If you’ve ever played a mobile game before, playing Small Fry will likely be a very familiar experience. The sea-based auto-scroller, developed by No Monkeys and published by Noodlecake, borrows liberally from Android’s biggest hitters. It’s cute in a somewhat pedestrian way, and follows an extremely well-trodden path.
Small Fry plays like a mirrored Jetpack Joyride – holding the screen sees our fishy hero, Fry, plunging further into the watery deep, while releasing the screen sees him rise to the surface. This is important, you see, as marauding sharks make the ocean depths rather dangerous to inhabit. Being too small to fight back against these angry behemoths, your only option is to leap from the water using a system of ebbing and flowing momentum which recalls Tiny Wings – the deeper your descent, the higher your eventual ascent, and vice versa.
Not only that, but bouncing between bubbles in mid-air allows you to stay airborne for longer, and stay out of the sharks’ reach. It’s by mastering this art, through some skill and a healthy helping of luck, that you’ll achieve the most impressive distances. The bubbles afford you some height as well, and being among the stars in the night’s sky, or even space, feels like a genuine achievement.
Fry’s a charming little fellow, not dissimilar to Nemo in appearance, and it was a source of constant amusement for me to see his reactions to the sticky situations in which I landed him. He looks notably frightened when a shark gives chase, eyebrows raised and trembling in fear, and when he leaps out of the water he appears to be holding his breath. These are neat touches, and they show that a lot of care and attention has gone into Fry’s design.
Small Fry uses the classic loop of repetition to earn currency – clams, in this instance – which is then ploughed into the upgrade system. As I said, you know how this sort of thing operates. These upgrades are the kind you’d expect, too – they strengthen the effects of the power-ups which appear as you play, such as the clam magnet or the boost. So far, so standard.
Despite this focus on clams, it’s the challenges that’ll keep you coming back to Small Fry more than anything else. They lack the creativity of Jetpack Joyride’s, which would often have you approaching the game in completely new and bizarre ways, but being constantly fed these mini tasks makes jabbing the ‘Play Again’ button all the more tempting.
The game is free and ad-supported, but there are also in-app purchases. The IAPs range in cost from £0.59 to £11.19, and all involve in-game currency. You can straight-up buy large quantities of clams for real-world cash, or you can lay down some cash for a clam doubler, which is a more tempting long-term investment. These optional purchases are a time-saving venture more than anything, and are handled quite nicely. I did use a clam doubler, but I never felt in any way pressured to do so.
All of it is perfectly functional, and its gameplay is based on the tried and tested cornerstones of Android gaming – you dodge stuff, you collect currency to spend on upgrades, you constantly move right – but it brings little else to the table. The game’s one-man developer has shown a proficiency at emulating the compulsive qualities of existing titles, but it would have been nice to see him branch out and inject this solid gameplay with something a little more unique. It’s fun, sure enough, but its effect is diluted by the fact we’ve seen it all before. Having clams as a currency rather than coins isn’t enough to differentiate this one, sadly.