feast. Of course, no one would or should mistake the sight of a pack of screaming Scuba Divers trying desperately to dog-paddle their way from an errant chomping as particularly mature comedy, but turning a viscous predator loose in an Insaniquarium-type world is half-the-fun, and one must admire Tasty Blue's commitment to its surreality.
On the downside, one has to admit the repetition inherent in the concept. The gameplay offered here is a snack, not a buffet, and while I found myself returning to Tasty Blue again and again, it was for fifteen-minute sessions of fun, not a gaming marathon. Part of it is setting: one really can't blame a game named "Tasty Blue" that takes place in the other for leaning to the soothing side of the chromatic spectrum in its aesthetic, but man there's a lot of blue and a lot of rocks. My eyes needed a rest after being so rested. Also, the soundtrack, while charming and successful in capturing the eclectic vibe of Katamari's with a nice selection of folk, jazz, and rock riffs, grew tiresome after a while. Where's Que Sera Sera when you need it?
Going into it with the understanding that it's meant to be entertaining in bite-sized chunks, Tasty Blue has a lot to recommend it. Check out the demo, give it some love on Steam Greenlight, and don't forget to floss afterwards: It's such a social faux pas to walk around with a propeller stuck in your teeth.