Tell me there’s a new sim, tycoon or business management game on the horizon and I’m first in line, after working in a pet shop in my younger years, I’ve been excited to get my hands wet with the aquarium simulator – Aquarist.
Starting off as a spritely 14-year-old, your father decides to reward you with your very own aquarium, within minutes you’re adding gravel, plants and decorations before introducing a few goldfish who’ll breed like crazy, allowing you to sell a few to fund your fish keeping habits.
This first stage is all pretty straightforward and thanks to a helpful tips system you’re guided as to what you need to buy and how to place it, before moving on to the next step. Once you’ve got your little Goldfish colony thriving, you’ll be beckoned downstairs to help your father deal with his own aquarium which soon reminds you he might not be the best fish role-model.
Covered in algae, you’ll have to remove the dead fish before cleaning the tank, and removing and washing the filter and heater before refilling with fresh water to start again.
This time you’re introduced to extra mechanics such as adding salt to make it a saltwater aquarium and using PH modifiers to make the water more suitable for certain fish as well as fine tuning the heat to create a better environment.
You’ll need to add certain items such as lighting a background and specific fish species, as your father watches on in amazement of your Aquarist skills.
The game continues with a few set-pieces where you’ll have to help out friends and family as you slowly build up your own aquarium empire, Story mode does a fantastic job of introducing you to all of the game mechanics, and each level unlocks more materials and equipment for you to use to create even fancier fish tanks as you’re eventually awarded a little more freedom on your aquatic creations with new locations from small set-ups to large style walk-in aquariums.
The overall direction of the game is pretty impressive and there’s plenty of options with how to design your aquariums, especially once you’ve worked through a few of levels in story mode, but the major downfall comes with the control scheme that’s clearly made for mouse and keyboard on PC and doesn’t swim over to consoles quite as well as it could have.
Firstly, as is common with lazy PC ports, the look sensitivity is through the roof, so you’ll want to reduce that right down as soon as you start the game, there’s also some confusions between buttons, one second, I was pressing A or RT to make a selection, but when fish are swimming around and you’re trying to select a small baby to see if it’s okay, you’re suddenly using the B button, which feels unintuitive and slightly awkward.
This also translates to menu selection, hitting the View button brings up the store, and then you’ll need to juggle the left D-pad to select areas, and use the right stick to control a cursor to make selections, pressing the wrong button might randomly pick up a plant in the background, and while mouse control would be simple and effective, switching these selection methods to d-pad and face-buttons as well as the right analogue stick for control makes the whole thing more of a chore than cleaning out a filthy fish tank.
Thankfully there’s enough content and enjoyment in your growing aquarist adventure, but the control scheme and how well it’s transferred from PC mean it’s a little tougher to recommend without some major console-port alterations.
Thankfully it’s all areas that could be addressed in future updates, so if you’re not willing to be patient with some infuriating controls, it’s definitely one to keep an eye on for the future.
Likewise, as the game is (as of writing) still in early access on PC, it’s in active development, so as well as updated, and hopefully content, we can no doubt expect to see plenty more in the future.
Finally it’s worth mentioning the overall presentation, as with many sim games, sound and graphics aren’t exactly top of the list, animations are a little jerky, fish aren’t always easy to see or select (especially without a lamp on your aquarium) and the sound equates to mild ambiance rather than lifelike realisation of an aquarium, though it’s worth noting there’s only so many ripples and bubble sound effects you can add to create a more immersive atmosphere.
That’s not to say it’s not acceptable, because the game is designed for Xbox One, it’s on par with most other similar titles, but I’m awaiting the day when a developer really tries to take simulation titles into the next-gen and aim to look their absolute best, rather than settling for graphics that’d get a free pass ten years ago.
Overall I’ve enjoyed my time with Aquarist, it’s a rewarding Aquarium simulator, only let down by some fishy controls, at only $15 it represents great value and is well worth persevering with the controls if you enjoy the concept of creating and caring for your own digital aquariums.
Aquarist – Review
Overall I’ve enjoyed my time with Aquarist, it’s a rewarding Aquarium simulator, only let down by some fishy controls