Megaquarium: Review

Anyone who knows me well knows that there are two things I love above all else: tycoon strategy games and marine biology. When I first saw Megaquarium featured on some “Upcoming Tycoon Games of 2018” I was very excited and I added it quickly to my wishlist on Steam so I’d never forget about it. Not that there was any risk of that though, I quickly became enthralled in the developer’s YouTube series documenting the development of the game, from its early stages to the release. It has been extremely interesting and satisfying watching the game go through all the changes it has gone through on its way to its release on the 13th of September (You can find the beginning of the playlist here, it’s a very good watch I promise).

In a month where it may be easy to be overshadowed by another fantastic tycoon game (which I’ve also reviewed), it would be a crime to let this pass you by.

First and foremost, Megaquarium is a relaxing, fun game. I haven’t delved into the hardest difficulty but as long as you play intelligently and slowly you aren’t going to be ‘losing’ your aquarium anytime soon. Winning levels feels like an inevitability which means your only real objective is to gradually tick off your goals and just have fun with the tools you’re given in each particular level. This sort of game design is something not seen much these days. Games centred around fun and relaxation tend to be written off in favour of the more high-octane, high-pressured games, but I’d like to write something in Megaquarium’s favour:

The game is deep. No that’s not a pun.

You won’t find these at your local chippie.

It is clear that a lot of care and research has been poured into this game, especially since it, as far as I know, was created solely by one person, Tim Wicksteed. Not only do the creatures and coral you can place in your tanks look colourful and attractive, but they are also as accurately represented as you can get for a videogame. As are their care needs. Moray Eels need to be fed herring, those lionfish in the screenshot above need to be fed mussels, sharks require supplements and so on and so forth. And each new requirement is a new level of strategy that you need to think and plan around. Every food variety needs a space, taller tanks need platforms to reach. And that is nothing to say for the heating and filtering needs that will have you trying new and wacky ways of arranging your aquarium.

Moray Eels and Epaulette Sharks and some tiny fish that I’m sure are about to get eaten.

While there is a lot to think about and handle (while not even touching the requirements of your needy, hungry, thirsty guests who can’t handle walking more than ten minutes at a time) the game introduces all of these concepts to you in an intuitive, clever way. It encourages you to really analyse the tooltips. You might find a fish that you want to put into your burgeoning marine museum. It’s a small one, but it’s going to grow huge eventually. Now you know to put it into a tank with room to spare.

Progress is tied to research. Each creature you display has either an ecology or science attribution. Rarer, more expensive fish will give you more ecology or science, and you gain these currencies whenever guests view the fish. This is how the aquarium model is gamified, encouraging you to really think about the layout of your aquarium to get your guests to view each and every tank you have on offer.

Ecology points are used to unlock new creatures, while science points are used to unlock new equipment, such as filters, heaters and items that help you sate your guests’ needs. You’ll also gain prestige, a generic “fame” statistic which affects your aquarium’s popularity, prices and also your rank, which allows you to unlock more items for research and decoration.

I’m a big fan of the surgeonfish tank on the right-hand side there.

And the tanks! I’m honestly surprised at how fun the variety of tanks is to play with. You’ve got free-standing tanks that go in the middle of rooms that have to be connected to pumps, you’ve got tanks that are inbuilt into your walls, you’ve got special round tanks for jellyfish and even massive oval Belfast tanks that hold a ton of sea creatures. Configuring and decorating your tanks (both to your fish’s specifications and to your own taste) is a fun task, and rather reminds me of a much simpler version of what Zoo Tycoon used to do, making sure the confines of your animals’ cages were suitable for its health and wellbeing.

You’ve got corals to light up and work with, crustaceans to home, eels and angelfish, Nemo and Dory, all of it. The variety is honestly outstanding. Did I mention the game is less than 500MB? Because it is. And like I said before, this game is deep. And it’s fun to explore those depths. I love this game already.

Different decoration themes make the game very pleasing to the eye.

The campaign appears to consist of ten levels (going by the Steam achievements) and once you’ve finished them you can play around with the game’s extremely flexible and extensive Sandbox mode, which lets you alter the difficulty, the availability of items and even the rank you start at. You can spend hours building up your aquarium from a small room with a couple of damsels or you can start with everything at your disposal, ready to put the entire ocean on display. Plus it comes with a seed option, giving you the option of playing the same random scenario as your friends.

All in all, the game is pretty damn good. The controls are tight, the difficulty is suitable for the type of game it is, it’s fun, and it’s visually beautiful.

Who should definitely get it: Tycoon game fans, fish fans.

Who should definitely check it out: Strategy fans, casual gamers (by which I mean gamers who like relaxing games from time to time).

What would I change: The campaign appears to be 10 distinct levels, rather than a fully-fledged career mode, even though it presents itself as one. Things you research on level 3 may need to be researched on level 4, and if you forget to save on a level you lose it forever once you leave it. There’s no sense of continual progress. (However, this does allow the game to construct 10 levels that feel different, forcing you to use different fish and different methods, which is unique and satisfying.)

Any issues: Just some visual nitpicks, such as toolboxes and drinks and such floating in front of the staffs’/guests’ bodies instead of being held.

Ryan’s Rating: Delightful!

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