STAFF REVIEW of Aqua Kitty UDX: Xbox One Ultra Edition (Xbox One)

Thursday, February 23, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Aqua Kitty UDX: Xbox One Ultra Edition Box art I say it every time I get to review one of these types of games, but it bears repeating: I love Shoot Em’ Ups, or shmups for short. Aqua Kitty UDX: Xbox One Ultra Edition (UDX for short) may have a lengthy title, but if you managed to play Aqua Kitty: Milk Mine Defender DX elsewhere before, then UDX is essentially an updated version with a handful of upgrades and additions to warrant the new lengthy title. So has the wait been worth it for Xbox One fans to finally get their hands on these aquatic felines?

I was born when video games were still new and very primitive. Games like Donkey Kong, Galaga, Tempest, and Defender were groundbreaking for their time, giving this new medium for people to play games in original ways. I mention Defender specifically, as Aqua Kitty UDX plays essentially the same as the beloved classic. Well, with kittens, oceans, and robots of course. Even though the core gameplay may have its inspiration and roots from a title over three decades old, there’s something endearing about playing a fun shmup without any crazy controls to learn, though the light hearted silly narrative surely does help put a smile on your face as well.

Developers Tikipod have cleverly come up with a story so silly and wacky that it almost makes complete sense. The world has come upon hard times with a massive milk shortage for the cats, so they are on the search for more milk sources, which they happen to find. Unfortunately the source is at the bottom of the ocean, and we all know that cats and water don’t mix well. Solution? Use submarines and get to excavating that precious milk!

It’s a silly premise, but it works given the game’s setting. So, unlike Defender being based in space, it’s essentially the same, but in the ocean instead. It’s a clever way to change the backdrop and keep the same core mechanics in place, plus it’s about kitties, so there’s always that. While the crews are extracting the milk from the ocean bed, it’s your job in your submarine to defend them from an onslaught of robotic creatures out to stop them. Why? Who knows, just go with it.

Controls are very simplistic, with a shoot button and one of the Bumpers to change your facing direction from left to right, and vice versa. With the mechanics being so easy, the challenge comes from the onslaught of enemies, all of which will be shooting at you to prevent you from protecting the kitties harvesting the milk. Aqua Kitty UDX has 3 main modes to enjoy; Classic, Arcade and Dreadnought, and there’s even an endless Infinite Espresso mode where you can challenge yourself to see how long you can last. Each mode has its own merits and would have been fun to play if it was the only option, but with this many being included, it ups Aqua Kitty UDX’s value substantially.

Classic Mode is the default choice, so many will start here. This is essentially the campaign mode, though there’s no story progression when you make your way through the levels. In each level you’ll face waves of enemies, each becoming harder and more numerous from the last, but you also need to protect your allies that are harvesting. There is a specific type of robotic jellyfish that can snatch them, and once they are brought to the surface, your feline friends are gone forever, as are your point potential.

The first few levels start off easy enough, but eventually you’ll also have to battle a boss as well as dealing with waves of enemies and potential kidnapping of your milk harvesters. Levels become progressively more challenging and eventually you’ll hit a brick wall of difficulty. Nothing completely unfair, but certain levels will require a few attempts with its onslaught of enemies.

There’s the oddly named Infinite Espresso mode that’s access through the Classic map. Here is an endless survival mode to see how long you can last against endless waves of enemies. It’s only a matter of time before you become overwhelmed by swarms of your foes, so last as long as you can.

Arcade Mode is the same layout as Classic, but with two huge differences. The first is that you only have one life. When you are dead you start all the way back from the first level, so this mode is for those seeking a challenge. The other mechanic that is changed is that you’re able to keep your powerups from one stage to the next, almost like an upgrade system, but nowhere near as robust. I liked the idea of progressively becoming more powerful as you complete stages, but once you accidentally die there’s not much incentive to start all over again from the first stage.

Lastly, and arguably the best, is Dreadnought Mode. These are essentially levels against one massive boss, along with waves of smaller bad guys of course. You need to destroy blocks of the massive ship’s body to open up its core, which needs to be destroyed to succeed. It sounds easy, but I was only able to complete a few of these Dreadnought stages, as they require much skill and dexterity, even for shmup veterans. It’s a constant balancing act of trying to keep the smaller enemies numbers down versus when to focus and attack the boss itself. It’s a fun mode that asks for a lot of skill, but completing these stages feels very rewarding.

The default difficulty level is Normal, and while that sounds simple, it’s anything but, especially on Dreadnought Mode. Easy Mode is much more realistic, but even then, the later stages become incredibly challenging even on the lower setting. Luckily you’re able to change difficulties at any time and only a few achievements require the Normal setting to unlock.

Much like the old school Gradius or R-Type games, powerups vary from different types of shots, to health, to bombs. Some shot upgrades are immensely more useful and powerful than others, like the spread shot that shoots at 45 degree angles, as opposed to the not as useful vertical shots. Powerups only last a limited amount of time, so when you get one make sure you destroy as many enemies as you can.

Local co-op is available for friends that share a couch with you, but alas, sadly there’s no online co-op. While online co-op wasn’t something I expect from a smaller developer, it would have been awesome to play alongside some of my best friends online, as doing it solo can become a little monotonous in long play sessions.

To be completely honest, I thought Aqua Kitty UDX was going to be a play once and be done with it type of game. I clearly judged it too early and have grown to really enjoy it. The best part is actually its fantastic soundtrack that plays while you’re shooting robots under the sea. The soundtrack is an old school electronic style that fits the gameplay and mood of the game perfectly.

Aqua Kitty UDX blends simple gameplay with modern visuals and an awesome soundtrack. Obviously with its silly name and premise it won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re a shmup fan and want a simple and fun game to enjoy, then help these kitties harvest the much needed milk from the ocean floor right meow.

Online co-op would be a fantastic addition!

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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