For every formulaic, boring sequel of a remake of a port to come from mainstream game studios, there's at least a half-dozen unusual, original, and fun titles coming from independent game developers from all over the world. That so many of them go more or less unnoticed by the gaming community at large is, to put it bluntly, a goddamned shame.
It is for this reason that I'm proud to kick off Indie Nation, a new weekly article wherein I bring up an independent game you probably haven't bought or downloaded, tell you how friggin' good or artistic or interesting it is, and continually urge you to give it a try. If you're sick and tired of crappy mainstream game after crappy mainstream game, or if you liked this article, this new series is for you (and you might also want to think about checking out The Independent Gaming Source).
This week I'll be looking at Aquaria, the 2D aquatic exploration title from Bit Blot. Aaron Linde has personally attempted to convince you of its glory on severaloccasions and now, with the game actually being out and all, I must concur with Linde and tell you the following:
It's really good.
Firstly, you can download a free demo here. Its saves are compatible for the full game, so if you get to the end and want to purchase the full game, you can do so without having to start over entirely.
Don't even goddamn think about pirating it.
In some ways, Aquaria hearkens back to the days of epic, two-dimensional, exploration heavy adventure games. I say "in some ways" because, ultimately, Aquaria is its own game: it may have the massive maps and exploration of a Castlevania or a Metroid, but its mood, controls, and specific gameplay mechanics give Aquaria its own unique, wondrous identity.
Aquaria follows the story of Naija, a humanoid underwater dweller who, upon completing what initially seems to be a marathon session of meditation, loses her memory. Once the player takes control of her, she (through voice-over narration) mentions that she feels restless. Considering there is nothing to do in her meditation chamber other than swim around and look at the pretty background, the player shares the same emotion and sends her off on a journey of exploration, combat, and puzzle solving.
And explore you will -- the world of Aquaria is big. As in, Dracula's Castle big. The Zebes underground big. So big that, initially, you might be a little overwhelmed. Upon exiting Naija's meditation room, the player immediately moves into an overworld room which seems to have no less than a dozen twisty, meandering tunnels flowing into just as many exits leading God knows where.
The feeling of pure stupification one experiences upon seeing these myriad paths is, I think, completely intentional on Bit Blot's part; Aquaria is an exploration game, after all, and nothing helps to increase the physical scope of a game like being immediately overwhelmed with twelve or thirteen paths and no immediate way to choose which one to take. Naija and the player want to explore the underground; initially, it seems like both have bit off more than they can chew.
This feeling of confusion and smallness soon passes, however, and you begin to see that only one or two of the paths are immediately open to you -- you'll need special abilities to access the rest. Naija's gains new abilities by learning songs, and activates those abilities by playing them. Holding down the right mouse button opens up a radial music dial; by moving your mouse over different icons in the dial, Naija will sing different notes and, if you string together the right combinations, activate a special power. Imagine the ocarina from Ocarina of Time, only much more intuitive. A few hours into the game, you'll be effortlessly activating shield or lift spells with the song menu as if it were second nature -- and all without the aid of any real HUD.
Yes, Aquaria is a game of minimalism. As you swim around Naija's underwater world (using only the mouse), you'll see no health bar, no point counter, no ammo display. The focus is on Naija's world, and Naija's world alone: you can head into a menu to check which items you've collected, of course, and there's an unobtrusive minimap in the corner of the screen, but Aquaria's main priority is immersion. After you've solved a few puzzles and gained some new abilities, the game begins to subtly work on you.
The soothing music draws you in. The wonderful 2D artwork becomes even more appropriate and pleasing to the eye. The urge of exploration draws you further, and, while I wouldn't be so melodramatic as to suggest you forget you're playing a game, you definitely get into a sort of groove.
Yet beyond the Myst-esque exploration and puzzle solving, there's a lot of action to be had. Naija quickly learns to transform herself into numerous different battle-ready forms, each with their own specific set of attacks. Just as it is a bit jarring -- but somewhat pleasant -- to switch from serene exploration to a hardcore boss battle, it's kind of a shock to see the peaceful, innocent Naija turn from a song-singing water nymph into her dark, fireball-throwing energy form at the drop of a hat. While the game puts you in a pretty peaceful mindset during its exploration and puzzle solving sequences, it's not at all afraid to mix things up with the energy, beast, and nature forms.
All in all, Aquaria is damned good. If you're at all a fan of 2D adventures -- and if you aren't, what the hell is wrong with you -- you'll find something appealing in its labyrinth of caverns and corals. It feels retro, but totally new; classic, yet fresh. Little surprise it won the grand prize at IGF.
Aquaria costs thirty dollars, which is just about reasonable considering how damn big the thing is, and the fact that it comes with a (disgustingly intuitive) level editor. The modding community hasn't quite hit its stride yet, but the level editor is easy and fun enough that it won't be very long.
Again, check out the demo and see for yourself. If you so much as attempt to pirate it, I will come to your house and stamp on your testicles until they squish under my feet like grapes. Then I'll take your hard drive.
Jed Whitaker Retweet of the year goes to President of Worldwide Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc., Shuhei Yoshida. Voodoome Just got home from Deadpool and ... it's not good. I liked the jabs at Green Lantern and the previous movie Deadpool, but that was about it. The rest was just painfully forced dick jokes. Wife fell asleep. Nathan D Larxinostic rule34
CoilWhine Looks like I'm not gonna be able to 100% Tearaway Unfolded until Monday at the least. I'm definitely writing about it this weekend and am trying my hardest to get my screenshots off of my PS4 (especially hard as I don't do social media anymore)Darth Wachen I've never done a blog before, so I may as well try one with a review of Stranger of Sword City....well, when I get entered into that contest of courseikiryou Shakedown Hawaii is giving me good GTA vibes. I missed the topdown GTA games when they were a thing. I have to decide what platform to get it for since it's coming to 3DS/Vita/PS4/PC (probably the Vita version for moi).TheBlondeBass You think your art sucks? Here's the rule34 I made of Larx yesterday. Look at it and despair.Nekrosys Hey Dreamweaver? If you think your art sucks, you should have a look at my magnum opus. It's of Cloud from the popular game, Final Fantasy: All the Bravest. Agent9 I never thought this would happen, but here I am. all of my 700+ pokemon gone in one day. My cart stopped working and there's nothing I can do. I quit, you can't just rebuild all that. Time to find something else.taterchimp Tom Collins is a pretty great drink, and well suited for poutine. consumptionSolar Pony Django It may be because I've been drinking but... We need some dung beetles from ark for the front page. Move that dung on out.CoilWhine Does anyone know how to get PS4 screenshots onto a PC without needing a flash drive? I don't have a spare.Dreamweaver This is an example of how bad my drawings are. I honestly think drawing stick figures would've been easier on the eyes. :( The worst thing about this image is that this was made after I got BETTER. Trust me, you don't want to see my earlier stuff. T^TChillyBilly So I received a mysterious box in the mail today. When I opened it I was blown away...The friends I've made here on Destructoid are amazing (More pics in the comments).Parismio FRISK PACIFIES YOUR FACE!MeanderBot Woe is me. This month's Cblog theme is basically an excuse to draw pretty girls, and here I am with no time.Gundy Maybe one day I'll reach bronze rank in Rocket League...Nathan D A very Bloodborne-y moment.
TheLimoMaker Back in tip-top shape guys, feel waaaaay better than I have done these past few weeks. Plus my voice sounds slightly raspy now, meaning my Batman impression has been upgraded.
Apologies to Gaj and Solar the most, my male-up kisses go to you: XxxxxxOverlordZetta Wait... Is that...? Could it be...? It IS! Gravity Rush's Kat has taken a break from rushing and graviting to sacrifice some souls in Soul Sacrifice Delta! Which isn't even going for $8 on the PS Store right now! What a steal!