Originally released as an indie PC game, Aquaria feels wonderfully at home on the iPad. This is a beautiful and evocative 2D adventure that comfortably bears comparison to Nintendo’s venerable Metroid series. Thanks to intelligently ported controls and great use of the iPad’s screen and hardware, Aquaria feels as if it were meant for tablets.
Aquaria casts players as Naija, a strange mermaid who starts a journey of discovery that leads to deep secrets, lost civilizations, and angry sea gods. Naija has some unique abilities right from the start, which lend some truly creative touches to the gameplay.
She sings, and her voice can make incredible things happen. Hold a finger on Naija, and a color and symbol-based circle of notes appears around her. Note combinations, once learned, let her sing songs of magic that can transform her, move objects, protect her, and a variety of other useful tricks.
Practice your ocarina every day.
Naija starts out with very few abilities. She swims carefree through the wild blue, darting here and there, but remains trapped in the small section of the map that is her home.
After exploring, she earns new songs that unlock new areas. Since she can travel to any unlocked sections of the map at almost any time, there’s a heavy amount of exploration and backtracking. Aquaria starts out slow, especially as players work to get the lay of the land and find the initial songs needed to move forward. Once the game gets moving, however, there’s always some sea creature to shoot and new caverns and structures to explore.
A world map is easily accessible by tapping the mini-map in the corner of the screen. Tapping on sub-sections of the map highlights them and pinching zooms in and out. It’s strange that the zoom is so limited, however. The closest zoom is still too small to get fine details of the maze of caverns. While the map is definitely useful, a greater level of zoom would be appreciated.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
Naija is controlled through swipe and tap moves. Just tap a spot around her and she’ll move there. In general, this works great, but fine movements– such as carefully navigating a tight tunnel lined with poisonous sea anemones– can be problematic. In her energy form, Naija can shoot fiery bolts at creatures. Aiming is automatic unless a specific enemy is locked onto with a quick tap. The attack can also be charged for something with a bit more zip.
Another interesting aspect of the game’s design is the ability to find recipes and make food for Naija. The equivalent of health packs and other power-ups, recipes use the variety of meats, oils, and plant matter she finds. Cooking is done through the simple inventory screen, which allows players to combine up to three ingredients by dragging an item from the inventory.
I want to be where the people are…
Aquaria is gorgeously presented. The visuals are beautiful and detailed, with an amazing amount of variety in both the locations and the sea life Naija encounters. The audio work is great, too. Music is a key facet of the game, making it especially effective to play while wearing headphones. The score is excellent, the voice acting well done, and the ambient effects are effective.
We can recommend Aquaria for any gamer who loves a thoughtful, well-done adventure. It sticks closely to the classic Metroid style, but doesn’t feel like a blatant clone. Aquaria is well-designed, beautiful, and fun, making it well worth the price of admission.