The name says it all, right? You, the last human, explore the post-apocalyptic marine landscape (seascape?) that is now Earth in your rocket/submarine. Just roll with that last part. The seascapes are unique and beautiful in all their pixel glory, and the art is paired with an excellent score. The story is a loose one, told mostly by the environment and less by a narrative. Even the environmentally conscious theme (you are navigating the world where humanity has destroyed itself after all) is not overbearing and can be quickly forgotten while navigating the beautiful areas. On the downside, this action adventure title can lack the depth that a strong story and more enemies can provide.
The most basic premises for the game involve piloting your submarine around the underwater world avoiding mines and clams and fighting giant bosses to gain equipment that will allow you to open and explore more areas and fight more bosses. The areas range from bright almost tropical looking coral to a seaweed forest to submerged cities and all look spectacular. Each area has its own unique, slightly haunting music that adds an atmosphere of tranquil ambiance to the undersea world. A peaceful ambiance that is shattered when a Leviathan comes along and then everyone is happy the last human has infinite lives.
After entering the world through the back-end of the first boss, I just wandered around until I bumped into another giant sea creature or figured that I was missing a certain item and went looking for one. The bosses are not the only things to kill you, but the only things you will end up having to fight. The razor clams and mines are also lethal, but there is no way to battle those. They just serve to keep players awake while navigating the sea, I imagine. The bosses, however, are giant and challenging. And I died so, so much. The key clicking/button mashing is as good as any I have ever played with evasive maneuvers necessary for survival that remind me of classic arcade shooters like Galaga. The bosses will require fast reflexes and a mind for strategy with some being much harder to defeat than others. If I ever felt that a boss was too difficult, I would look for another area to seek power-ups in and return later.
Game controls are basic. I tried both keyboard/mouse and controller, and the keyboard/mouse seemed easier to aim with, but I suffered from a controller for the comfort of my couch. Typical up, down, left and right 2D directional controls pair with a single firing button. A button for a boost of speed and one for switching weapons completes the controls. I started out, as all players will, with a single weak harpoon mounted to the bottom of the sub that could only be shot 180°. The ship is quickly upgraded, however, via exploration and defeating the boss characters. Upgrades include a second turret on top so that shooting in all directions becomes possible, a chainsaw, torpedoes, a drone, and engine and boost improvements.
Unfortunately for a game centered on exploring there is no world map mechanic, and while the area you are currently in is displayed in your HUD, there is no way to track or devise a path on a larger scale. Navigation is by memory in other words, and this can lead to a lot of backtracking. So it is a good thing the game is pretty, but that will only carry players so far. With eleven bosses in total, the game could be quite short depending on how difficult a person finds them and the intermittent terminals that give some story background are not interesting or varied enough to merit stopping and checking out while exploring. The game can quickly turn into a sort of speed run between bosses and, at least for me; this detracts from the overall experience.
Comparisons have been drawn directly to Shadow of the Colossus and Super Metroid by the developers and Aquatic Adventures has been called a Metroidvania by others. Thematically Aquatic Adventures shares a bit more with Shadow of the Colossus in that the player is the invading party killing off creatures that may have been living peacefully before our arrival. Is this a comment on the overall dilemma of man versus nature by the developers and are they suggesting we can never peacefully coexist with our own world? I don’t know, but I do think these comparisons to Super Metroid and SotC are useful for giving a concept of the game, though neither is accurate in that they are true in only the most simple of terms as far as gameplay is concerned. Or rather this game is those things in the simplest of ways. Strip Shadow of the Colossus down to wandering and using one button to shoot or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night to just a few upgrades and a small, less intricate map and you lose a lot of what makes those games unique and memorable. Aquatic Adventures does just that and still makes for an incredibly fun and fulfilling time. The beauty is in the simplicity of the game. The little submarine is so cute you will forget to watch out for the mines and get blown up. The backgrounds will mesmerize you while the music soothes you until you wander into a boss area and get killed twenty times in a row and all that tranquility has exploded into tiny pixels. YCJY have done a splendid job balancing out two extremes and delivered a tough but great gaming experience.
The pros far outweigh the cons in The Aquatic Adventures. The map is a bummer and will cost players time, and the enemies can be frustrating (Chain Gang!) but the pixel graphics are well executed, and the battles are difficult enough to be rewarding when completed. The gameplay is solid and the small changes made by the upgrades can keep a player interested even if the story does not. While the game could seem short depending on player ability, replayability seems high especially if speedrun challenges (self-timed) are of any interest or you are just in need of some straightforward button-mashing. If you are a fan of the action RPG genre, then this game should be a no-brainer and the same goes for old school video game fans missing the challenges of yesteryear.