Wednesday 1 December 2021

Clockwork Acquario Review (Switch)

Written by Dan Gill

Many argue over what should be considered the golden age of gaming. Some would say the 80s since it spawned so many classics, while others may praise the pinnacle of the 16-bit era for its refinement of 2D gaming, others, the late 90s for the absorption of gaming by the mainstream, and the dawn of the Playstation. Each camp has its points, but then there are the gaps between generations, the transition period where some titles won’t quite fit the zeitgeist. That window narrows as each console generation moves on, but in the early 90s the shift from 2D to 3D left casualties.

Wonderboy developer Westone was working on Clockwork Acquario around the time people were being wowed by Virtua Racer and the like, and the game was never finished. By 2020 ININ games had managed to acquire the unfinished game from Sega, and managed to complete it with the help of some of the original development team, and in 2021 – almost 30 years later – it's finally being released.

CA is an arcade game, and it shows. It’s all about linear progression as opposed to Wonderboy’s backtracking, and it channels some aspects of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Mario and Alex Kidd, but it doesn’t feel like a tribute act. The chunky, colourful sprites look great, there’s a choice of three characters to pick from, and there’s the option for another player to join in for some co-op.

Attacking enemies consists of jumping on them, hitting them from below or smacking them. This leads to them being stunned which allows them to be picked up, and then thrown at other enemies, helping you to rack up a higher score (especially if you “bank-shot” multiple bad guys). Once the system clicks, you’ll find yourself looking for the best route to a high score. It’s a satisfying hook, and requires the player to understand it in order to take on the boss battles throughout.

Each of the three characters offer no noticeable difference in playstyle (or at least if they do, those differences are subtle). There’s plenty of personality in their sprites though, and the enemy design is shot through with anime cuteness. The graphics on the whole are nice, kind of like a Mega Drive game but beefed up, which is to be expected of a game originally designed for Sega arcade hardware.

Unfortunately, the level design is a bit lacklustre. While we have no problem with the linear level progression, the layout of each stage is pedestrian, but the backgrounds are nice enough. The focus here is on combat over platforming – which is fine – but more imaginative level layouts would’ve been nice.

Minor gripes aside, Clockwork Acquario is a charming game. It’s not the most ground-breaking and most likely won’t be as highly regarded as the big names of the genre, but it is an enjoyable game. The combat mechanic is thoroughly enjoyable and will entice you back for more, the boss battles are fun, and the co-op is a great way to have a friend join in with the retro arcade fun (scuffed pool table and stale cigarette smoke optional). It’s great to see Clockwork Acquario finished and released after all these years, and perhaps it could only feasibly be released in the time of digital downloads and an appreciative retro gaming audience. Maybe we’re in the golden age of gaming right now.



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