Megaquarium is an old-school style tycoon simulator giving you management of an Aquarium. One of my favourite games of all time is Zoo Tycoon 2 and animal-related management / tycoon games hold a special place in my heart (since it’s also my real-life job!), so I was definitely excited to get stuck in and see if the game was as fintastic as I hoped. The developer Twice Circled, who is a single-man (Tim Wicksteed) studio from Bristol, provided me with a pre-release copy to share my thoughts. His previous game – Big Pharma – was a great success as a unique strategy tycoon which explored the pharmaceutical industry. Can that success can be repeated in aquatic form?
Megaquarium released on the 13th September and is available on Steam, Humble Bundle and GoG for $24.99 / £19.49.
In Megaquarium we are tasked with building aquatic displays filled with fish and entertaining guests who pay to see your exhibits. Sounds simple right? Yeah, well… every tried keeping tropical fish alive? I’m pretty much a murderer in fish circles, both in reality and in game. In Megaquarium, realistic rules are followed. Each fish has very specific requirements, including water temperature, filtration and water quality, lighting, hiding, plant, decoration and feeding requirements. Some fish require large groups, whilst others prefer solo, and different species – even if all the other requirements are met – will not always get on, as some are aggressive and others not. If you think that’s starting to sound a wee bit complex, well, some species will eat specific species of exact sizes. Some are bought young and grow up, so will eventually grow bigger than their tank-brethren and then consume them, whilst taxing your filtration system to the max.
You might think the simple solution is just put one species per tank, but you need to create entertaining and diverse exhibits to gain ecology points (to research new fish), science points (to research technology) and prestige (to level up and unlock lots of things). Tanks with mixed species in combinations you haven’t used before will attract more guests and make them happier, so they’ll spend more money. In short, you can’t take the easy way out, so you really have to think about what you’re doing. Or you’re going to end up with one fat grouper. Or a dead one.
Drowning in Complexity
This makes planning your tank setup quite complicated, especially as more and more fish are researched and your options are unlocked. In addition, staff need to have space to work and access feed bins and tools, whilst guests will need good access to view the tanks. Guests will get upset if they can see your staff working, so you have to learn how to build walls and zone off staff areas, tucking away your equipment and feeding areas out of sight. Of course, you also need to turn a healthy profit by bringing together all of the above with guest entertainment, needs like tiredness, hunger and thirst and facilitate shopping purchases with a magnificent gift shop designed to make them pay £5 for a tiny fridge magnet. Yeah, I’ve been to aquariums before.
It turns out I’m as bad at managing fish in-game as in real life and that’s going to be the case for most people to begin with. The game is strategically complex, much like Big Pharma was, and you won’t have all the information available to you at the beginning of the game. Emergent gameplay means you’ll be rewarded for playing, learning and getting it wrong (sorry fishies!), revising your strategies and continuing on. If you’re going to get upset when you have a notification that a fish has died (complete with autopsy results telling you where you messed up), then perhaps this game isn’t for you. I’m just glad you can’t name them or I’d have ended up in literal tears.
The UI is intuitive, information is clear and readily available but there is a lot to read and pay attention to. At times I struggled a little with information overload, but the longer you play the game and the more you learn, the simpler it becomes even as the level challenge increases.
Dive right in
There’s a 10 level campaign with changeable difficulty levels which has structured tasks that increase in complexity and become quite challenging, as well as a full sandbox for you to create the best aquarium you possibly can. If toggled on, challenges randomly appear in the sandbox to encourage you to try different things, and you can change various conditions to make the game as easy or as hard as you please. This means you can dive right in and make an open aquarium from scratch and relax if you’d rather that than completing challenges.
There are a few annoyances and glitches and I experienced a few performance issues, although was playing on a pre-release copy for the majority of my game time. My particular bugbear is the colouration of tiles – you can unlock different skins for the tiles, allowing you to have themed area with different looks, but you can’t place tiles underneath tanks and getting them into corners and U-shapes is a bit of a nightmare, so always colour your ground path before you make your tanks, or you’ll find you have to move them and redo it later (which is fairly simple with the move tool, but does unlink all your pumps so not ideal!) The graphics and animations may not be everyone’s cup of tea and are definitely more old school grid than modern beauty.
This is a tycoon for those who want something that feels akin to the original Rollercoaster Tycoon. Deep strategy and lots of thought, – but with fish, which in my opinion is much cooler. It’s not a new Zoo Tycoon 2 in any shape or form, but it is a realistic and fun aquatic simulator which I’m sure will please fans of the genre.
I’d love to see the addition of perhaps a rainforest DLC in the future. Although there are crustaceans and even a turtle, most larger aquariums do have things like reptiles and exotics, frogs, invertebrates and sometimes even water mammals such as seals and otters. Adding those in would make my aquarium complete!
Fins up from me!
I’ve really enjoyed the depth of the strategy required in the game. It has the feel of old school tycoons whilst having a modern UI. It’s extremely informative and educational whilst being entertaining and genuinely fun as well. I could see it being enjoyed by people of all ages, and watching my son play this and learn about the concept of keeping fish as he goes would be a delight. Although perhaps not for a few years yet.