Megaquarium – Xbox One Review
In the world of pc gaming, management, world building and tycoon games are very popular, but always struggle to cross over to consoles because the menu and icon heavy control systems are so hard to convert from the click and drag of the mouse to the buttons of a controller. The latest title to have a go is Megaquarium, with a subject that may seem a bit niche at first glance, but when you think about it is a natural progression from what has come before. Weve had games that have to building and managing theme parks, hospitals, zoos and even dinosaur wildlife parks, so what not an aquarium. Who doesn’t love visiting one of those big sea life centres or huge aquariums and marvelling at the creatures in the huge tanks? Now you can design your own tourist attraction, fill it with your favourite sea creatures and watch the cash flood in. Hopefully.
The game is split into two modes, the campaign where you have to complete set challenges, and sandbox, where you have free reign within your budget to do what you want. Its best to start on the campaign as its by far the best way to learn the intricacies of the game, and there are four different difficulty levels to pick from, starting with Easy, and ramping up to Brutal for the expert player that likes a challenge.
The campaign mode works really well and has a steady learning curve, as you start with a small aquarium and only have basic equipment to work with. This eases you in, showing you how to build a tank, then add the essential extras like heaters and filters, as well as adding fish food dispensers and tool stations that your staff will need. Then add some livestock, some thing easy to manage like the Azure Damoiselles hire a couple of staff, and you’re ready to open to the paying public public. If the visitors like what they see, hopefully some nice fish in a well run and clean aquarium, you’ll start to earn, science and ecology points. The science points will let you develop and unlock more complicated equipment and fancier fish tanks, and the ecology points will unlock different species of sea life so you have a greater choice.
A great feature of the the game is that it has real fish species rather than fantastical creatures, so you’re learning while playing without really noticing. Its not a case of just chucking any old fish in a tank, as you learn some fish need heated water, some, such as eels, need items in their tank that they can shelter under, and they don’t all eat the same kind of food. Get the wrong types of fish together, and the more aggressive, the ‘bully’ fish, will probably end up eating the small, more passive varieties, and that’s bad for business! You’ll learn to create balanced ecosystems for each tank, environments that will allow the occupants to thrive, will in turn will ensure you have a successful business.
The fish don’t feed themselves of course so you need staff, called aquarists, who will move around the aquarium making sure the fish are fed and the equipment works as it should. As you progress in the game and start working with bigger areas and more tanks, you’ll be able to spilt your staff to work in certain zones of the building rather than just have them wandering round the whole premises wasting time. Once you’re up and running, you need good management, when you need to ensure fish are fed enough, theres enough rom in the tank for them as they grow, and whether the plants and furniture in the tank suits the fish. Standards of water quality, filtration, heat and light need to be maintained or your fish will start dying, and visitors don’t want to see a lifeless fish sinking to the bottom of the tank! It might all sound a bit complicated and daunting a prospect juggling all this, but the campaign mode trickles the gameplay in one feature at a time, so you can take it all in your stride. You are set challenges that you have to complete before being able to progress to the next level, so you’re never left to feel like you’re out of your depth.
The developers of Megaquarium have really done their homework on the fine details of what it takes to build an aquarium, and everything about the gameplay feels realistic and logical, but still fun. You play with a top down view of your building which you can turn, adjust angles and zoom in and out with the thumbsticks to get the view you want. Pan out to look down in a plan view at your whole layout, or zoom right in and see your attraction from the view of one of your visitors. Building tanks, expanding the floor space and putting in walls and doors is very easy and smooth. Something that tends to let the player down on a lot of pc to console conversions. No such problems here, with the large number of options and sub-categories being nicely and logically laid out around the edges of the screen. Press right on the d-pad and your into the options for looking at challenges, checking what is in each tanks, and what all their requirements are for healthy living. Press left on the d-pad to open up the build options. This is nicely split up into sub-sections for construction of the building, putting in tanks of different shapes and sizes, adding equipment, furniture and facilities for the visitors, adding furniture to the tanks for you fishy friends, and of course adding the livestock itself. Your aquatic life is split nicely into categories, which expand as you unlock more exotic varieties, and once you remember what the various symbols mean you have the info you need to decide which fish you fancy putting on show. Finally press down on the keypad and you’re into the management and admin features, such as your budget, checking your email, and hiring and managing all your staff. I found the control method surprisingly easy to use, with simple smooth navigation allowing you to open and close sub-menus with minimum fuss, and being able to place things on the floor plan accurately at the first attempt, thanks to being able to adjust the viewing angle and depth to wherever you want.
Some games of this genre can have you in a panic as you try to juggle all the different aspects in real time, but with Megaquarium you can pause or indeed speed up time. This means you aren’t punished for pausing the action while you collect your thoughts and can make your choices without feeling under any pressure to rush. The graphical style is slightly cartoon-like and simplistic, but has a charming feel that will appeal to [layers of all ages, and the soundtrack is pleasant without being particularly memorable.
Meaquarium may not be a game you think would have a mass appeal, and indeed I was a little sceptical as to whether it could hold my attention beyond playing for the purposes of writing the review. I have however been pleasantly surprised but the way the well thought out gameplay and charming aesthetics have drawn me in. The difficulty curve was very well placed as I felt I was learning on the job at a steady pace without getting the feeling of being overwhelmed by details. It’s a very good mix of practicality and creativity that is ripe foe extended play, and leaves scope for further updates. Coming in at just under 20 quid this gives pretty good value for money for something that might not have massive content but it still full of intricacy. Right, I’m off to sort out a shark tank!
Developer: Twice Circled
Publisher: Auroch Digital Ltd
Many thanks to SuperIndie.Games for the review copy.