Man, Aquaria. Talk about a late review, huh? Although I got the now-defunct Bit Blot‘s first and only game pretty recently — through this indie bundle, which also provided me with Organ Trail — Aquaria is actually way older, first seeing the light of day in around 2007. I thought it must’ve been a more recent game given that I got it in June of this year, but no dice. Man, if I was one of those websites that try to stay all current and cutting-edge, and I’d found out about Aquaria’s age halfway into my review-play — like I did — I’d have been quite upset.
Good thing I’m not one of those websites, huh? Six-year belated review time, go!
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium-to-high. Mechanical, medium.)
Turns out Aquaria starts off on an actual intro, right off the launch. Talk about oldschool, huh. Let’s see what we got…
A floating castle. A boy inside, painting. Painting a nice underwater scene, even. Surely that’s not foreshadowing in any respect.
The windows glow red. Rocks rain from the sky, smashing the flying castle. The boy runs into a courtyard, a rock smashes the bridge he’s on, and he falls into the ocean below. A hand outstretched to the fast disappearing life-giving air, then darkness.
Then, the title, which is this:
What do we have? The options are… limited. There’s your standard resolution settings, a few checkbox options I don’t understand that refuse to explain themselves any further, and keybindings. In fact, peep a gander at these keybindings:
I’m not interested in credits, I’m not interested in mods, I’m not exiting, and clicking the blue crystal just allows me to replay the intro. So New Game it is.
At this point, Aquaria pulls the rare and enviable double intro. As a green aqua-elf face slowly pulls into visibility, the world’s blandest voiceover tells me about… about what, exactly? About something called the Verse, which ‘binds us all’. She tells me that I’m about to see life through her eyes, so that I may learn the truth.
As the camera pans through an impressively detailed cave, Bland Voice tells me that this cave was her sanctuary. About how if she’d only stayed in this cave, she ‘would have known peace’. But that since this is a video game, that was always pretty unlikely to happen.
Alright. I’m in mer-control now! Let’s see what we got.
I can swim around both with the WASD keys and by aiming and clicking the left mouse button. Wee! The entire visible screen is my playground, because, you know, underwater. Lizard Girl Or Whatever is pretty responsive to my commands, twirling around immediately and just generally following my commands well. Her regular pace is okay enough, but I quickly learn that left-clicking near the edge of the screen darts Aqua Elf lady forward a respectable amount. What’s more, darting into walls causes her to crouch against the wall, ready to launch herself away with the next click or space bar push.
As I swim out of the cave — which I do because hey, what else am I going to do — a popup informs me I’ve obtained a Map Token. Double-clicking the minimap in the lower right corner (Future Jarenth’s Note: Or pressing Q) opens the larger map, which is already surprisingly detailed for a place I’ve never visited. It’s also a little weird with its resolutions.
I swim into a gorgeous area filled with pink mushrooms and non-pink bones. There’s a small, noticable plant here, with an orange bulb. As I approach, the game informs me that pressing and holding the right mouse button over my character allows her to sing. Neat! Singing looks like this, apparently:
I sing a few notes by holding the mouse cursor over the icons. I note that singing causes the little jellyfish flitting around here and there to swarm me and glow in the note-appropriate colour slightly. Aw, they like me! As I sing the dark-orange note, the aforementioned plant bulb — which happens to be exactly the same colour — starts vibrating wildly. I keep singing, and the bulb suddenly pops. A briefly see a sprite of something or other pop out before it touches my character and disappear.
I elect to just keep on swimming and trust the tutorial to tell me what that was about later.
I swim further. Past plants, past caves, past way larger (but still friendly) jellyfish. I use my speed to avoid some scary-looking spike fish. I eat some blue healing berries, which I didn’t really need, but whatever, I’m down. I look at more fish, and plants, and some wall-crawling crabs for good measure.
Apropos of nothing, the game suddenly teaches me a Shield Song.
Not sure what that was about, but cool, thanks! I immediately sing the shield song, then turn back to swim into the spike fish with impunity. Turns out the Shield Song only blocks projectiles.
The big red crystal I find not long after that acts as a save point. Because we all love point-mandated saving on PC games, isn’t that right? It also acts as a health refillant / early fuck-up removal service, a service I appreciate significantly more.
I’m not five feet out of the save point when a scary dark mist ghost shoots out of the crystal, into the tunnel beyond. Aqua Elf tells me she feels ‘compelled to follow’, but I’ll be honest: I’m not really feeling that right now.
Still, railroad tracks are railroad tracks, even under water. I swim up to the ghost, reach out for it, touch it, and…
I am now Aqua Elf Fire.
Alright, this is different. As Aqua Elf Fire, I can no longer sing… but I’m okay with that, because my right mouse button now shoots awesome bolts of fire. I swim up and down the little cave I find myself confined to, happily shooting fire at every living thing in range.
Every living thing in range starts shooting and tackling back. I mean, I guess that’s fair. I put up a decent fight, but due to my unfamiliarity with this form and their sheer numbers — and homing projectiles — I’m quickly overwhelmed.
At which point I wake up as Regular Elf in the scary ghost’s arms again.
Suddenly, Aqua Elf remembers things. Things like her name being Najia, which is certainly easier on the fingers to type, and this world being called Aquaria, which makes sense. I guess she had amnesia, somehow? For some reason?
I swim on.
More things get explained. For instance, food! Turns out I can find ingredients from those plants bulbs and other places, and turn them into delicious goodies. Like Hot Soup!
I visit Najia’s home cave, which is uninteresting.
I almost get eaten by a giant fish!
And a lot of other things, too. But I guess the most interesting thing to report on right now is that I at one point make my way to a place called the Energy Temple, fight a glowing ball of evil light by singing it to death, and learn the ability to turn into Najia Fire at will.
See, I finally get what this game’s genre and deal are: it’s a Metroidvania game where you swim places. I won’t go into too much detail here, but suffice it to say I ran into several ‘obstacles’ while exploring that I can already tell I’ll probably learn to tackle later on. Like this tiny tunnel!
So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see what paths my Fire At Will Form has unlocked for me. The map as I can currently see it doesn’t look that large, but I’m going to assume that’ll change later.
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