first impressions: Aquaria

aquariabannerAquaria is the story of a young aquatic girl named Naija, and how she discovers and comes to terms with the world she inhabits. It is a visual and aural feast that combines beautiful artwork with an evocative soundtrack, wrapped around a narrative that is pleasantly rich in familiar fantasy tropes and social commentary.

I fell in love with this game from the moment I came across its launch trailer back in 2007. The visuals, the music and the atmosphere drew me in, and I waited impatiently for the proper release to come out. When I finally did get the chance to play it, I adored it even more. Something about the way it conveyed its world and story struck a chord in me, and I was caught up in a quiet giddiness that only the most appealing games draw me into.

I was further impressed by how the game itself was made by only two people: Alec Holowka and Derek Yu, under the Bit Blot banner. They made everything themselves, from the story and programming to the graphics and music. They had no creative staff working with or under them, and no other trappings of a gaming design company. The only other person involved in the project was Jenna Sharpe, who provided the voice for the game’s lonely, restless protagonist. The whole endeavor had a romantic feel to it, and that deepened my appreciation of the game.

The interface is both novel and effective for a 2D scrolling adventure, and I am still in awe of how the essentially simple control scheme allows for satisfying complexity. Naija has a full range of movement as she swims through the game world, and her abilities come from she sings the notes of the Verse: the underlying harmony of everything that is. She can manipulate her being and the world around her through her songs, which are combinations of notes that are easily strung together through a compass-style ring. The entire game can be played with just the mouse, although keyboard shortcuts are also available.

aq-screen01One of the most evocative things about underwater vistas is the richness of life and landscape, and in this respect Aquaria definitely does not disappoint. As you explore the vast game world, countless unique touches can be found amidst the varied flora and fauna. You come across saltwater denizens of all shapes and sizes, many of which would likely be very familiar to oceanographers and marine biology enthusiasts. Alec and Derek really did their research, and it shows in the game’s creature population density and attention to detail. Very often I find myself coasting along, leaving the main plot alone for a while and just seeing the sights. It’s not a sandbox world, but it’s definitely one that invites exploration and aimless wandering.

I’ve clocked in around ten hours of gameplay, and the game still feels as compelling to me now as it did when I first started out. I’ll write more about the experience after I complete the game, which will hopefully not be too soon. There’s a lot of the world still left unexplored, and I like sustaining the sense of mystery and wonder.

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~ by Dante Gagelonia on April 27, 2009.

One Response to “first impressions: Aquaria”

  1. […] when I found out that Alec had made Aquaria. It is a gem of an indie game, and is also one of Dante’s favorites, so I went up to Alec and asked for an autograph and a pic. He […]

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