by Dylan Blight (PC)
A theme park management tycoon game with an aquatic twist. Design your displays, look after your fish, manage your staff and keep your guests happy! It's all in a day's work as the curator of your very own Megaquarium.
Megaquarium is a tycoon game that sets you the task of running a successful aquarium with nearly 100 aqua life forms to fill your attraction with, however, while the game succeeds with the fishy stuff, it fails to feel like running a true aquarium.
There’s been a lot of effort and research put in by developer Twice Circled when it comes to how exactly you run an aquarium. Each and every fish have specific requirements to be met in their tank environments. Some fish need warm water, some cold, others need lighting, while others hate lights. Certain size tanks are needed for fish, or sharks, for example need bigger tanks. You’ll also need to have the right food, tank size and items in the tank to keep the fish happy and of course, you don’t want to put a fish with a bigger fish that will eat it for lunch.
Through 10 campaign levels, you’ll learn the basics of how to run an aquarium as these levels slowly introduce new mechanics and objects for you to use including more complicated fish and tanks. I personally only played through to level 7 after 12 hours of gameplay before growing bored of the tutorial repetitiveness to each level and choosing to jump over to the sandbox mode. I’d suggest maybe just playing the first three levels and seeing if you can figure out things as they happen in sandbox mode since that’s where you’ll have the most fun.
Designing your tanks placements, and where and how you’ll hide away the necessary things for your fish and this had me very tediously trying to make sure my aquarium was organised and neat. To power a small tank you’ll only need one filter and a heater, but bigger and deeper tanks will require several filters, heaters and more. You can place them next to the tanks and hide them from visitors who will dislike seeing them by putting a wall around the back of a tank, or you can use pumps to place this stuff away from your tanks in a different room and link them to your tanks. Eventually, as your aquarium grows you’ll most likely have a giant room full of nothing but pumps and connected objects to run your tanks. Similarly I was building small rooms to hide away brooms and cleaning items, along with rooms for food rather than leaving it on the show floor.
The organization involved in trying to make sure your aquarium isn’t a giant mess of connected pumps had me constantly reorganising things, but you can play it a lot less meticulous than I was, I’m sure.
As your aquarium gets bigger you'll work towards unlocking different tanks, fish and items to use. You pick a research target and then work to unlocking it by getting the correct amount of ecology, science and prestige points. Certain fish will give you more science points from guests so if you're trying to unlock a certain thing requiring those, you'd build a tank to get you more of those points, or whatever points you're requiring appropriately.
The campaign levels obviously have an end goal, but in the sandbox mode where you kinda want a constant pull to keep playing the research tasks are the basic hook to unlock bigger and better things. You'll also receive challenges from people in your email box offering you money, or even rare fish for completing what they want, which could be trading them certain fully grown fish, or just building and successfully running a tank they desire.
Placing the right fish in the right conditions can seem daunting at first as they have several conditions that can be quite annoying and easy to miss. Some fish can be placed in a tank at first, but then grow bigger and suddenly want to eat other smaller fish in the tank later, and this is something you could easily miss. Keeping up with all this isn’t really made easy unless you’re playing the game at normal speed, but as with most tycoon games, you’ll most likely be spending a lot of time with the times two speed on, making missing these moments easy.
Keeping the fish happy is one thing and that’s where the game has put most of its effort and resources, but when it comes to looking after visitors the options are very limited, but at the same time a lot easier. Megaquarium is very much a fish sim, but when the game's title has 'mega' 'aquarium' in it, you’d be hoping for the full experience. Keeping guests happy is as easy as making sure they have somewhere to sit, go to the toilet and a couple options to eat or drink. Of course, keeping dead fish and aquarium gear out of their eyesight will also help. But if you’re like me and are looking to run a functioning, fun and adventurous aquarium with somewhere to eat, a fully functioning gift shop etc— you won’t find that here. My extent of setting up a room for guests to eat and rest is a bunch of seats, a coke and chocolate bar machine and a random object in the middle of the room like a treasure chest to make it a little less boring. You can’t employee a restaurant here.
The visitors are very mindless though and that probably helps with how easy they are to keep pleased. There is little variety to the guests with no random aggressive, weird or interesting behaviour coming from them. They’re simply ants running backwards and forwards across the screen for the most part, which is fine if you just want to focus on the more complicated fish upkeep, but the title again is ‘Megaquairum.’
Aquariums are beautiful, rather relaxing places in real-life and for the most part, I feel Megaqurium is offering similar feelings. It isn't a super realistic looking game, but the art-style when it comes to the fish is cute and very colourful making it nice on the eyes. You can even zoom all the way into the map and walk around in a first-person view which offers the best view of your tanks. It also, unfortunately, shows off some of the bad design choices with the human characters, like how guests holding objects simply have them floating in front of them.
Megaquarium features a nice and chill soundtrack but there aren't many tracks, so after ten hours of playing I found the tracks were looping too often and what was once relaxing was annoying. I switched to some Spotify playlists instead.
On normal difficulty, I never struggled to have money even though the game does introduce mechanics to make getting money easier by changing, for example, how much your chocolate bar machines are selling items for. Staff take money at a daily rate and you can hire and fire staff as you see fit with different people having a variety of stats that make them good at feeding, cleaning and more. As days progress your staff can level up and you can increase their skills, but this does increase their daily rate as well. Putting the difficulty to hard on a sandbox I can see money would be an issue and you ’d need to make a lot fewer mistakes, but playing on normal or easy, it’s not something to stress about.
Megaquarium feels like a game in early-access at the moment. Within the first week of release it has released several patches and with more fixes for a lot of my biggest issues like UI problems and the lack of quick-keys on the way, it makes it a hard game to review.
A lot of my biggest issues will probably be fixed a month from now, or have fixes being worked on. However, the UI is one of the most annoying and tedious things to work around at the moment. You can’t search for fish or items, there’s no quick way to bring up what you want and the game constantly interrupts gameplay to give you pop-up messages when staff level up. There are also simple ease-of-play fixes that would make the game a lot more accessible and fluent to play like being able to just insert a toilet block into a wall, not using the extend tool to build out your aquarium and then having to go find the toilets to place them.
Although it feels like it has released a little too early and you’re buying a work in progress at the moment, Megaquarium is still a lot of fun. Maybe a month from now it’ll be even better as the constant updates are being published to fix issues and follow up on feedback.
Developer: Twice Circled
Publisher: Twice Circled
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Mac
(Megaquarium code provided by the developer )