Who doesn’t like a nice, relaxing indie game? Actually, let me double down on that, who doesn’t love a nice relaxing game with a charming hand-drawn aesthetic? I, for one, would definitely need more of those kinds of titles. But, if they come with the kaleidoscope of issues and feelings of frustration that Aquamarine made me drown in – well – in that case I just might be better off relaxing with a nice long bath…
EXPLORE THE OCEAN FLOOR
Aquamarine begins when our main character ends up stranded on an alien world. There’s no apparent way to get the supplies necessary for survival. Luckily, our hero has her trusted life pod at her disposal. The craft is able to act like a submarine, letting her explore the sea floor. There, in the depths of the ocean, she can find food, resources and even new mods to install. That’s the basis for the gameplay: Move around, in a turn-based style and gather crystals – which act like a power source – along with the many other useful things, hidden underwater.
That’s all well and good, but unfortunately nothing in Aquamarine is as easy as the tutorial likes to sell. The introduction rapidly goes through the basics of the gameplay and then disappears. For good. To make matters worse, the interface isn’t what I’d call intuitive. It’s made entirely of knobs and buttons – with no explanation and just vague images. God forbid if you have to leave the game for more than a few days. Chances are, you would then need to fiddle around for half an hour just to remember what any of these do. Need a refresher on how some things work? Well, tough luck. Ah, those good old days of the manuals…
LIKE PEAS IN A POD
The pod needs constant energy to move around. Energy can be generated with crystals, that are scattered randomly across the ocean floor – Or by breaking other, bigger crystals. Well, at least, so I thought. However, after a while the game wouldn’t allow me to break those larger crystals anymore, with no explanation. Also, I said “randomly”. That’s but half of the story: After you’ve gathered most of the crystals in the places you’ve visited, they never reappear. Do you require more to explore around? Again, tough luck.
The pod’s functions can be augmented by collecting “mods”. These allow it, for example, to attack – Mario-style – by bashing the ground. This is useful to both drive away enemies and break crystals (at least SOME crystals…) There is also a kind of rush attack that may destroy coral. All of these extra functions are, naturally, powered up by the very same crystals, which also power up our armor. Food, on the other hand, is used just to not starve.
There are two ways to move around the different zones of the ocean. The player can either reach the current screen’s boundary – or use the level map to go to a place that’s already been explored. To get to certain areas, the character must be standing on the EXACT square demanded by the game, which is one of those design choices that leaves me baffled. Somehow, most of the things you end up doing in Aquamarine do not feel entertaining, but rather a chore: Blindly clicking away the minutes, trying to guess what the developers were thinking.
SINKING ALONG WITH THE DESIGN
It is pretty clear that, although the concept of Aquamarine seemed to be pretty interesting, the actual game design leaves much to be desired. I also kept wondering, through my hours of playing, why is the game turn-based? Sure, there are alien creatures on the ocean floor – but they just mind their own business, most of the time. Also, the game has no manual save function. Instead, every mistake is saved automatically and carried over throughout the run.
Also, I was forced to wait for four different patches only to be able to play Aquamarine without encountering one nasty bug – that would just outright prevent me from moving around. Yes, the pod would just stop dead in its tracks. After that, I would be allowed to go back to the island, only to return to the ocean floor and find out I still couldn’t move. It seems to have been fixed by version 1.06 but, still, I am not 100% sure.
But, let us end on a positive note: The graphics are indeed quite delightful. They have a kind of 70/80s European sci-fi vibe, which makes Aquamarine look especially unique. The screenshots alone I think do justice to how pretty the game looks. Also, most of the mechanics on the island seemed to be pretty clear and well explained, with text labels to boot. Unfortunately, one doesn’t spend too much time over there, since there seems to be little to do but, hey… beggars can’t be choosers.