STAFF REVIEW of Megaquarium (Xbox One)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Megaquarium Box art I’ve always been drawn to Sim games. Not only the classic SimCity’s that I’ve spent hundreds of hours with, but everything from SimEarth, SimAnt, SimTower, Rollercoaster Tycoon and Theme Hospital, just to name a few off the top of my head. There was nothing quite like waking up on a weekend and building your city until it was time for dinner. While theme park sims are nothing new, I’ve never actually seen a dedicated one tailored around an aquarium with this much depth and options.

While yes, you’ve played games like Megaquarium previously, most likely with a different theme, there’s a decent amount of content within to keep you interested and challenged for some time. At the same time, it has some depth, but the console translation was done quite well, utilizing the controller well without being a burden or confusing with a ton of button combinations. Not only will you need to be the curator of a great aquarium, but you’ll have much more on your plate, like managing staff, designing all facets of your business and of course, being profitable.

The campaign is done well, broken into 10 different bite sized scenarios, starting you out with just a handful of different fish and tanks, slowly teaching you the basics as you progress. Your first aquarium will be small in scale, as you won’t have access to much livestock or equipment, but each scenario teaches you something new, tasking you with more involved and complex objectives. At first you’ll simply be trying to fulfill your objectives, like have a certain amount of fish or earn enough progression points, but eventually you’ll need to start thinking and planning strategically. Once you complete all the objectives in a scenario you’re able to leave and progress to the next, but if you’re enjoying it and want to continue playing, there’s nothing stopping you from doing so either; a nice touch I enjoyed.

For example, you begin with just a basic square aquarium tank, but you’ll eventually gain access to different shapes and types as well. My favorite are the kind that are hidden behind walls, with just the viewing size accessible to the public, like you’d see in a real aquarium. This though requires some pre-planning if you want to design it properly, like building walls around it and a staff only door so the public doesn’t go where they aren’t supposed to. Some tanks are also quite tall, so you’ll need to build platforms and stairs, not to mention planning where your pumps, heaters, skimmers, chillers and other equipment are going to go, depending on which type of livestock you’re putting in said tank.

The campaign does a great job at easing you into the gameplay and difficulty increase. The adage ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ is completely true with Megaquarium. In the later scenarios, you’ll really have to pre-plan what you want to accomplish before spending money on doing so. Do you hire a ton of staff to keep all the animals fed, the place clean and your equipment running in top shape, but ballooning your payroll? Do you build a queue system where visitors needs to follow a floor path, much like an Ikea visit on the weekend? Do you have one central staff area sectioned off with all your tools and feeders, or spread them out along your floor plan? It’s completely up to you and will take time to figure out what works best for your play style and given objectives.

While the later stages can have some challenge, you never really feel overwhelmed given the steady difficulty curve you’re given. Even learning the UI is done slowly and laid out so it makes sense. I was honestly a bit concerned at first, as Sim games can be a little daunting on console given the limitations to a controller compared to a keyboard, but they made it work in a sensible and logical way. You’re only ever a few button presses away from what you’re trying to accomplish, which sometimes isn’t the case with console versions in this genre.

The build menu for example is broken down into multiple sections. Are you wanting to add to the floor or walls? Building a tank or adding equipment? Even decorations and livestock are in their own sections, so it’s never confusing and very simple to find exactly what you’re looking for. If you do become overwhelmed, you’re welcome to completely pause the time and think about what you want to do, or fast forward time if you want to hurry up progression.

The beginning types of fish are quite basic and simple to keep happy and alive, but as you progress you’ll need to be a bit more mindful as to their needs, as some require a certain amount of rocks for shelter, specific water temperatures or even lighting. As you progress you’ll gain access to more exotic, and usually expensive, animals to showcase in your aquariums, actually coming up to nearly 100 species, some of which are only accessible by trading certain fish with other aquarium owners.

The amount of equipment will also be plentiful, as you’ll start off with basic heaters, pumps and more, but eventually will be able to utilize much more powerful and larger versions. It will take some getting used to, especially when you want to connect your equipment via a pump, not physically attached to your tanks, but once you experiment and figure out what works and doesn’t, the gameplay really sstarts to open up as you plan more strategically.

While profit is obviously one goal of your business, you actually progress with science and ecology points instead. Science is how you’ll unlock new tools and equipment, where ecology is how you’ll gain access to new fish, coral and more. There’s even an overall leveling system called prestige which opens up even more advancement; a nice carrot to constantly dangle in front of you to compel you to keep playing.

You’re only able to hire a limited amount of staff, so do you train them all to be OK at everything (repairs, feeding, cleaning etc), or have each one specialize in one job? There’s no right answer, as each aquarium setup will be different, so be sure to experiment with what your current needs are. You’ll also need to keep your guests happy, so you’ll have to plan space for vending machines, washrooms, benches to rest, gift shops and more. Keep in mind, you’ll also have a budget and limited cash flow, so manage those finances if you want to be successful.

When you do complete all the campaign scenarios there’s also a Sandbox mode for you to enjoy and create whatever you wish, complete with a bunch of different settings, toggles and even a challenge generator. This is the mode I found super relaxing when you need a simple night of calm gaming, which the chill music helps with, even if it becomes a little repetitive over time. If you really want to start customizing your aquarium, you even get access to decorations, allowing you to really customize your business to nearly anything you can think of, adding some personality to your business.

What I enjoyed most is that there’s different difficulty levels, so feel free to start out on beginner that allows for easier management of your funds and less harsh penalties overall. Of course, if you like a good challenge, it’s there for you should you want it.

What Megaquarium does best is offer a laid back relaxing sim experience on console without feeling too watered down (pun intended). You’re given the tools you need at a slow and steady pace without ever feeling overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure how a dedicated aquarium sim would be, but it’s got a lot of charm and really is quite a calming experience overall for fans of the genre.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10


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