Ace of Seafood review: Sea dogs of war

In a world where shooters almost always given the military of sci-fi treatment, it’s refreshing to play a game like Ace of Seafood. Instead of army fatigues or space marine armour, it gives you… a gang of fish and other sealife. That shoot lasers. And roam the ocean beating up other fish.

It’s unconventional, to say the least, and that’s its charm. In a post-apocalyptic world where humans have died out, you are the “Ace of Seafood”, a fish (or crustacean) with unusual leadership qualities, which you channel into a quest to build a following and take over the ocean. That means roaming around with you gang, picking fights with other fish, collecting their DNA so that you can clone them for your gang, and trying to claim the various reefs that line the seabed. The goal is, simply, to capture all 40 or so reefs in the game, but most are fiercely guarded by other fish who’ll stop at nothing to defend their territory.

In practice, Ace of Seafood plays like a flight combat game, only with fish instead of fighter jets. Different species have different tools, but almost every creature has some sort of laser-like machine gun (technically, they’re firing plankton out of their gills at high speed), but the other weapons vary: homing clams, summoned decoys, shotgun-like blasts of water, and what have you.

Ace of Seafood review

Meanwhile, the rest of your gang will follow you around and fight according to simple AI and their own characteristics. You can give them basic commands, like “attack my target” or “form a wall in front of me to soak up enemy fire while I safely attack from the rear”, but they tend to just follow you and attack whatever’s nearby.

Initially, you have just a few species to choose from—a sardine, a mackerel, a crab, and a few others. As you destroy enemies and collect their DNA, you gain the ability to breed new creatures, which you can then add to your squad or control directly. You might start out as a sardine, but by the end of the game you’ll be able to play as a great white shark, a giant squid, a leopard seal, and a king crab, among others.

There are even a few submarines, despite the post-apocalyptic setting, that seem to be sentient and act like fish. Also, they’re inexplicably the size of small fish, rather than the size of… well, submarines, and you breed them through DNA just like any other animal in the game. In short, Ace of Seafood is a very bizarre game, and it’s that strangeness that makes it so fascinating and enjoyable.

Ace of Seafood review

Beneath all this are the hints of much deeper story than the “fish shooting lasers” premise would suggest. The plot is minimal, kept to a few vague lines of dialogue at the beginning and end of the game and a couple of curious loading screen messages, but they all point to a future where humankind’s efforts to control and mimic nature through science have lead to our downfall. Original? Not necessarily, but seeing the result of that in a world ruled by fish and odd genetic experiments is one of the most creative explorations of that idea I’ve come across.

That said, actually seeing the Ace of Seafood to its finish can be a trying task. It understandably lacks the polish and finesse of bigger-budget games, and that manifests in some awkward controls that take some getting used to. Different fish have different stats and serve different purposes, but there’s little information available in-game and actually figuring out what each species’ role is takes a lot of trial and error. Pick a fight with the wrong school of fish, and you’ll die very quickly due to the tactical disadvantage; even with the right approach, victory often seems to depend on luck.

Ace of Seafood review

So it can be a frustrating game. It’s clunky, but if anything, that adds to its charm—I can’t imagine what a super-polished, big-budget version of the game would look like, but I can’t imagine it would be nearly as oddly compelling as this. It’s worth putting up with a little frustration to play something as unique and creative as Ace of Seafood.

Ace of Seafood is developed by Nussoft and published by Playism. It’s available now for PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and PC.

A press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.