STAFF REVIEW of Aquarist (Xbox One)

Tuesday, August 8, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

Aquarist Box art I absolutely adore sim style games, so when I saw Aquarist drop into the review queue I snapped it up. The pictures and videos showing pretty fish and giant aquariums drew me in. Sadly, my experience was a much less smooth sailing that I thought it would be. Developed by FreeMind Games and published by Ultimate Games, Aquarist wouldn’t let me progress past the first shop you could buy and I had to wait for a patch. I can almost get passed this, until I ran into the issue that every time I saved, I lost everything I had done as well, so I couldn’t even mess around in the one shop I could use. I decided to uninstall and wait for the patch and start again.

Here we go; after getting a patch, or maybe more than one since I last played, I was able to progress my game and dive into the full project. Sadly, it’s still not the lovely fish sim game I was hoping it would be. I have a reputation for loving these styles of game, and I think my expectations are reasonable: I just want to start the game, get a brief tutorial to learn whatever stuff I’m supposed to do. I love pressure washing, farming, mowing, PC building etc. I fell in love with a beer making sim game not that long ago as well. I will play any game that allows me to explore a new skill without me investing time and money into actually trying out a hobby. So here we are at fish tanks. I remember having fish as a kid, and I’ve always been fascinated with those giant tropical tanks you see in stores or businesses, so why not dive into trying my hand at doing it myself?

Aquarist starts with you as a young teen getting a basic fish tank and some money for your birthday. This basic tank in your room serves as your tutorial for the skills of building and maintaining a tank. Once you realize you have a knack for it, you move onto bigger projects. You will eventually progress to the point where you are giving the basement of your home to set up your own shop and can take on bigger and projects. For example, a woman wants a giant piranha tank built into her kitchen island. Sure, why not?

Aquarist has an incredible amount of detail in it, it’s not a simple solution of buying a tank, add water then add fish. You will decide what type of tank you want, such as salt vs fresh water. Then you’ll have to add an air pump, heater and thermometer to track the temperature. You’ll have to adjust the pH of the water as well. Then you need to look through your shop and decide on which fish and plants are best suited to the tank you are creating. Not all saltwater fish like the same pH and temperature for example. On many occasions in the beginning I didn’t quite understand why certain fish were struggling in a tank until I realized my error. The detailed notes in your journal and catalogue are extremely well done, and the team in charge of this section of the game paid close attention to details. You also have to maintain the cleanliness of the tank and tend to your fishes needs with regards to hunger, space requires, needs for décor or vegetation etc. Happy fish breed more fish.

As with many simulation games, money is the inhibiting factor in the beginning. You have to build your budget up over time, finding a balance between buying and selling and doing odd jobs between the shop being opened. The only real small jobs you have in your first shop are cleaning tanks, and that became repetitive very quickly. Also repetitive are the four trips you have to make to fill or empty your buck each time you fill or empty a tank. As you progress through the story by completing tasks in each level, you be able to expand your empire, and running multiple locations has its own struggles. You will continue to open more and more areas, including a massive oceanarium zone where you can buy and raise sharks, and that was an enjoyable experience. I never expected I’d own sharks.

Graphically, when you zoom in and work on the aquarium projects, it’s lovely. The fish and aquarium items are detailed and colourful. The NPCs are downright ridiculous looking though, but the game isn’t about them, it’s about the fish. As with most of these simulation style games, they are built with PC controls in mind and then ported to controller. I don’t know if it was the game, or my skill, but I struggled with the controls. I found it extremely difficult to pinpoint a particular fish or plan in the tank when trying to analyse their needs. Especially because the fish were moving. The menus were also not well optimized and frequently I struggled to see what was highlighted and accidentally sold items I didn’t mean to. For example, when you click on your filter or turn it on in the tank, it’s easy to accidentally sell it if you hit the wrong button. The audio was mostly forgettable, relying on what felt like museum/elevator music. Nothing worth commenting on, but it was chill enough.

Sadly, Aquarist is just ‘fine’. I struggled more than I wanted to, it didn’t give me the really chill gaming experience I wanted from it, and I find it really hard to recommend to people when they ask about it. If you’re okay with some less than stellar controls on controller though, it’s lovely to play with the fish tanks and it’s much better since the patch was added. It has the potential to be great, it’s just not quite there yet. I will likely dabble with it a bit here and there as I enjoyed the fish a lot, but can’t see me spending the hours that I do in other simulation style games.

**Aquarist was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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