I’ve just finished Aquaria, one of the most beautiful and magical games I’ve played. On its surface the game can be thought of as borrowing from Ecco the Dolphin and Metroid.
I got it shortly before Christmas on the recommendation of someone on RPS with the intent of playing it on my netbook. However the small screen made this a bit fiddly, and the graphic quality was cranked right down, meaning that I lost one of the main appeals of the game. However I then picked the game up on my desktop one evening when I wasn’t feeling like playing some of the other titles I got recently. I fell in love, and for the past couple of weeks its all I played.
Firstly, the game is beautiful, both visually and audibly. Fantastic artwork seems to flow and move naturally, creating one of the most visually rich and dynamic environments in gaming. This creates a game environment which feels amazingly emotive, and ultimately feeds in to the feelings of loss and loneliness which are woven into the plot. Exploration forms a central part of the gameplay and is truly rewarding in itself.
The plot is simple on the surface, but has a subtlety to it which rewards closer inspection. It is a rare game where you can actually identify themes, and a still rarer one where those themes are interwoven in different parts of the game design.
I’m actually feeling somewhat saddened that it now looks as though there will not be the hinted sequel. The feelings of intense heartbreak for dubious rewards is something I am familiar with, in the entirely unrelated field of completing a PhD, so I can’t criticise the team’s reluctance to pour themselves back into the project. I just hope that their move to pursue independent projects may allow them to return to Aquaria in the future.
I strongly recommend the game to anyone who has a half-way decent PC or Mac, as the game has very low specification requirements, and even manages to work on my netbook (although it is not entirely smooth and looks so much nicer on a larger screen). The game is available on Steam.