Not quite uplifting, but a splash of fun
I HAVE come to love "relaxing" games, especially those that encourage exploration, inspire quiet contemplation, evoke a sense of wonder or lift the senses - all at my own pace.
Early this month, when Singapore game developer LandShark Games released a free-to-play iOS and Android title called Zen Koi, which it said was "relaxing to play", my interest was piqued.
The game is fairly addictive at first, but not as sublime as I hoped it would be.
Zen Koi is essentially a collectible fish simulation game. You raise koi of various colours to adulthood in a pond and evolve them into dragons, which LandShark said is inspired by an Asian myth.
The visuals are simple and fairly effective. The koi are nicely stylised and move fluidly in a soothing, languid way. There are nice touches to the pond, too, like dancing shadows and bubble effects. Such subtle details do add a tangible polish to the game.
Even so, Zen Koi's Japanese-inspired music, while serviceable, gets repetitive and isn't uplifting for the most part.
The game is very simple to play, which makes it great for daily commutes and casual players: Tap anywhere in the pond to move your koi, and tap on other aquatic critters - such as amoeba-like creatures and fast-moving fish - for the koi to eat them.
The koi levels up by eating more critters, some of which change things up as they require a different approach to gobble them. Improving my hungry koi's attributes - like its swim speed - as it gained levels wasn't relaxing nor meditative, but it was pretty addictive.
When the koi becomes an adult, it can mate with another adult that wanders into the pond. It's a fun little diversion to chase this potential mate, and you get an egg for it. The egg hatches after some time to yield a baby fish you can select to play.
The hatching process can be sped up using "pearls" bought with real cash. Like in other free-to-play games, such purchases are not that cheap. Pearls are also used for things like buying more slots to store more playable koi.
Your newly hatched koi may also have a different colour from its parents. This might appeal to collectors - LandShark said there are more than 300 combinations of koi to collect.
But the koi collecting didn't catch my fancy. There's a gallery menu to view all the koi I got, but I can play only one koi at a time and can't admire all my koi swimming in the pond. Also, slots for storing playable koi are limited.
Evolving your koi into a dragon essentially requires it to chow down on different critter types. I was hooked to this initially but it became a tad repetitive later.
And here's a big bummer: After my koi's neat ascension to dragonhood, the dragon became another gallery entry and wasn't playable.
The dragon was also used to tabulate a high score to compete with friends. Some players might enjoy this but, to me, high scores detract from the "relaxing" premise of Zen Koi.
In any case, I need more than just filling collection entries and points to motivate me to collect virtual pets.
Zen Koi is pleasing to the eye and offers pockets of fun, especially since you can pick up the game wherever you left off. The game hints at Zen-like qualities, but it doesn't quite deliver an elevating, meditative experience, in part because of its levelling and competitive elements.
Zen Koi is free to download in Singapore on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. It hits global app stores on April 23.