Another day, another sim game. Aquarium was originally a Playstation game from Japan in 1998, with the name "Theme Aquarium", to follow on from Theme Park and Theme Hospital. For one reason or another, EA decided to release it on the PC in 2000, dropping the 'Theme' part, but changing little else...
Now it has been re-released in the UK as a budget Sold-Out title, but is it worth that fiver that you worked so hard for, or should it sink to the bottom of the deep blue sea?
Aquarium lets you "build and manage your own sea life centre", to quote the box. In my opinion, this is a pretty good concept, and could have been made in to a very decent game. Notice the "could have". Unfortunately, the game has a number of major flaws, which can be very off-putting to the players. Starting with the controls, you may as well push your keyboard to one side as you won't be needing that. The game is played purely with the mouse. It certainly takes a while to get used to the awkward controls and it seems the developers spent little time converting the game from a PS2 title to a PC title.
Next on to the graphics, and for a game that was released in 2000, Aquarium is graphically poor. It ranks next to Theme Hospital, certainly not a beauty. The pixelated visitors are far from pretty, and the fish in your tanks are made up from about two frames. No matter what the species of fish are, from the regular game view, they all look the same - just moving dots in the tanks. It gets worse. You can only build your aquarium from one view, with rotations not an option. This means there is only one main wall to install the tanks on. Luckily, there are some 3D graphics in the dolphin training section, but these do not make up for the 2D graphics that make up the remaining 99% if the game. If you're wondering what Aquarium actually looks like, the best thing to do is browse the screenshots here on Gamer's Hell.
When you've sussed out the controls, and got over the graphics, the gameplay isn't actually too bad - and should appeal to fans of sim or tycoon games. The aim is to build up your aquarium with various tanks and interior items. Of course you will need to get fish, and you can either buy these off traders or fish for them yourself. There are literally loads and loads of different species of fish and sea creatures such as the Balloonfish, Deep Sea Octopus, Piranha, Harlequin Turkfish, Emperor Penguin and Anchove! Any fans of aquariums and fish species will definitely like the large selection. If you fish for your own fish, the further out to sea you go, the more exotic your fish, but if you really want to get the best creatures, you'll have to research a good enough ship.There is quite an impressive amount of information available. You can find out which sea your fish came from, and therefore find out the best water temperature for its tank. You will encounter fish from all sides of the ocean, the Great Barrier Reef being just one of the many areas on offer. As with many games in its genre, research is a key feature in the game. You can research new interior items such as escalators and plants, plus new equipment for the basement such as generators and thermostats.
As with any sim game, different types of guests will visit your aquarium, complete with though bubbles and litter to drop on your pixelated floors. You will need to keep your visitors satisfied if you want to make business. Providing seats for them to take a rest on is a must, plus you will need to make sure you've got a good range of fish - some being more popular than others. In addition to building up the aquarium, you can also train dolphins and put on shows. Dolphin training, to the players relief, appears in 3D, and is a nice original touch to the game. The more you train your dolphins, the more tricks they'll learn, and the happier your visitors will be. There's certainly enough in the game to keep you occupied, but the controls and graphics still won't go unnoticed.
The sound and music in Aquarium is far from spectacular I'm afraid. The music in the game sounds like something from a very old Super Mario game, and although the songs themselves aren't bad, they're pretty damn average and the best track in the game is "No music". The sound effects are about the standard of the original Theme Park game, with the odd scream or shout from your visitors.
In conclusion, Aquarium is quite a fun game, and definitely had the potential to be a promising title. However the graphics are poor for a 21st Century title, and the controls require attention. If you like management games and you think you can handle the lows, then by all means pick up a copy - its Ã‚Â£5. If you spend some time on it, it can actually be quite addictive. The problem is, many people will probably not give it a chance if they judge it on first impressions alone. Don't expect anything groundbreaking, and be prepared to spend some time on it, but after that there's some enjoyment to be had.