An unrealized arcade classic comes to life nearly three decades later comes to Switch, bringing an authentic edge to modern day pixel art games.
In many ways the world grows smaller as goods, services, and information circulate over vast distances faster than ever before. Video Games have paved a way for people all over the world to enjoy entertaining challenges and share experiences that bring us joy, and strangely bring us together as a community. Regardless of how many people play, quality games will still find their way to the hands of players ready to enjoy. This is especially true when it comes to older imports such as classic arcade games.
Clockwork Aquario is a side scrolling arcade action platformer that beautifully represents everything wonderful about the classic genre. The evil Dr. Hangyo is plotting to take over the world from his strange undersea Aquario. Up to two players can assume the role of heroes Huck Rondo, Elle Moon, or their robot friend Gash, and put a stop to his evil ambition. Fairly reminiscent of early Mario games, the controls are simple to learn but difficult to master. Our heroes can punch, headbutt, and bounce on enemies to disable them. After enemies are disabled they can be thrown at other objects and enemies for point multiplying combinations and bonus items.
Similar to Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, when caught off guard you’re granted one hit as your character shows visible damage. Finding a red potion will restore that hit point, and a gold star item will temporarily grant invincibility as well as the ability to shoot projectile stars punching. In traditional arcade fashion, you’re granted 3 lives per credit but the difficulty you select beforehand limits the number of continues, with 9 credits being the maximum if you choose to start on the least difficult mode. Smooth physics make platforming and throwing objects feel intuitive after picking up the controls and exceptional combos are rewarded with gems that add toward extra lives.
As soon as you enter the game you’re greeted by the adorable pixel art design as you select your character. Just like putting a coin in a cabinet, you’re shown a short demo of the mechanics as your character bounces on, headbutts, and throws the first of Dr. Hangyo’s minions. Platforming is exciting as you’ll be bouncing off of balloons and characters while simultaneously timing throws to rack up point multiplying combos. The unique arcade style of gameplay has the fast paced action of Metal Slug, while throwing enemies and platforming on balloons for combos offers a popping satisfaction similar to Bust a Move.
Because you’re given the option to attack enemies from above and below by jumping, with punches, or at range from throwing, the gameplay stays really interesting throughout the five chaotic but well designed levels. Each stage has a mid boss who holds a hidden key to be defeated, and at the end of Dr. Hangyo himself attacks using one of his giant mechanical monstrosities Each of the characters are designed with a charm that rivals any cartoon that used to air on Saturday mornings. The Japanese comic style comes to life in its own way when compared to side-scrollers of the past or present.
Interestingly enough, Clockwork Aquario was nearing completion in 1992 but never saw an official arcade release. After being tested in 1993, the game was canceled in 1994 by its developer Westone because 3D and Fighting games were becoming more appealing. After acquiring the intellectual property from SEGA, publisher Strictly Limited and developer Inin Games have restored Clockwork Aquario. Inin games spent time restoring the games with some of the staff from the original Westone company that developed the game for arcade, including designer Ryuchi Nishizawa.
The original soundtrack is danceable and upbeat, adding delight to each stage and scene. The music is composed is such a way that it managed to squeak out an original release in 2006 from the composer Shinichi Sakamoto on the Egg Music label before any of the more recent updates on the games release.
The only small blemish from the long and bumpy road to a modern release would be the main menu. It by all means serves Its purpose of choosing your difficulty, changing some of the retro CRT inspired graphic options, or checking out the gallery of extra content featuring concept art and notes from the designer Nishizawa himself. The menu however is the only thing that doesn’t fully fit the adorable cartoon art style. It’s somewhat basic blue design isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing, and feels like opening up a retro pie or similar emulation software instead of an artistically thought out interface that could’ve featured more of the wonderfully animated characters.
While there may have been a share of developmental challenges, Clockwork Aquario stands as a masterful blast from the past. The easy to learn yet difficult to master mechanics make the five action packed stages highly repayable, especially when throwing a second player around on the screen. Even without any prior nostalgic introduction, the strange story of its release will uphold that time has already tested this title, with stellar arcade-platformer gameplay that gives punch to the infinitely replayable levels. This unlikely trio of characters may have missed their window to make history next to its arcade or console classic counterparts, but is a must-play for fans of side strollers and co-op games.
-Delightfully charming character design.
-Catchy classic arcade chiptune soundtrack.
-A playable co-op time capsule, developed from a canceled 90’s arcade cabinet.
-Controls are easy to pick up without sacrificing depth.
-Main menu is lackluster.
5 out of 5
Review code provided by PRHound. Clockwork Aquario is out now!