Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Twice Circled
Publisher: Twice Circled
Review code provided free of charge by the publisher.
Having managed massive dinosaurs capable of slaughtering crowds of visitors and hospitals tasked with curing the sick, dealing with aquariums full of pretty fish feels like a relaxing visit to a spa. There’s no danger of one of my sharks breaking out and eating the guests or of people dying in the corridors because they didn’t get treated quickly enough. In Megaquarium the biggest threat is one fish eating another fish. Cheeky sods.
So you kick things off by laying down some fish tanks using the easy grid system before attaching everything that’s needed for healthy aquatic life; a filter and a water heater, maybe some decorations and then some food. It’s easy stuff. Complexity gets introduced in the form of marine life that has different requirements for its survival and happiness. Some fish like cold water while some prefer warmth, others are natural predators that will eat smaller fish and some don’t like being housed with others of their own kind. You’ll also need to consider the size of the tank and whether your occupants like having plantlife or places to hide from the prying eyes of the public.
In order to keep the machinery running and the fish fed you’ll also need to hire some staff who come with a small selection of skills, depending on what you need. Some are great at cleaning, others at fixing and a few are even great speakers which comes in handy when you set up podiums later on to deliver informative talks to your customers about the various animals housed in the tanks. You could also consider hiring some of the lesser skilled staff as they’ll level up over time, letting you pick which existing skill to increase or whether they should learn something new.
The paying public coming ambling through the door have some requirements, too, because as it turns out squishy human beings love to complain. Benches, bins, toilets and vending machines are your standard furnishings, but you can add other stuff like guide book stands, balloons that can be purchased and a few others bits and bobs. All you need are staff members to resupply the stock of these gift shop goodies and you’re good to go.
These customers are also what fuel your research into new fish and equipment for your aquarium. Each time a person looks at a display they generate one or both of the research points you need to unlock new stuff, so in other words, the fish you unlock and release into tanks help fuel the research of the next one and so on and so on.
Oddly enough when the aquarium shuts at the end of each day none of the guests go home, instead the day seamlessly shifts into the next and everybody carries on exactly as they were. It’s a little weird and does mean you can’t do things like feed all the livestock before opening up to the public.
Progression through the campaign is largely done by earning prestige points, which you do by simply having awesome marine life and keeping your customers happy. Each location you move to brings its own set of objectives, and typically chunks of your prior fish and machinery research will be wiped out so that you have to either unlock them again or simply don’t get access to at all. In one mission, for example, the range of aquatic life you can research is strictly limited and instead you’ll get a slow trickle of messages from private sellers offering various fish, corals, crabs and other things to display in your tanks.
There are also secondary goals that can bring in extra cash or increase your base prestige by a certain value. These typically ask you to do things like display a certain number of different species of schooling fish in the same tank, and thus like the main objectives themselves they rarely force you to play much differently or experiment but they do provide some welcome distractions from time to time.
There’s a serenity to be found in playing Megaquarium as you research new types of beautiful fish and present them to the adoring public, and the fact that visitors are the ones fueling your progress toward more fish and better equipment creates a gentle flow of success. It’s pretty hard to actually fail in Megaquarium, so you can simply focus on building the best attractions possible and basking in the number of visitors you have admiring the fish.
The downside to this relaxing nature is that there isn’t a whole lot going on in Megaquarium to keep seasoned genre players engaged. Each new fish or tank is a nice addition but it never fundamentally changes what you have to do, which is toss down a tank, the standard equipment and then throw in some of the new fish, perhaps mixing them with a few other types for variety. Then you simply wait for the next unlock and repeat the process all over again. New equipment, meanwhile, tends to just be better versions of existing gear. As a result of all this, I found that quite often I was just waiting around for the next unlock with very little actual management to do in-between. Sure, you can assign specific zones to your workers, but they seemed fairly capable without needing the extra layer of instructions so I left them to it for the most part.
But I did enjoy the simple act of planning out the next phase of construction. The tools are easy to use, and the inclusion of the power pump that can connect equipment to one or two distant tanks at a time and the fact that visitors like your machinery to be hidden away rewards smart planning. One fairly small staff room housing your pumps that supply numerous tanks feels good versus an awkward sprawling layout and can save you cash on staff bills.
Before I close out this review it’s worth noting that this entire game is the work of a single developer who has clearly put a lot of love and attention into crafting it. The limited scope shows in the graphics which are cute and functional but not particularly eye-catching, especially in regards to the fish themselves whose animations never do manage to capture the beauty of the real thing. Still, it’s a perfectly fine looking little game.
The audio, meanwhile, sticks to a small selection of relaxing background tracks that aren’t designed to steal your attention away, rather they become a constant white noise, as does the gentle hum of filters and pumps.
I did note a few issues as I played the game, such as the large green eels just spinning on the spot or guests milling around an empty area. Sometimes visitors will also indicate that they want the toilet or a drink yet despite being right next to those things they won’t use them. Finally, there were a few instances were the right-mouse button had to be clicked a few times to cancel something rather than just once.
If you’re looking for the next Cities Skylines that’s going to mangle your brain and leave you a pitiful wreck of a human being then this isn’t going to be it. But if you’re looking for something more relaxing and the fishy theme appeals to then Megaquarium might just fit the bill. It’s pleasant and enjoyable, a fine way to spend a lazy hour or two. And perhaps, more importantly, it’s a damn good effort from just one person who will hopefully have a great career ahead of them.