Blimey, where did the time go? Last night we settled on the sofa to check out this new release, Aquaria, and before we knew it four hours had passed and the battery on the iPad was utterly depleted. Also, our mug of cocoa had gone cold.
Originally released for the PC, Aquaria was the Grand Prize winner at the Independent Games Festival in 2007. It's been faithfully ported to the iPad, with a bespoke control scheme, and it's really rather marvellous.
How does it play?
Do you like Metroid? Or Castlevania? Then you're going to love Aquaria. Like the previous two, Aquaria is a 2D side-scrolling action-adventure, heavily focused on exploration and puzzle-solving. The story takes place underwater, where a lost, lonely sea creature is exploring the ocean to unravel a series of ancient mysteries.
The core game mechanic is built upon a combination of swimming, combat, and, er, singing. That's right, your eyes do not deceive you, we said "singing". By learning several sequences of elaborate throat-warbling (in truth, button-pressing), you can move items, affect plants and animals, and even change the physical appearance of your character into other forms.
These forms have different abilities, such as firing projectiles at hostile creatures, or passing through barriers ordinarily inaccessible in your natural shape. And just like "Metroidvania", the level design is non-linear; progression is carefully paced through the accumulation of these song sequences.
Finally, there's a cookery component, where players collect ingredients and learn recipes to create self-sustaining provisions and temporary power-ups. It's not exactly a culinary master-class in the style of Jamie or Delia, but by golly that spicy sushi roll looks tasty.
Why do we like it?
With handcrafted visuals and an ethereal soundtrack, Aquaria looks, feels and plays just like a gothic fairy-tale. And it's not just a loving pastiche of the classic 2D games of yesteryear. Aquaria brings the genre bang up to date with a fresh concept and a unique control system.
Just like us, you'll be hooked after just ten minutes. Some advice to the first-time player, however; make sure you make full use of the map markers as you explore the game world. This is an absolutely massive space, with at least 25 hours of gameplay lying ahead of you. If you're not careful you'll find yourself lost or unable to trace a critical item.
But we digress. By the sacred, lustrous beard of Atlantis, this game stands tall as a modern day masterpiece. Strongly recommended.
Available to buy now for £2.99 on the App Store [link].