Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always loved aquatic life. Some of my favorite trips have been to aquariums around the country and being able to stand right next to massive fish, sharks, seahorses, and everything else. In my adult life I’ve even had the pleasure of having a saltwater aquarium in my house. However, it’s never been a dream of mine to run an aquarium, but when Megaquarium for Nintendo Switch was announced, I couldn’t help but think this would be a perfect chance to dabble in that idea! Would running an aquarium full of exotic species of fish be a breeze, or would this game bog me down in nuances leaving me with empty tanks?
Megaquarium falls as close as one can get to a Tycoon-style game. You’ll be charged with running aquariums with a ton of simulation aspects going on, as well as managing your business economy by drawing in tourists and having them spend their hard-earned coin at your establishment.
The game breaks up into two main components: career and sandbox. The career mode will bring you across multiple campaigns each with unique goals, and a nicely built progression that allows you to learn and unlock all of the elements found in the title. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the nuts and bolts the game has to offer, you can then also dive into a sandbox mode and build up your own personal aquarium from scratch. Customize it to your heart’s content!
Starting the career path, each mini-campaign sets a goal for you. You may be refurbishing an old aquarium and bringing it back to its former glory days and beyond. Or you may be helping to renovate a private collector’s aquarium attraction into something new and more exciting. What the game excels at doing though is easing you into all of the mechanics it offers. Your initial levels will have you performing simple tasks, such as learning to build the walls and tanks themselves, and then introducing simple tropical fish that require little care and special needs and that are heartier. When I owned my own saltwater tank at home, these were the kind of fish we had, so it’s clear that there is a lot of proper fish knowledge that went into this sim.
As you progress into more campaigns, the requirements and complexities will increase. Each mission tasks you with a multi-faceted checklist, which you must accomplish to pass the level and unlock the next. Before you know it, you’ll be managing eels that grow over time and require tank upgrades or mix-breed fish, where some are aggressive and others are more docile. When it comes to the sheer depth of the sim, there’s a lot to learn as you progress deeper into the game. Unfortunately, the iconography becomes pretty confusing and many times I was wishing for a quick reference guide on some of the commonly seen items. The game does do its best to mitigate confusion by allowing you to access a panel of information on each creature, which encompasses some of their requirements, habits, etc. and I was certainly relying on this frequently.
Apart from managing all of your tank-mates, you’ll still be tasked with running the facility too. This means hiring the appropriate staff with each person having a sort of pro/con element to them. As your aquariums expand, you’ll be able to set up vending machines, trash receptacles, and set work zones for your employees. There’s a lot of feeding and upkeep for a large aquarium, and the game has a good handle on the economy and tasks that come with it.
The downside is that it’s often hard to understand if you’re doing things well enough or not. Because of all of the nuances with each of the roughly 100 species of aquatic life you can ultimately unlock, I’d find myself unsure of if I was handling something right or not. While there is a bar meter on each creature’s information pane that decreases when they become unhappy with something, the game isn’t always clear as to what I was doing wrong. You’ll end up finding yourself reviewing information and cross-referencing stats frequently to see what could be making said fish an unhappy camper.
What is awesome to is when your aquarium facility really takes off and starts to grow. As the majority of the game is presented in an overhead perspective, you’ll have a birds eye view of everything happening, from your fish swimming around, to the many customers presented in a Mii-like form mulling about your attraction. Another fun aspect is that you can move the camera down into a sort of first-person view and walk around your aquarium as well with no constraints. This allows you to see firsthand what everything is and what’s going on. Regrettably I was a bit unimpressed by the visual acumen in several areas. The fish swim about in very rigid manners – starting and stopping in frozen positions with animations often poorly looped and transitions that didn’t make sense (the eels are especially bad). For a game revolving its entire theme around aquatic life, I would have liked to have seen more visual polish and maybe even some added realism to movements and such. However, as the majority of your time will be spent in the bird’s eye view managing everything, this probably won’t be an issue for many players.
With the sandbox mode allowing you to set up all of your conditions and how far an aquarium can grow, there’s a very solid replayable game here that you can start to sink a lot of hours into without realizing it. I found it to be a game with relaxing management while still giving the player plenty of things to focus on with goals of making the tanks full of life. It’s not a particularly challenging sim once you get past some of the confusing icons and the lack of information provided.
Megaquarium attempts bring you the aquatic life sim tycoon styled game you’ve always wanted. There’s a lot of life here, although there are complexity drawbacks that might not appeal to everyone. If you’re really into simulation games like this one you could very well be hooked for hours managing n aquarium of your dreams filled with exotic sea life you could only ever hope to own.
- Graphics - 6/106/10
- Sound - 6/106/10
- Gameplay - 6.5/106.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7/107/10
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
Megaquarium offers up a robust and well-researched fish and aquarium sim to players. You’ll have a blast expanding out the aquarium of your dreams. However, the complexity of the game is a bit high and it’s not always clear why certain behaviors are happening. It’s not the most visually appealing game, but there’s a whale-load of content to experience if you’re willing to give it a shot.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.