You know, it constantly amazes me what subjects will make for interesting business management games, and it turns out it's not always the ones you'd think. Over the years I played titles where I was running theme-parks, managing hospitals and controlling prisons, but none were as fishy as this one is.
Thankfully though, it's not because the game is bad, but because fish is what your business will be all about! (Sorry all, had to use this terrible joke)
What developers Twice Circled have created is a theme-park management tycoon style game, but with an aquatic twist. Instead of theme park rides, you'll be building aquariums to attract your customers! You'll design the displays from scratch, choosing the fish, picking the relevant tanks and equipment needed to keep them alive and healthy, while also managing your staff and keeping the guests happy.
First up, there are 2 game modes to choose from. The most major part of the game is the sandbox mode, which includes not only a random challenge generator but loads of customization options as well. The difficulty, equipment types, side objectives, availability of species and many more are all included, making this mode majorly replayable. You can even give yourself infinite money and just design the craziest aquarium you can!
Before jumping into the sandbox challenge though, I'd highly recommend going through the game's campaign first. It serves as a tutorial of sorts with its 10 levels playing out in a learn-the-game style fashion.
Starting with a simple and small aquarium, it takes you through the basics of purchasing and placing items in the grid-based floor layout and begins to introduce new concepts regularly. It does a very good job of showing you the ropes and explaining how heaters and filters must be attached, food storage placed and staff hired. Before long things do start to get going though, and as new fish, larger tanks and more equipment are introduced, you'll need to pay real attention to the details of each display. People will react to an animal type only once, so filling each display with different animals becomes a necessity or the punters will get bored.
And this is where the complexity comes from.
You see each species has its own wants, needs, likes, and dislikes which you must pay attention too. Getting these wrong can hurt your fish, and can even be fatal to them, so watch out for warning icons appearing above your tanks. Many fish will grow in size, so make room for them to do so. Many are from specific environments and need tropical or arctic water conditions. You'll need to consider their type of food, the purity of their water and also the decorative additions too. Some species like the eel need a cave to live in, while certain other creatures need plant life in which to hide. You'll also need to take an animals behavior into consideration, some fish will devour smaller animals, while others need many of their own kind around them, or prefer solitude. Spread across almost 100 different fish is a vast amount of different care needs, and you'll need to consider them all for every display you build. This especially comes into play when building bigger tanks that house many species, make sure they can live together or you'll have problems. Sticking an arctic fish in tropical waters, or putting tiny fish in with a predator can really mess up your day, so pay attention to each fish information screen. Lovers of stats and icons will feel right at home here, as each creature has a huge list of icons attached, representing all the details you'll need to consider but they can also be a bit daunting when things get going. I spent a good amount of my playtime on the fish information screen, making sure I meet the correct requirements, and the sheer amount of options to consider can get a little overwhelming. Luckily though, not only can you pause the action at any point, giving you all the time you need to make a decision, but each icon also has a text scrawl explaining its exact meaning. This gives each fish a large amount of info for you to sort through, especially when you get a new species. They are unlocked at a reasonable pace during the campaign though, so again, I'd definitely recommend playing it before jumping into the sandbox mode.
At its heart, we're building this establishment to draw in customers, and it's your various displays that attract them to your location. They'll pay to get in, and that cash is useful for making new purchases, but it isn't the only thing that customers provide. By keeping them happy, they'll generate other "currencies" too, all of which unlock various new avenues of advancement. Ecology points are used to research new sea life to display, while prestige points allow the purchase of new types of equipment and decorations. Lastly are science points, which add new types of tanks, equipment, and facilities to your repertoire. Just plonking these new additions down randomly isn't the best use of space though, as customers are likely to wander around and will miss some of your displays unless guided to them. To help with this, it isn't long till interior walls and staff only doors are introduced. Making sure people can move through the displays quickly and effectively becomes essential, as you want every customer to see every display and earn you more points. As your exhibits get bigger and your building expands, you'll need to set up seating areas to stop visitors getting tired, provide places to purchase food and drink, and even set up gift shops where they can buy souvenirs.
As you can tell, there are loads of options to consider when building your dream aquarium, but the game makes it easy to keep everything under control. As mentioned earlier, you can freeze the game at anytime, stopping the action and allowing time to check out the paragraphs of info you'll need to go through, as well as stop any problems. I would say that the game is a little heavy on the icons and stats but it's also the attraction. Each system is reasonably deep, and unlocks at a gradual pace, giving much to see and do as well as providing loads of options to try out. There's also a list of objectives on the right of the screen, and following through these helps keep you on course if you begin to feel overwhelmed. The challenge of building the perfect aquarium, managing the different building layouts, tank types, fish species and equipment is where the enjoyment comes from here, and the vast variety of displays you can build is extremely satisfying. It's easy to pick up, but complex enough to keep you going, and should interest anyone who enjoyed the likes of Theme-park, Theme Hospital or Prison Architect.
Graphically speaking the game also follows the style of these titles and has a cutesy look that although simple, works for these game types and brightens the mood. The customers are low-quality geometric shapes, with a few simple elements for detail. This works fine with the usual camera angle, go into first person however and each visitor is rather hideous with obvious limitations. You won't find yourself using first-person mode often however as it’s more of a gimmick than anything.
The fish displays also had a similar problem but in reverse. The first person mode and the info screen shows each individual creature off to decent effect and it's interesting to watch each new addition swim around its tank. Unfortunately though, when in the usual topdown view you'll play most of the game in, the camera is so zoomed out that smaller fish disappear completely. It doesn't affect gameplay at all, but considering the fish are the coolest part to watch, it's a little disappointing.
As I played through Megaquarium I really found myself enjoying the experience. Creating the correct environment for each species is fun but the real challenge comes from creating large tanks with multiple kinds of sea life. Making sure they share the same temperature requirements, have enough equipment and plants to purify the water, and most importantly, that they won't eat each other, gets extremely satisfying. Add in the managing of staff, researching new tech and species, as well as other additions to your aquarium, and you've got an experience that while easy to pick up, has plenty of depth. Although it doesn't really introduce any new ideas, it does a tried and true formula very well and is just as good as many of its competition. While it can be text and icon heavy in places and has the occasional visual fault, it's an interesting and entertaining tycoon game. One I'd recommend to any fans of the genre, its lower price makes it a purchase you'll get many hours of enjoyment out of.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 7.5/10
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