ClockWork Aquario Review – Blast From the Past

    Title: Clockwork Aquario
    Developer: Westone Bit Entertainment
    Release Date: December 14th 2021
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Strictly Limited Games, Sega
    Genre: Arcade, platforming

Recently we’ve seen several previously unfinished games from the 16-bit era finally release with a bit of modern help. Still, while it’s wonderful to see pieces of history resurrected, it can almost feel unfair to judge these older titles alongside modern games. Clockwork Aquario by developer Westone Bit Entertainment and publishers Sega and Strictly Limited Games is the latest of these revitalized projects, with initial production beginning nearly 30 years ago. While gaming has come a long way, there is still some fun to be had in this simple arcade side-scroller.

Clockwork Aquario’s plot is briefly hinted at through a couple of images during the menu screen. Strange events have taken place all over the world, with Dr. Hangyo behind the mastermind behind them all. Thankfully, three individuals have volunteered to take on the malicious villain, his cronies, and ultimately squash the base Aquario. It’s a blink, and you miss it plot, and, embarrassingly, I didn’t even see this cutscene until after beating the game. Granted, the narrative is not super vital to the Clockwork Aquario experience. 

Gameplay has you choosing one of three characters who jump, hit, pick up and hurl baddies through five side-scrolling levels. The title wisely plays a short demonstration of your character displaying each of the abilities you will need to utilize. After seeing these previews, it instantly and effectively communicated what I could do upon my first time playing. Each villain typically becomes stunned after one hit, turning blue to communicate that information. During this time, you can hit foes again to destroy them, or you can pick them up to throw at other enemies or obstacles. Jumping on or under enemies will also render them stunned to disarm as you please. 

In addition to these robotic henchmen, balloon-like faces are scattered throughout the levels. While popping balloons can gain your player points, they also serve as obstacles and support in platforming sections. Bouncing on top of these balloons can send you upward, sometimes crashing into enemies or ricocheting into other balloons. At its most frantic, it can give a pinball-like effect to gameplay. It’s relatively simple, but it can be pretty fun and make for some chaotic moments, especially when playing with a friend.

ClockWork Aquario 1

In co-op, you can pick up your friend and throw them like other objects in the game. While this may seem like a benefit, you can find yourself unintentionally picking up your partner or having them pick you up only to throw you to your doom. This will create antagonizing scenarios and possibly test friendships for the more wily players out there. In addition, the ricochet effect mentioned is turned up to eleven with two players. Add in a point system and drops, and it’s clearly asking for trouble. Again, though, depending on your patience and enjoyment with utter chaos, this may be the preferred way for some to play.

Whenever you pop a balloon or defeat an enemy, it will rack up points which can quickly give your player an extra life. Hitting multiple objects in quick succession adds to this score. As prevalent as these balloons are, I often found my desire to get additional points to be my downfall. In my attempt to gain an extra life, I would sometimes lose three or more in exchange for executing risky maneuvers. The temptation to pop the balloons works well and can hinder as much as it can help.

ClockWork Aquario 2

While the three characters you can choose from play similarly, there is a notable difference between the humans Huck Londo and Elle Moon compared to the robotic Gush. His attack range is wider, but as a trade-off, he is larger, making him a bigger target, and every time he initiates a jump attack, he will slightly move forward. A player has to be mindful of his quirks when on smaller platforms. 

Bosses are entertaining to fight against with a strange caveat. Items granting your character invincibility frequently drop, ultimately making short work of any enemy on screen. One boss I encountered dropped this item almost immediately, allowing me to simply toss them, ending the battle. As happy as that may make some players, the lack of challenge in boss battles prevents them from feeling memorable or like legitimate threats. 

ClockWork Aquario 3

Because Clockwork Aquario was initially intended to be an arcade game players should expect brief playtime. There are five levels in total, and if played skillfully enough, you can beat the entire title in approximately a half-hour. However, the conclusion may feel painfully abrupt for those not aware of the game length beforehand. Even those accustomed to 90s arcades may find the length underwhelming. 

To offset this, a couple of difficulty settings attempt to pad replayability by limiting lives. There is also an arcade mode that can be unlocked after you beat Clockwork Aquario on any difficulty. This allows you to use infinite lives and change the appearance of your game through scan lines and a bowed monitor screen. Original and new conceptual artwork and the soundtrack are also provided.

On top of those add-ons, you can play a bonus game against a friend where you throw a ball, attempting to be the first to pop the opponent’s balloons. This mini-game is also featured at the end of each level in multiplayer and is just as frantic as the co-op sections. The presentation of the characters and the world is charming with a bright, cute anime style. Enemies are also intriguingly bizarre but endearing. Sprites are large and fill the screen in a very pleasing way. The soundtrack is additionally full of energy and has some solid tunes that fit well within the world.

Clockwork Aquario

Clockwork Aquario at times feels pretty average, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. Playing with a friend can actually heighten your experience if you revel in messy and chaotic gameplay. While short and lacking on a ton of additional features, it does present what is advertised; a gaming experience nearly lost to time, completed as close to what was originally intended. So for those looking for classic arcade gameplay, there is certainly some fun to be had here, especially with a competitive friend by your side.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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