Clockwork Aquario – Game Review

Some matches are delayed. Others are canceled. And then there is the unique and bizarre journey of Mechanical Aquario. Westone, creators of the wonder boy and Monstrous world games, tested this colorful side-scroller in arcades several times in 1993, but the game never saw an official release. For decades, there was little evidence that he existed beyond a few screenshots, stories from a few lucky gamers, and an official release of Shinichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack.

In 2012, however, Westone co-founder Ryuichi Nishizawa discovered the source code, and all of a sudden Mechanical Aquario wasn’t just another game that strayed from the world. After an ambitious restoration project by Strictly Limited Games, ININ, programmer Steve Snake and much of the game’s original staff, Mechanical Aquario is finally available to everyone on the Playstation 4, switch and To smoke. It even set a record for the longest time frame for any video game, even eclipsing Duke Nukem forever and the entire Working Designs catalog.

Mechanical Aquario comes from the start as a big, shiny and engaging cartoon of a game, in which the evil man-fish scientist, Dr. Hangyo, attacks civilization with an army of mechanical marine life… and knocks down the sand castle of ‘a small child. Three heroes take on the challenge: Huck Londo, with spiky hair and sunglasses, the pink-haired witch Elle Moon, and the chubby, stovepipe-armed robot Gush. The trio rush through Dr. Hangyo’s seabed headquarters, facing everything from harmless fish-faced balloons to the Doctor’s huge robotic otters, squid, and other sea monsters.

The shortest demo tells us all about how the game works: Huck, Elle, and Gush can jump, and they can hit enemies. A hit makes an enemy blue and stunned, allowing the player to pick it up and throw it, much like the throwable creatures of Super mario bros 2 Where Blue’s journey. Characters can only take two hits, although a potion restores their health, gems grant extra lives, and a star power-up makes our heroes momentarily invincible. The stars tend to do that in this kind of game.

Westone has taken on just about every genre in his career, but his specialty was side-scrolling action games with charming and detailed hand-drawn animation. Mechanical Aquario push their talents to the limit with arcade gear. The enemy characters and sprites are all much bigger and the colors much more vivid than home systems from the early ’90s could handle. The backgrounds are beautiful in their hues, from the churning of gears to the glowing recesses of an underwater cave. Creatures fill the screen, floating, bouncing, and blinking to the catchy rhythms of Sakamoto’s music. It gives the game a grand and joyful feel beyond most side-scrollers of its day – or the modern era, for that matter.

Mechanical Aquario do not miss an opportunity to cram nice details. Once damaged, Huck limps with his leg in a cast, Elle jumps burnt and without shoes, and Gush loses his head and part of his lower body. One particularly cute detail occurs when the characters die: they fall off the screen and come back up in angel robes and halos (with Gush, who apparently has a soul, wearing his celestial costume as a bath towel) up to what the player positions them. Then they’ll throw away their Heavenly Insignias and get back into the action – and if you keep going all the way, your chosen character jumps to the screen via the jetpack. Most platform games of the 1990s (and today) just put their heroes back in place or let them fall from above, but not Mechanical Aquario. It shows how well Westone knew their craft and how fascinating traditional hand-drawn art could be in a video game.

Under this beautiful style, however, Mechanical Aquario is a simple game. It’s great fun bouncing off enemies, grabbing them and throwing them with reckless glee, but the levels are all straightforward races. There are no puzzles, no alternate routes and no variable endings. With just five steps, Mechanical Aquario is short even for an arcade game, and while ININ judiciously limits a maximum of nine at the start, the experience won’t challenge players for that long.

Maybe that’s why he never took in the arcades. Westone has undergone several revisions of Mechanical Aquario, adding and removing invincibility counters and other ideas with each attempt, but he couldn’t find an audience. Arcade games make their living killing players as often as possible, but Mechanical Aquario takes it surprisingly easy. Regular levels are bouncy, with occasional aggressive enemies. Bosses are tougher, in part because they clutter up the screen so much, but their attack patterns aren’t hard to dodge, and only the latter features cheats in a satisfying way. Mechanical Aquario Seems caught between two worlds: it’s not a challenge like a real arcade game, but it’s not long enough or layered enough to really look like a console game.

Again Mechanical Aquario has the best of both worlds. There are few games, even today, that offer this combination of big, vibrant characters and a winning atmosphere. And unlike many daringly detailed arcade games, Mechanical Aquario is not there to push you back first. He wants you to enjoy the stages, jump over frog-faced balloons, grab a sea urchin and throw it for a combo without worrying too much. It’s a charm both in appearance and in gameplay, with the visual impact of an arcade creature and immediate appeal tied to the measured enjoyment of console gaming.

aquarium also thrives in its two-player mode. Characters can grip and throw themselves, adding a chaotic but important (and downright adorable) element to attacking bosses, racking up points and grabbing color-coded gems for different characters. The two-player mode also features a cute mini-game, where Huck, Elle, and Gush compete to smash balloons and throw sports balls all around. Too bad he was only seen once during the match.

Between the laid-back appeal and the multiplayer angle, Mechanical Aquario clearly did not disappear because he deserved it. By 1993, side scrolling was all but extinct in arcades, where Street Fighter II had sparked a craze for fighting games that showed no signs of cooling down. Westone took the risk of manufacturing Mechanical Aquario, maybe just because they wanted to make the prettiest 2D game possible, and they threw their pearls before … well, not pigs, but a gaming audience that wanted Samurai Shodown and Virtua Fighter more than anything that looks wonder boy Where super mario bros.

Presentation by ININ of Mechanical Aquario has robust display options, and Arcade Mode, unlocked after completing the game once, has even more switches and settings. Some of the extras, however, present missed opportunities. The wonderful arranged version of the Sakamoto soundtrack is here, but you cannot play it during the actual game. And while the two player ball throwing battle is available in the main menu once unlocked, you cannot play against the computer. Then there is the biggest disappointment: the lack of online multiplayer. Mechanical Aquario wins a lot with two players on board, so it’s a shame that the experience can only be experienced in local play.

Mechanical Aquario may be short, but there is no denying that there is something special about it. Westone (aka Westone Bit Entertainment) wanted a brief, purely happy action game, and aquarium fully succeeded in this. It’s a game to be revisited over and over again, for the same reasons you might launch your favorite Mario or Sonic title no matter how many times you’ve been through it all. What better replay value is there?

It’s easy to brag Mechanical Aquario like an undiscovered wonder, and it’s almost as easy to be disappointed with its relative simplicity. Yet few creations really match aquarium stunning colorful graphics and soft styling. It was in the wrong place at the wrong time decades ago, but for anyone who appreciates the art of hand-drawn graphics and the value of a charming platformer, Mechanical Aquario will always be the right game.