Review: Aquaria

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PC – Keyboard / Mouse – 2007
Developer: Bit Blot
Publisher: Bit Blot
Playtime: ~16.5 / 19 hours (in-game / Steam timers)
Paid: $13.39 at Steam
Metacritic: 82

Aquaria is essentially an indie under-the-sea Metroidvania game crossed with Ocarina of Time.

Bit Blot, a development team composed of two people (two people!), created the world of Aquaria, a sprawling and diverse underwater landscape. Derek Yu is an illustrator, and his work shines in the beautiful, high-definition environments and character/creature design. High-definition 2D graphics are a joy for the eye, and are something I’d like to see more of. Everything about the game is visually stunning, down to the water and particle effects, or even the miscellaneous items left around the place. It’s hard to get past how delightful everything looks, but for the purposes of discussing the game’s other strengths, I’ll do so for now.

I said Aquaria was a Metroidvania game – for the uninitiated, Metroid and Castlevania games are non-linear, leaving you to explore the world with few hints and requiring backtracking after discovering new abilities or items to access hitherto blocked rooms or areas. These sorts of games also feature combat, be it against the aggressive creatures of the world or in boss battles.

Aquaria‘s musical aspect (the Ocarina of Time link I made before) stems from “the Verse”. The Verse is a force… like, well, the Force. Your character, Naija, a lonely humanoid sea creature, can sing notes which harness the power of the Verse. A ring of 8 notes, each shown as a coloured symbol, is displayed when the right mouse button is held. Hovering over a note sings it, which can cause plants or animals to respond. Over the course of the game, Naija learns songs which can have a profound effect.

It is worth noting at this point that the actual music of the game is just as remarkable as the graphics – a soundtrack CD is still under production, with a digital format to be released as well. Conveniently, Aquaria comes with a Jukebox mod, accessible from the main menu, which can play any of the game’s music. Different locations have different music, matching the area’s general feel, ranging from dark and brooding to light and innocent. Thankfully, they tunes are catchy and enjoyable enough that you don’t get sick of them.

Aquaria can be extremely difficult at times, between some rough boss battles and puzzles. Thankfully, most of the toughest incidents aren’t essential to the game’s completion. Many boss battles are nigh-impossible without eating a great amount of food, which is created with the cooking system. Naija will discover recipes as she explores Aquaria. By following these recipes, combining items dropped by defeated creatures in the game’s inventory system, you create life-saving foods which, for example, heal Naija, boost her defence, or increase her offensive capabilities.

The actual story of the game is fairly simple – Naija (voice-acted by Jenna Sharpe) is the only one of her kind; desiring friendship, she heads out into her world. What she finds is a massive world, and what she achieves is equally large in scope. I found the game to be driven more by exploration anyway, but the story is interesting. Certain secret areas unlock flashbacks; finding all of these unlocks a rather surprising ending.

Utilising Naija’s 8 “forms” (changes in physical appearance and ability), bestowed upon her by fallen foes and otherwise discovered, is the key to fully exploring Aquaria. The experience is immersive and atmospheric, helped along by simple and fluid controls. The game’s secrets are well-hidden, and after 16 and a half hours I still haven’t found everything.

Discovery is satisfying, as is victory in combat. Aquaria provides both in ample supply, in a remarkable world with fantastic production values. It can be frustrating to not know what to do at a certain time, given the game’s non-linear progression, but that’s part of the fun. Congratulations to Bit Blot for creating such a great experience.

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1 comment so far

  1. […] long-awaited soundtrack to the (wonderful) Aquaria will be launched this Saturday, November 14, with a live webcast featuring designer Alec […]


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