Currently on sale on Xbox Live, does Aqua provide high adventure on the high seas or is it merely just another twin-stick shooter?
I recently got a chance to sit down and spent more time with the multiplayer and have made a few minor changes including correcting an error I made to that section of the review.
Aqua takes place on the vast waters of a fictional ocean where two naval powers are suddenly thrust into war with one another. You play as a Captain Grey who commands a single, small, ship in the Emperean fleet and most of the game’s campaign is spent trying to survive the initial attacks by the mysterious adversaries. The game’s artistic style is based on the popular “steampunk” genre of science fiction, and from the moment the first game menu appears the steampunk roots are immediately evident. The world and vehicles are colorful and well designed, and developer’s interest in the steampunk genre really shows. The game’s story moves forward largely with the help of hand-drawn “motion comic” cinematics between episodes that, while lacking the color and vividness of the in-game design, are none-the-less well done and enjoyable to watch.
At its’ core Aqua is really just a vehicle based twin-stick shooter; dodge incoming fire with the left stick and shoot enemies with the right. In this regard the controls and game play are superb; functionally Aqua had no major flaws that I noticed while playing except for the relatively minor difficulty of small precise maneuvers when the game called for them. Of course you are supposed to be sailing a boat and more often than not this difficulty in precise maneuvers felt realistic and possibly even intentional and never really hindered my enjoyment of the game. While the game plays well, the fact is most people, including myself, are rarely able to get too invested in a typical twin-stick; luckily Aqua does a few things notably different that improves the experience.
The most obvious to me is that Aqua has a full, well-developed and engaging story line. A fairly elaborate world has been crafted for the game, a comment not often made about other games in the same genre. While the story gets a bit bogged down in an attempt to insert a love interest (as many stories often do), it is overall fun and interesting with a full cast of characters. Which brings us to the next rarity in twin-stick shooters; the game actually includes full dialogue sequences and consistent dialogue in game as well. Unlike some twin-sticks that simply flash some text at you in the beginning of a level, or in some cases at the beginning of the game, and then never communicate with you again; the characters of Aqua talk through the entire game helping to move the story along. The voice acting is unfortunately hit or miss, with some being fantastic and others both annoying and poorly done. (I personally could only just barely stand the voice acting of Captain Grey)
Aqua continues to diverge from the norms of the genre with more than just an engaging story. Many times in the game the developers added squad elements to the play style. Allowing you to pick between four varieties of squads made up of four ships each, you can order them to attack major targets, attack targets at whim, defend targets (and in some cases defend front or back specifically) or just follow/support you in your attacks. This element of the game was fairly limited which was unfortunate as it often felt like it was at its best when the squads were included, but its’ inclusion at all added an additional level of richness to the game play that would have otherwise been sorely missed. In addition to squads, Aqua alters our perceptions of most twin-sticks by giving us large open levels in many cases. There are no “rails” in this game, the screen doesn’t move in a certain way to contain your movement and you aren’t stuck in some simple rectangle map running in circles. There is opportunity to explore (and find collectibles) in most of the game’s levels and in the few that don’t the game often plays more like a platformer; making your way though a base, avoiding traps and even detection.
Beyond that, the game succeeds in several other avenues as well. While there are only three ships available to you, and their design is only altered slightly from one to the next, the ability to customize your weapon layout and upgrade choice makes it feel like far more than only three designs. The weapon types are for the most part varied and while some are good for any occasion, many are best used in certain situations with certain enemies. Speaking of, the enemy ships are all similar in design (after all a fleet would be fairly similar to each other) but there is enough variance that after a relatively short amount of game time you will be able to identify them well enough to know what weapon(s) you should use on them, and what weapons will have you running for your life. Single player offers several difficulty levels, as well as a “skirmish” mode where you fight waves of enemies, both adding slightly to the replay value of the game.
The game does have flaws though. The campaign, while fun, is fairly short. All told I played through it in roughly four hours. Many levels of the campaign are also some variety of escort/protect missions, and while not as annoying or frustrating as they have been in other games, more variety would have been appreciated. There is a lack of camera movement, which is unfortunate not only because it made zooming in to better see close fights impossible, it prevents the gamer from getting a better look at the game’s impressive designs. It would of also made certain weapon pick-ups easier to see as well; contributing to an overall problem of not making it readily clear what kind of mines you were using or the ammo supplies of your mines and torpedoes. Skirmish mode feels largely incomplete taking away some replay value. There are only a couple of maps, where the same five waves of enemies continue to repeat themselves. It is completely disconnected from the campaign; you don’t have access to ships or weapons you have unlocked and even the game’s HUD layout is changed for the mode. As is, it just feels like wasted potential tacked on to add more value to the game. Multi-player is local only, so I was unable to try it out fully; but it has a couple of modes: Chase which is a time or score based race to defeat more enemies than the other player. Battle Arena is essentially Skirmish mode for with a 2nd ship. Both could be potentially a lot of fun, but the local only aspect will be an issue for anyone who doesn’t have someone sitting next to them to play with. Even if you were only able to play with friends over Xbox Live, the mutliplayer mode would of felt much less “tacked on”.
In short, Aqua Naval Warfare is a fun game that highlights how radically different twin-stick shooters can be, and furthermore how much better they can be. An engaging story built on solid game mechanics makes Aqua worth playing, although ultimately I really wanted to like it a bit more than I did. At full price the game’s flaws might have served as more of a deal breaker, namely its’ limited replay value, but at sale price the game is definitely an entertaining way to spend your evening. It is certainly one of the better twin-stick shooting experiences I’ve had, and would highly recommend it for fans of the genre; and for those who aren’t fans this might the right game at the right price to win you over.
Final Rating: 7/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Approximate Time to Completion: ~4 hours
Gamer Score Earned: 120g/200g
Price Bought at: N/A – CBR was furnished with a copy for review purposes
Recommended Purchase Price: $5 or 400 Microsoft points is pretty much the perfect price
$5 still too rich for your blood? Well how about free? That’s right, the guys at Games Distillery have hooked us up with 2 codes for the full version of Aqua Naval Warfare to give away to our readers. Want one? Easy to enter easy to win, simply leave a meaningful comment on this review and you will be entered!
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The contest will go till 6pm central time on Thursday, February 3rd. (Plenty of time to still buy the game if you didn’t win!) We will then randomly select two winners from the pool of eligible entries and then contact them either through e-mail, twitter or facebook depending on their method of entry. Failure to respond within 24 hours will result in a new drawing. Good luck everyone!