The tycoon/management genre has undergone a massive resurgence over the past few years. Whether it’s the uncontrollable chaos of Jurassic World Evolution, the throwback appeal of Two Point Hospital or the vast number for tycoon’s games on Roblox, the genre is back in a big way. One of the more creative titles in this wave of newcomers is Megaquarium. In this game you’re creating, curating and managing an aquarium – sometimes part built, sometimes something you’ve created from the ground up – with the aim of creating the ultimate Aquarium to please your guests. Originally released on PC back in 2018, the game went on to win plenty of critical praise. Since then, developer Twice Circled have teamed with Auroch Digital to bring the game to consoles – Switch, Xbox One and the PS4 version I’ll be reviewing here. To cut to the chase – Megaquarium is really quite good.
One of the aspects of the tycoon game genre that often irritates me is that one of the central concepts is disaster management. You spend hours building something you’re proud of, only for something to come along and send it all spiralling into destruction. Some people love this. It’s often the most tense part of the game that pushes you to react quickly and asses risks. That’s not the case with Megaquairum. There’s no water tanks shattering which sends sharks sliding among your guests. There’s no power cuts or invaders or explosions. It’s a chilled out experience about creating, strategizing, planning and maintenance.
You do all of this, initially, from a bird’s eye view. Looking down on your aquarium, you can build walls, tanks, doors, facilities like toilets and seating as well as food and drinks machines. Everything can be mapped to a grid within your area. Tanks come in a variety of different shapes and sizes which determine what kind of aquatic life you can put in them. Once you’ve done so, you can attach a number of water heaters, chillers, filters, UR sterilisers, water pumps to remotely attach equipment, protein skimmers and more in order to condition the water for their inhabitants. The size, combined with the number of fish you choose to put in a tank, means you’ll have to attach more equipment.
Once you’ve built a tank, the most interesting aspect of Megaquarium comes to life – the strategy of housing fish. Each species in this game has a set of needs. Tropical water fish like their water warm while others like cold water. Some species need vegetation or rocks in their tanks to keep them calm. Others need lots of space to swim in while others are at home in a tiny space. Some of the animals you can place need rounded tanks – mostly sharks – so they don’t injure themselves. Coral’s need plenty of UV light provided by lighting rigs while eel’s and others need caves to hide in. Bigger, predatory fish will eat others if they get hungry and some species like to be housed with only their own kind. To keep animals healthy, happy and alive, you need to balance all of these factors when choosing where to place them.
Each fish you home in your aquarium has a number of benefits. First and foremost, it increases visitor satisfaction. As a guest to your aquarium looks upon the fish, golden stars (or red stars if they’re displeased with what they’re seeing) pop out of their heads called “Prestige”. The more they’re impressed, the more stars you get. These stars will culminate into level up’s which will unlock more equipment and fish that you can research. This is where the other 2 benefits of housing fish come in – Science and Ecology. Along with Prestige, a guest viewing a fish grants 1 or both of these resources. For both categories, you can select a target fish or equipment to unlock and once you’ve reached the target Science or Ecology, they’ll unlock for purchase. The system means you’re constantly improving, rejigging and balancing your Megaquarium with new unlocks that’ll generated even more Prestige, Science and Ecology.
The main core of the game revolves around 10 aquariums, each of which sets out a goal for you to achieve before you can move onto the next. Initially, it’s a blank canvas for you to play around in in order to get to grips with the mechanics. The fish that are available are easy to manage with few requirements. Each new aquarium adds another layer of complexity. One aquarium is already established but has inadequate equipment. Another aquarium only allows you to acquire the fan favourite fish by trading others you’ve already placed and grown to adulthood. Another asks you to transform an old cinema into a thriving tourist attraction. Each level has its open optional objectives too, tasking you to complete initially simple but eventually quite challenging tasks like housing certain sets of animals together. Each level is challenging in its own way and each build on the mechanics you’ve already mastered. Recruiting enough staff with the right abilities, putting them in zones to maximise their efficiency, ensuring you’ve got enough feeding stations for each of the fish types, making sure guests have enough toilets and seating, selling gift shop merchandise like balloons or shark hats in order to generate more money – the layers of complexity here are numerous but all float by in a gentle progression path.
Tycoon games that have made the Free Willy leap from PC to consoles haven’t always fared well but Megaquarium has done an admirable job of putting all your gauges, dials, boxes and the rest of the nubbins that make up the HUD in intuitive places. It can be a little clunky at times, moving from messages you’ve received to the objective tabs, for example, but placing items, tanks, fish, and items is simplistic but effective.
It’s sometimes a little too simplistic though. Because everything is locked to grids, there’s a limit to how creative you can be compared to other games of this ilk. The perfectionists out there might lose a few hours’ sleep over walls that won’t align exactly with curved tanks (people still won’t be able to walk past but it does show a gap visually. The benefit of this however is that Megaquarium lets you get away with a lot of the little things that other games of this ilk wouldn’t – if you build a wall and somehow trap a visitor into the staff side of the area where they’ll get displeased with seeing nothing but heaters and filters, you can just pick them up and drop them where they’re supposed to be. Similarly, 3 of the 4 walls in all of your aquariums can be expanded with a few box drags. This means space never becomes too much of a consideration and allows you to get creative with your big features.
Outside of the main levels, there’s also a sandbox mode in Megaquarium that lets your creativity run wild. This mode is a whole lot of fun to just create in or to trial out some of the wilder fish combinations before trying them in the main levels.
Until recently, Megaquarium had a few technical issues on PS4. Some of the features were buggy, some of the sound effects were malfunctioning and the last of the 10 aquariums would crash every 15 minutes or so. Now, patched several times, the latest fixing the last of the annoying issues, Megaquarium now runs like a dream. There’s been some creative solutions used here – limiting the number of fish you can have in play at any one time being one – but they’ve worked a treat.
Lastly, I feel the need to mention one of the nicest little touches in Megaquarium – the first person mode. Zoom in all the way to your aquarium and you’ll be transported into a guests-eye-view. Here you can roam around and survey all you’ve made from the ground up to see what the guests see. You can even ghost in and out of the tanks to check out the inhabitants, fisheye to eye. It’s here you’ll notice how good the animations are on the species you’re housed and while they’re not extravagantly detailed models, they look fin-tastic in their own way.
Megaquarium is a tycoon/management game for those that like to take things slowly. There’s no running around or avoiding disasters. The most you’ll have to deal with is is some malfunctioning equipment and that’s more of an inconvenience than a stressor. Instead, this is a chill game about a chill topic that lets you get as creative as you can within its constraints and has done some admirably in its journey from PC to PS4. It won’t be for everyone – if you prefer your tycoon games with an element of danger then this one isn’t for you – but if you’re looking to kick back, look at some fish and make sure everything is ticking over while some cool tunes play in the background, this is one to put on your radar.
Megaquarium is available now.
Developer: Twice Circled
Publisher: Auroch Digital
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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