Have you ever visited a Sea Life centre and thought to yourself “if I was in charge, I’d make this place more exciting by bringing in more sharks and exotic animals to increase the flow of customers and make the place more appealing”? Well, thanks to Twice Circled and Auroch Digital, now you can! Megaquarium is a resource management and simulation tycoon game in which you become the all-seeing god of the Aquarium as you build your dream fish paradise!
Think of this as the aquatic version of classics such as the old Theme Hospital and Theme Park, and the more recent Two Point Hospital, only instead of curing patients with silly conditions, you’re strategically housing various species in hopes that the general public will find them interesting enough to come and look at. Although a rather simple, yet long, game in regards to obtaining the platinum, there’s a lot of fun to have either when playing through the campaign or jumping into the sandbox mode and seeing how far you can push your PS4 before it breaks down and cries!
So, let’s take a look at why I think you should pick up Megaquarium if you enjoy simulation and resource management games, today…
Just like Two Point Hospital, there isn’t really a story here other than you’re moving from location to location in hope of turning around failing and abandoned aquariums into big, popular new attractions. The campaign takes you through ten scenarios, each with their own ‘story’ which is usually described at the beginning and sometimes through a few emails throughout the level. So, if you’re looking for an experience like this with a story, you’re best looking at a game like Tropico 6, which is a great resource management game with numerous 8+ hour campaigns with their own story and narrative.
However, the lack of a narrative doesn’t dismiss Megaquarium from being an interesting and fun game to play. Each level delivers a check-list of things you must meet in order to be successful and win, along with an assortment of mini-missions which you can accept as they come into your emails, acting as a ‘push’ in the right direction to boost your popularity and footfall. Thanks to these side missions, you’re forced to sometimes experiment and try out things you may not have thought about before, such as place various species together or build items you may not have unlocked yet, further changing your playstyle.
Without the diversity within the gameplay, you may slip into creating the same layout in each and every level – which is exactly what I do in Two Point Hospital. So, having levels which limit you to only one of each fish, restricts you from using certain items, or forces you to think outside of the box to bring in more customers, is a great way to make you experiment.
Initially, you’ll only have access to a handful of fish, most of which are small and not that interesting. However, as you increase in popularity, by making fancy displays and catering to your customers’ needs, you’ll increase your prestige and gain access to new fish and items. So, although you’ll only be able to make standard tanks with small fish, in the beginning, you’ll soon have access to more exotic species’ and much bigger tanks and features. The main thing is, you need to balance your displays with fish that generate hype for your aquarium, research points for your fish, and research points for the items – it’s a balancing act which can slow down or speed up progress.
If you’ve ever played a game like Zoo Tycoon or Jurassic Park Evolution, you’ll know that simply throwing two species into the same tank isn’t always going to end in a good way. Each fish has a comprehensive amount of information you must read through before even thinking about mixing the species together. Some fish are classed as ‘weak’ and some are ‘bullies’, so putting them together will result in the latter stressing out the former. Similarly, certain fish will eat any others which are below a certain size if they’re not fed regularly and others will simply eat any crustaceans you place within the tank, regardless of their size. You can’t be all willy-nilly with your designs, that’s not a trait the God of Aquariums should possess!
Just like your customers, you need to bend over backwards and pander to your little fishy’s fancies, ensuring they are happy and well-kept within their glass watery prisons in your aquatic ‘zoo’. To achieve this, each species has needs, such as a certain number of rocks, caves, or grass, to be present within the tank. Combining multiple species will result in having to play tangram with the various needs, furiously trying to squeeze all requirements into every open slot in order to keep everything happy. You also have to deal with…
The life machines
Aside from providing a fish with water, shelter, rocks, and grass, what else could they need? Oh yeah, a well-maintained tank which has regulated temperature. This is yet another resource management aspect of Megaquarium – balancing the ecosystem as well as the living conditions is crucial. Again, you initially start with a few machines at your disposal, offering heat and a filter for the water, which you can place next to the tank which requires warming up or cleansing. However, once you’ve levelled up and researched a bunch of new items, Megaquarium becomes much more complex and resourceful by offering a bunch of new contraptions to utilise.
Begone simple machines which offer the bare minimum of support, and enter the pumps! These allow you to remotely link various machines to a tank from a distance, allowing you to keep all the machinery our of sight of the general public (thus making them happier). You’ll also get bigger heaters and filters, as well as a new filter which purifies the water and even a cooler for those cold-water fish. Also, just like Hannah Montana, you can have the ‘best of both worlds’ by researching devices which combine two machines into a single unit – similar to PPAP (Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen)!
The crazy thing is, you can even get bigger pumps that don’t only allow more of the above machines to be attached to them, you can link two, three or four tanks to a single pump – having all of them suck the resources they need without having to have multiple setups behind the scenes. But why would you do this? Simple, machines break down so having less of them means fewer things to maintain and keep on top of – plus it looks cool and like you’ve planned out an elaborate setup.
Only as good as your staff
The staff you employ are essential to your rise or fall as Aquaman, relying on their devotion to your rulings in order to follow simple tasks and stay on top of things. Although it costs to have staff every day, it’s worth spamming that ‘Hire’ button every time more people send in their C.V. as you’ll need every willing servant to bow down and do your bidding! As well as the above essential environments and Q.O.L improvements, you also need to feed the fish – they really want the moon on a stick, don’t they!
So, placing down various food storages (until you unlock the auto-feeders) means your staff will feed your watery friends and keep them alive for another day. However, the job specifications for being an Aquarium Assistant doesn’t stop there… Depending on what tools you’ve unlocked and placed inside of your Awesome Aquarium, they’ll also fix things with the toolbox, sweep up rubbish with a broom, restock various gift shop items, deliver speeches based on the tank they’re near, and clean the toilets with a sponge (at least it’s not a toothbrush!).
Unfortunately, the people you hire aren’t the brightest or the best at their job, so you have to train them. As they perform their duties, they’ll get unseen experience which allows you to level them up via an option I didn’t even realise was there until I was about four hours into the game! Most staff members won’t have all abilities unlocked, so you can unlock various duties as you add skill points or simply upgrade their efficiency at the duties they already know. The higher their stats, the better they are at a particular role. So, not only are you managing your fish slaves, but you’re also managing your human slaves as well.
As I’ve mentioned above, as you increase your prestige level, you’ll unlock the ability to research new items and fish. The fish come in all flavours such as sharks, jellyfish, coral, eels, and even starfish, all with their own habitat requirements, size, and warnings if they’re a danger to other species. The items you unlock, for the enjoyment of your paying customers, include various drinks and food machines, chairs and massage seats, shops to buy balloons, toys and T-shirts from, and both standard toilets and super hi-tech toilets. Seriously, when’s the last time you went to an aquarium and found 50 massage chairs for you to sit in? Well, all of mine have this luxury, so come on down!
To make things even better, there’s a large variety of customers built from a random selection of body parts. My only complaint with them would be that they operate like single cattle rather than living beings. Basically, unlike games like Planet Coaster, everyone comes in and wonders around on their own – no families, no spouses, everyone is an individual. As such, they’ll randomly patrol your beautiful hallways, looking at the fish and taking in the fishy talks from your staff, then leave once they’ve had enough – they never group together as a family or a pair of lovers on a nice date.
In terms of Megaquarium as a game, this simplistic mechanic doesn’t actually affect the flow of things as it allows them to come in and do their own thing (unless you’ve guided them with arrows), watching as they visit all the attractions and generate lots and lots of cash so you can spend it all on exotic fish (which will end up eating all your regular small fish). But, if you wanted to play the game as a pure simulation, hoping it was realistic and role-playable, the game is light on that yet heavy on the gameplay and management side.
First of all, Megaquarium looks great. sure, it looks simplistic when you get up close, but I love the aesthetic the developer went for. It’s so quirky and silly how everyone has a big head, they carry things by having them hover in front of them, and everyone is so happy! The aquariums themselves come in a variety of designs such as plain blue or wood, as well as a few others. It’s all very clinical with its bold colours and simple texture work, but I think it looks really good both from a distance and up close.
Speaking of ‘up close’ – if you zoom in by pushing the Right Thumbstick all the way, Megaquarium becomes first-person (albeit with no invert Y-axis option). So, you can now walk around your aquarium on the level of the mere mortals below as you experience what they do as they patrol your pretty palace of plaice! However, because you are an omniscient being, walls and structures don’t affect your body as you simply pass through them like a ghostly apparition. It’s not an issue but I would have liked to walk around as a human, being stopped at the glass to place my nose upon it, rather than phasing through the glass and ending up literally swimming with the fishies.
Soundwise, the music has a few different songs that play in the background, all of which are calm and relaxing yet very memorable and quirky. I don’t know how to describe it but they sound like what you’d expect in a simulation game, almost modern Muzak to listen to as you build up your empire of fish-based attractions. There are no vocal or fish blurbs (from what I can remember) but there are general sound effects which play out as you place things and your minions interact with objects below. Thankfully the developer fixed a sound bug which was present at launch – it caused staff doors to literally make your ears bleed if you were wearing headphones – seriously, I threw mine on the floor as it almost busted an eardrum! But, that’s all fixed now.
Okay, I felt this needed its own section of the review – Megaquarium is too ambitious for its own good sometimes. I was playing the game on a PS4 Pro (both in Supersampling mode and without, thanks to the Disney Collection), and both modes suffered from slowdown, lag and crashes, towards the end of the game. Basically, levels one through nine worked fine, with the odd bit of slowdown in a few where I’d gone crazy and placed a tonne of balloon stalls so that everyone got a balloon. However, level ten, the final one in the campaign, was too much for the game to handle…
Megaquarium crashed six times during this final level – actual Blue-screen crashing to the dashboard. This is because this levels main mission is to create enough hype so you can obtain a massive creature and a humongous tank full of various sea creatures and flora. What I found quite funny is the game has an ability to speed up time, so that you don’t have to sit around waiting in real-time. However, on this final mission, there’s a timer that counts down and I had to put it in fast-mode just so the counter would move at regular speed, due to the slowdown that was occurring.
Now, although this stability is bad and should be fixed, there have been a few patches since release which have made it gradually better with each install. As the game allows you to go crazy and build as much as you want, as long as you have the money, stability is something which will be hard to maintain. So, even though it was an inconvenience, as long as you save regularly in the final chapter (as it only autosaves at the start of each day), then you won’t lose much progress upon each load.
I’m yet to try the sandbox mode (as I got the platinum playing the campaign) but I can only imagine what that’ll be like once you build the aquarium of your dreams! Similarly, Megaquarium is on the Switch… I wonder how stable that version is?
If you like management and/or simulation games and are fond of fishies, Megaquarium is the game for you! Go wild as you progress from a small-time aquarium builder to Aquaman himself, creating a multitude of massive glass prisons for all your water-based tourist attractions and money-makers. The progression is done really well, unlocking new items and fish to research and obtain as you move through the lengthy campaign – you’ll never feel like you have nothing new to show off or interesting for your paying customers to take advantage of. The stability towards the end of the game is pretty bad, but it never affected my enjoyment as it only became an ‘issue’ in the very final mission of the final level.
It’s hard for resource management and simulation games to make a seamless transition from PC to console but I felt Megaquarium did a really good job of it. It felt like the entire game was optimised and rebuilt for use with a controller over the mouse. The game is super fun and hard to fault if you’re into these genres – just don’t forget to read your emails and level up your staff, otherwise, it’ll become much harder than expected!
*I’m using the character of ‘Aquaman’ as the god of all aquariums, not the crime-fighting sea-based being. Although, maybe this is what he likes to do in his spare time – build and manage failing aquariums, who knows?*
- - The campaign of ten levels will easily take you around 15+ hours to complete
- - Lots of variety in the fish and general items to buy, with the game offering more as you level up
- - Calm and relaxing music which perfectly set the mood for the simulation game
- - You can go in first-person and walk around to look at your creations as a 'noclip' God
- - A more casual game which isn't too brutal or strict about what you have to do to earn prestige
- - The game does become rather unstable when your aquarium gets big and full of balloon-wielding customers
- - No invert for the y-axis whilst in first-person mode
- - Easy platinum means you may not feel enticed to return once you've completed the campaign