by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
FEEDING THE FISH
Much to my surprise, running an aquarium turned out to be kinda fun. Aquariums are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine and I don’t waste a chance if there’s one near, but I never figured running one would be a good concept for a game. Build tank, buy fish, feed fish. It sounds like it could get boring rather quickly, right? Megaquarium proved me wrong. It doesn’t have the same legs as some other theme park sims, but it’s a lot more fun than I gave it credit for.
Truth be told, the “build tank, buy fish, feed fish” part is about as interesting as it sounds, especially during the early stages of a game. A new aquarium usually starts with a tiny floor-space which you’ll quickly want to expand to fit in some tanks. The basic tanks are small and will house either a few big fish, or a slightly larger number of smaller fish. Heating, cooling and filtering these tanks requires only basic equipment which means even the most uneducated worker will be able to supply the tanks with the right food and perform maintenance on the hardware that keeps them running.
The magic starts happening when visitors start flooding in (pardon the pun). The ticket price is directly related to what you have on offer inside and, as you would expect, the income funds new additions and upgrades. But money only works on “old” things. New species are unlocked through ecology points which you get from people gazing at your creations. New technology is unlocked the same way, but by way of research points instead. Some species give you ecology points, others research points. To progress you will need to ensure you generate both. And no matter what you put in your tanks - even decorations - everything generates prestige points which are required to level up your aquarium as a whole. This in turn gives you access to new unlockable stuff.
If it still sounds pretty basic to you, I’m right there with you. I promised magic, and there is. It starts happening when all of the above comes together. You’re on a constant quest to generate more prestige points so that you can level up. Unlike the other point types, prestige points aren’t cumulative and go up and down throughout the day. Yet visitors grow bored when they keep seeing the same things over and over, especially decorations. This means that just plopping down more tanks and stuffing them with more fish is not always the answer.
So you make things prettier, improve the variation in species and spice things up with more decorations. Just when you think your prestige points are finally closing in on their next level requirement, you get a message about a fish autopsy. The French Angelfish that you acquired through one of the game’s mini-quests got eaten by a Panther Grouper… Say what? That Grouper wasn’t nearly large enough to eat an Angelfish! Oh. It grew. Twice. And yes, there was a warning about this somewhere. Bugger. The first time this happened I thought I had rescued the three remaining Angelfish by moving the grouper into another tank. I did, but Groupers also like to nibble on small crustaceans, which were in the destination tank, and on my next autopsy report.
It’s easy to lose yourself in tweaking tanks, making them pretty and optimizing their ability to generate points, which truly is a never ending cycle, but there’s much more to keep an eye on. Tank temperature, water quality, incompatible species because of food envy (or being food), species that hate seeing one of their own kind, species that bully others, specific needs like rocks or plants or additional light. If you’re not on top of all of these things, you’ll be getting a lot of autopsy reports. And remember, an aquarium doesn’t run itself, you’ll need staff too. In smaller aquariums staff management doesn’t need to go beyond making sure you have enough people. Larger aquariums need more attention though, as staff becomes less efficient with size. You could counter that by simply adding yet more staff but that really racks up the bills. Managing staff, and the zones they’re allowed to work in, may not be a daily task, but it’s paramount for staying solvent.
If you’re like me, someone who wants things to run smoothly but look pretty as well, then Megaquarium will pull on all of your OCD strings. Perhaps not when your aquarium first opens its doors, but certainly when your it grows beyond the size that you can’t take in the warning icons hovering over tanks and equipment.
I do have some concerns over Megaquarium’s longevity though. Satisfying the OCD urges will only get you so far. A bigger tank is just that - a bigger tank. It’ll fit more fish and more decorations, but I can guarantee your visitors won’t be the only ones that will get bored with those. And that is what this game is all about, filling tanks. Still, there’s fun to be had here. Do fish swimming in pretty environments get your adrenaline pumping like a filter in a million gallon fish tank? Then Megaquarium is destined to be your fix for a few rainy autumn weekends.
OCD galore, dynamics between species is fun
Lacks depth for long term attraction