Gaming in the nineties was a much simpler affair than the technicalities of today’s games; not that they were any less playable. In fact, it can be argued that the majority of these titles were infinitely more playable with a focus on gameplay rather than graphical prowess. An example of this would be within the genre of building management games, such as EA’s Theme Park and Theme Hospital. They held a basic premise within their mechanics that resulted in accessible gameplay, yet also provided a challenging, but fair, level of difficulty. However, games of a similar genre these days contain far more technical elements with a myriad of menus, political and social standings and influence. Yes, it provides more depth and challenge, but in a lot of instances, sacrifices pure and simple gameplay in exchange. However, Twice Circles and Auroch Digital have captured the essence of the playable games from the nineties as their management sim, Megaquarium swims a release onto the Nintendo Switch.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, Megaquarium is a tycoon builder that revolves around you building an aquarium. There are two modes of play available: Scenario and Sandbox. The first of these acts as a tutorial of sorts, with a campaign of ten levels that presents you with a series of scenarios. You start off with a basic and empty establishment, as the game introduces you to camera movements and control options, before tasking you with building simple tanks and filling them with a variety of fish and decorations. By fulfilling the criteria that is set out within a list of mission objectives, you then move on to taking over the responsibility of other establishments; bringing with them more complex tasks, larger tanks and a bigger variety of fish.
Your main objective overall though, is to ensure that you build an attractive aquarium that attracts visitors; as well as maintain the livestock within. The campaign teaches you how to do this through a number of techniques, from holding a wide ranging variety of fish to providing guest facilities and amenities. However, there’s a more strategic level of gameplay here, with a need for careful planning to produce the most attractive aquarium you can. This can mean things like building fish tanks behind open walls for the visitors to look at, but behind the scenes, contains a room that houses work stations, food dispensers and climbing frames that remain hidden from public view. It creates a nice level of depth and produces a very realistic setting that can be found in the real-counterparts of such attractions.
With almost a hundred varieties of fish, from small fry to larger species, as well as over one hundred different objects from heaters, filters, tanks and staff entrances, there’s plenty of scope here in creating your own personal aquarium. You can even hire staff to tend to the daily maintenance of the fish, paint the interiors and decorate the rooms and tanks; even down to holding staff meetings and giving instructions to staff members. The more attractive your aquarium, the more income you acquire. These come in a variety of forms from monetary values to science and ecology points. These can then be used against researching new varieties of fish to bring to your aquarium, bigger and better equipment, expanding your building and hiring more staff.
The second mode offers a sandbox style of play that requires you to build your own aquarium from scratch. This mode offers a near-infinite number of possibilities and endless gameplay as you build and expand to create your very own living, breathing tourist attraction. It’s a highly rewarding mode, much like the scenario campaign and should only really be a mode that is tackled when you have learnt all of the mechanics from the campaign mode. This is largely due to a number of factors that need to be taken on-board. This isn’t just a case of adding tanks, fish and amenities to attract customers, but also maintaining the welfare of your marine life.
This adds an extra level to the gameplay, forcing you to be mindful of the environments that any new species require in order to thrive. For instance, some fish may bully others, requiring them to have their own tank. Others may only thrive in schools, even down to intricacies such as hermit crabs that only feed off of the scraps of other fish, meaning that they must share a tank with fish in order to sustain a food source and survive. In some ways, it can be quite educational as you learn what environment each species requires. The more you learn, the further you progress and advance which leads to larger marine life and a bigger establishment. As you start with small tanks and small fish, you can soon develop to larger tanks that house rays and octopuses; even working up to the ability to produce tunnels that go under the water to give your visitors an underwater look at all your attractions.
What the game does really well though, is capture an old-school feel that produces an easily accessible game that is great to look at and fun to play. It contains the same feel as games such as Theme Park and Theme Hospital, yet also holds a lot of content with what can be developed and what needs to be maintained. There’s always something to do, yet nothing is ever too difficult, as long as you are mindful to the well-being of your fish and the demands of your visitors. Everything is easily placed and can even be edited and moved should your establishment expand and need to be changed. You can even zoom into a first-person perspective and walk around your aquarium from the viewpoint of your visitors; believe me, the rippling water effects here are something to be seen.
There’s plenty of depth here and hundreds of hours of gameplay, all presented in a neat, little package that is infinitely accessible and playable. It does have its little flaws, such as visitors getting stuck or the ability for you to walk through your tanks, but in all honesty, they never detract from the overall experience and actually add to the charm of the game with its inspirations from the simplicity of similar games from the nineties. Nothing is ever over-complicated, although the tutorial does throw you into the deep end a little, but an expandable mission-objective list does provide a more in-depth explanation into what you need to do.
Overall, Megaquarium is a game that sits beautifully within the architecture of the Nintendo Switch, providing you with an addictive management sim that you can take with you on-the-go and continue developing on the large screen when you return home. It’s instantly accessible and easy to play, yet provides a wealth of depth with a whole host of fish and items to build, as well as provide a nice challenge with meeting the requirements of running an aquarium. It contains a number of difficulty levels, making this an ideal game for family members of any age and also provides an excellent source of accomplishment as you watch your establishment grow and walk around it yourself; watching your varying species of fish swim about and walk through glass tunnels as sharks glide overhead. If you’ve fond memories of management sims from the nineties, such as Theme Park, then you’ll love this game, as it holds the same values of playability without the need to bog you down with a variety of technicalities that can often drown out the playability of such titles.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
Megaquarium swims back to the management sims of the nineties with a instantly playable game that holds more depth than the deepest of fish tanks.