Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Aquaria is a 2D, sidescrolling adventure game by indie developer Bit-Blot.  You play as a fish-person (her exact lineage is revealed as you progress through the story) named Naija, who has lost her memories and wonders if she's the only person in all of Aquaria.

The vast majority of the game takes place under water.  Your basic controls are movement, a dash ability, and a "verse ring" that lets you perform various abilities and interact with various parts of the game.  Each symbol in the verse ring has its own color and tone, often you'll have to match them to something you're shown to solve a puzzle.

In terms of the abilities gained from the verse ring, you have a defensive shield that protects you from enemy projectiles, and there are a variety of forms that Naija can take on that have their own special powers.  For instance, the Energy Form can fire bolts of energy at your foes, but the Beast Form lets you eat them to replenish health.  Those are just a few of the uses of the verse ring.  Each ability has to be unlocked before you can use it, so random experimentation won't find you anything.

The game is laid out in an expansive environment that you can freely roam about.  Some areas will of course require you to have certain abilities in order to be accessed.  This ensures that there's always a reward to re-visiting an area you went through previously after you gain new powers, and also that there's always an immediate use for each new power you gain.  It reminds me of Super Metroid, and that's a good thing.

One area I'd like to highlight in particular is called The Veil.  Three paragraphs ago I said that the vast majority of the game takes place under water, right?  Well, this is where you find the surface.  There are land masses you can hop about on and traverse to get to other parts of The Veil.  Naija isn't nearly as maneuverable out of the water as she is in the water, so you're limited to hopping around and wall jumping to reach places.  In addition, there are these mysterious water bubbles you'll find if you head to the right part of the game.  They float in midair, and you can jump between them to go higher.

To help you find your way, you have a small radar in the lower right corner of the screen.  It will have pulsating dots on it that indicate area exits and save points.  Some areas of the game are dark, and nothing will show on the radar while you're in one of these areas.  You gain an ability later on that allows you to light the way and see where you're going both onscreen and on the radar.  In addition, while you're in a dark area, you won't be able to bring up your map screen.

The ring around your radar shows you how much health you have.  You start out with a half-circle's worth of health, and throughout the game you will find verse eggs that will increase your maximum health.  There's actually a pretty long dead period between the first one and the second one, so don't get frustrated thinking you're missing them left and right.  The first one is pretty much given to you, and the rest require you to use specific forms to reach them.

As far as items to get, there is plenty to be found.  Scattered throughout the game are various artifacts that Naija will add to her home cave when she finds them.  Some are decorative, but others have a purpose.  Also, you'll find costumes you can equip to change what Naija looks like when she's not in any of her forms.  Some of these costumes also confer benefits, so they're not all just for show.

Naturally, with all these enemies to fight, you're going to need to replenish health at some point.  Part of the item collection is food and ingredients.  You will unlock recipes as you find new food, and the ingredients you find will let you make more food.  Each food item has a different benefit.  There are plenty that simply heal, but others provide temporary stat boosts or cure conditions like poison or blindness.  The game doesn't go too overboard with these conditions though, being inflicted with them can usually be avoided.

As far as inventory space goes, it appears to be infinite.  As soon as I filled up what I could see of my food storage, the next unique item I picked up caused the game to make a second page.  Once I overflowed the second page, a third was created.  So even though you can throw things away, there's really no reason to do so.  However, you can only hold a maximum of eight of any given item, so this gives you an incentive to cook often so you can gain ingredients in the most efficient manner.  Your inventory can be sorted by clicking the dotted icon, I believe it has three different sorting methods.

When you go to make a food item, in most places of the game, you'll have two cooking slots available.  Yet, some recipes require three.  How do you make those?  You find a kitchen.  There's one in Naija's home cave, and I've found two others.  Also, in a fairly well-hidden area of the game, you can defeat an enemy to obtain a third cooking slot, and then you'll be able to cook anything on the go as long as you have the ingredients.

As for finding the ingredients themselves, they can be obtained in a variety of different manners.  There are glowing colored plants throughout the game that if you sing the correct note (as denoted by the color), the colored pod will release an item for you.  Also, be on the lookout for leaves in grassy areas, as they can hide things.  You'll need a specific ability to get items out of these.  Also, meat and meat-related items like oils and eggs can be obtained by killing fish, crabs, and other underwater creatures.

As you explore, you'll probably run across various optional bosses.  Defeating these bosses will give you a pet.  In three of the four cases, this pet will attack for you.  The last pet provides light, which is handy for the dark areas of the game.

With the free-roaming aspect of the game being so huge, you might struggle to remember where certain places you wanted to revisit are, right?  Well, wrong.  The map screen allows you to place markers on the map.  You can give each marker a name to represent what it's marking, and regardless of where you are in the world you can see all the markers on the map screen by scrolling around or zooming out.  So if there's something blocking your way, but you can see that there's somewhere to go beyond it, you can mark it so you can return later after gaining a new ability.

The graphics and music are excellent.  The music really enhances the underwater feel that the graphics give off, and it's a pleasure to both look at and listen to.

Overall, I'd have to say that this is one hell of a good game and you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't own it.

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