There's something charming about Megaquarium that harks back to some classics of yesteryear. We had no idea what to expect when we picked up our pad, but much like a fish on a line, after a few minutes we were nibbling at the bait offered to us.
Megaquarium is, in a nutshell, a management sim in which you have to build an aquarium, filling it with tanks, fish, and happy punters who want to watch the fish swim around. It's a very simple premise on paper, but one that is well executed.
While there is a sandbox mode where you'll spend a lot of time, there are also 10 levels to play through in the campaign mode. Each level comes with challenges such as raising the reputation with the guests or having certain fish swimming together. When you complete all of the challenges you can move on to the next level, and there are specific challenges to some of the levels, such as one will only allow you to have one of each fish, or another where the heaters don't work well.
There is a great assortment of things to buy and put into your tanks, ranging from crabs and starfish up to angelfish and sharks. We're not overly familiar with fish breeds, but they all seemed real enough to us, and it means you don't need to be a fish expert to get the most out of it.
One thing we really liked was the fact that the different fish have different needs. Some like to swim fast, others need rounded tanks to avoid injury, while coral and anemones need light. You should also be careful about putting wimps with bullies, since you don't want your little flipper to be dinner for another shark.
For such a simple premise, there's a surprising amount of depth to the experience. You also need to think about specific needs as some like caves or rocks to hide behind, while others prefer plants. The decorating of the tanks and the aquariums was something we really enjoyed, and made our businesses look a whole lot prettier.
There are also cold water and tropical fish options, which means that you'll have to be careful which fish you place in which tank. You need to place heaters or chillers, as well as certain types of filters to keep your fish happy. We did feel guilty when we accidentally killed a cold-water fish in a heated tank, but that's part of the learning process.
Along with different fish, there are facilities such as filters, tanks, and gifts for people to buy as well, and all of these can be researched along the way. You can research one tech and one new fish option at the same time, so you'll also be discovering new features to make use out of.
Research points are generated by certain types of fish, and new tech and fish options will be opened each time you level up. Building your reputation and gaining points will eventually take you up a rank, and to gain reputation you need a healthy variety of fish and also things for the guests to do, such as go to the toilet or buy a shark hat.
One issue is that guests make a mess. You need to employ staff to feed the fish (apparently fish starving to death is bad for publicity) or clean up after the messy public, but they're also needed to repair broken equipment, as this can send your fish to a watery grave if not fixed quickly. After a while your staff will start to level up and you can allocate points to their skills too.
This all reminded us a lot of games like Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon in the way that you look after the guests in your aquarium, and it looked a little bit like Theme Hospital in the visual style. We see things from a top-down view, and everything's rather cartoony and colourful.
It has the charm of those kinds of games, which pulled at our heartstrings. It feels so familiar, and the controls are really intuitive. It also worked really well using a console controller. The interface is easy and to negotiate and it seems like everything is right where you want it to be. Even the camera works nicely, letting you navigate your aquatic empire with ease.
There was one thing we didn't like, which was every now and then there was this huge sound that seemed disproportionately louder than any other noise, which we assumed was due to something breaking down. Maybe this is a glitch that needs a patch, but it sounded like glass against metal; it actually made us jump a few times. That said, the rest of the music and sounds were calming and set the scene perfectly.
More maps and levels to play in the campaign mode would have been perfect, however, we had a lot of fun with what was there. If you loved things like Theme Park or Theme Hospital, you should definitely take a look at this. It's charming and well-executed, and there are hours of fun to be had building fish tanks. We had no idea what to expect when we when started this, but we really enjoyed our time here.