Megaquarium is an aquarium management game, much in the same vein as the Theme or Tycoon games of old. Instead of working on creating that perfect sprawling theme park, hospital, or whatever to entertain or service patrons, you’ll be setting up elaborate aquariums filled with various fish and other animals to please your guests.
There are two main ways to play: a campaign mode and a sandbox mode. In the campaign mode you play as a faceless, upstart aquarium guru. It’s your goal, essentially, to create an empire of aquatic entertainment venues as you go around fixing aquariums, and building new ones to exacting standards. The campaign is pretty standard, and works mostly as a primer to Megaquarium’s best mode, its sandbox mode. Sandbox mode gives you the freedom to play how you want, while still delivering objectives and other challenges along the way. You can determine how often these challenges come up as well as a number of different starting settings, like what technology you’ll have unlocked when you start off, etc.
As your guests view the aquatic life on display you will earn ecology, prestige and science points. Prestige points increase your level, and open up new ways to play, giving players new technology, fish, and so on. Ecology points specifically unlock fish, while science points are used to unlock new ways to keep those fish comfortable and alive, like pumps, heaters, filters, etc. Be careful, though, as your guests will lose you prestige points if they see something unpleasant—like a dead fish—or if their comfort needs aren’t being met. You can meet these needs by building vending machines, bathrooms, and benches for them to rest on. This is one major area where Megaquarium is lacking, unfortunately—you have a fair number of options for aquariums, fish life etc., but there are few options for those who would want to make a more guest-centric location. There are theme decorations you can add, but there aren’t very many of them.
Fish will need to be taken care of properly if you want them to live and thrive for your guests to be happy. You have to make sure they have the proper food, suitable habitat, and staff to care for them/maintain the tanks. You can build a number of different tanks: wall tanks, tanks that have remote pumps/filters, and larger tanks for turtles and rays. Each different fish or animal that you put into the tank will have a specific diet, temperature need, and temperament towards others. More fish in a tank will require more powerful filters; some fish require tall grass to hide in to be comfortable: things like that. The staff you hire to maintain your aquarium even have different skills of their own that will improve the longer they are employed.
Designing your aquarium is a mixed bag. It’s a joy to create tanks and hide their machinations from guests’ eyes, but what you can create feels so limiting. You can’t make absurdly large tanks, at least not that I ever discovered, and despite all of the objects being placed on a grid, Megaquarium creations start to feel cramped when you have to stack filters and heaters around a single pump.
Megaquarium feels a little small in scope. The first few hours feels like you’re running a fish pet shop, not an aquarium. The graphics are extremely charming and colorful, but simplistic and underwhelming. Certainly not a deal breaker, but disappointing for this author, as all I just wanted to sit back and watch the swimming fruits of my creation. The user interface is also a little complicated, and things that would seem simple, like removing a fish or decorations from an aquarium, took me a while to figure out, and the tutorial never touches on it. Also, while there are larger tanks, my dreams of creating a huge, multistory fish tower were dashed by the lack of verticality. I mean, I was promised a MEGAquarium after all.
Despite how large I managed to build, I never quite felt like I was running a huge, world-class aquarium. Instead, I always felt like the proprietor of a high-end pet store. Megaquarium has some interesting systems, but they never quite grabbed me. If the theme is especially interesting, it might be for you, but there is nothing that sets it apart from similar titles.
Megaquarium is out today on Steam.