With a story as intriguing as its gameplay, Aquaria submerges you in an addictive action-adventure romp through vast underwater worlds in one of the best independent game releases in recent years. It’s charming, original, engaging and packed to the gills with entertainment. What’s the price of admission? Plan on $30 and a substantial chunk of your time.
Unlike many tale-heavy titles, Aquaria‘s storyline is woven intricately into the game and is told in eloquent fashion, featuring excellent writing and quality voice-overs. It’s the story of Naija, an underwater dweller in search of her family, and a narrative of long lost cultures, love and war, transformation and loss.
No alternate play modes get in the way of Aquaria‘s tale of exploration and conflict across a massive oceanic world – one teeming with life and secrets. Play consists of ferreting out each unexplored corner of this undersea environ via mouse (recommended), keyboard or gamepad. The left mouse button directs Naija as she swims; the right enables her gift of Verse, in other words the singing of songs. Through the selection of notes (six to be exact) she weaves together and casts musical spells that affect her environment, change her form and combat numerous denizens of the deep.
Aquaria incorporates a unique recipe system, as well, a Cooking Mama-like aspect of play for creating foods that heal, regenerate health and add special, though temporary, abilities. Recipes, dozens of them, are discovered by finding pre-cooked foods and through experimentation. As for ingredients, they consist of both plant and animal components. Plant leaves, mushrooms, berries and bulbs are hidden under rocks or are found growing on vegetative outcroppings.
Ingredients also come from undersea creatures, once dispatched, like fish, eel, octopi and various crustaceans that leave behind useful bits of oil, meat, tentacles, eggs, fins and bones. All these cook-able components combine to create a variety of special foods such as rolls, soups and cakes. For instance, combine any oil and egg and you get a Sea Cake for basic healing. Mix a Sea Cake with a Plant Leaf and concoct a Veggie Cake with regenerative effects. Add in a Red Berry and it becomes a Special Cake, doubling the regenerative effect.
Puzzles and challenges abound in this watery world, too, as you discover how to move boulders that block your path, unlock doors and open portals. Often, gaining a new ability requires a return to a previously-explored location to solve an earlier puzzle. Special items unearthed enhance the game in various ways, as well. A Jelly Beacon attracts jellyfish, a Giant Seed fills your home with colorful plants and Krotite Armor provides a change of outfit.
Of course, a good deal of combat accompanies play. Various enemies fill the liquid world of Aquaria. While a few swim about as ready-made ingredients for recipe concoction, many seek to make your life miserable, biting or shooting various underwater projectiles in an effort to ebb your life away.
Average foes that abound in Aquaria, squids, crabs, turtles, sharks and other underwater ilk, are easily dispatched. Tougher baddies, bosses and mini-bosses, however, require more than avoidance and a few well-placed shots to eradicate. A slightly different strategy is needed to defeat each one. And, some provide a reward for your efforts. For instance, conquer the spirit of the Energy God and you gain the ability to turn into an energy being with offensive capabilities, underwater energy attacks that defeat foes and activate special doors. When you do die, and you will many times, you resume from the last save point, predefined locations discovered in your travels.
Aquaria‘s clearly a labor of love with a unique mix of game elements tied together by an exceptional narrative. Its immense world is populated with picturesque graphics, endued with atmospheric audio and accented with exceptional vocals. Enormously-high production values mark it beginning to end, from Naija’s Home to the Kelp Forest to the Abyss to the Sunken City to the Arnassi Ruins to… well, you get the picture. Expect to be playing Aquaria for a long, long time (days or possibly weeks). Plus, included with Aquaria are editing tools that allow you to create your own watery worlds.
However, Aquaria‘s not without its waterlogged elements. It’s often difficult to collect ingredients that fall into nooks and crannies of the game world without getting stuck momentarily. And, it costs $30 bucks.
Moreover, one final caveat is in order. As wonderful as Aquaria is, difficulty is high at times. Specifically, action in some sections is frantic and the bosses are intensely challenging. So, if you don’t enjoy a good dose of old-school arcade action in the mix, Aquaria may be a bit too stringent for your casual pleasure.
Still, all said, Aquaria‘s no watered-down experience. It offers great depth of play if you have the reflexes and patience necessary to explore the vastness of its world.