Harking back to days of the original Roller Coaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon games, Megaquarium puts players in the driver’s seat as they follow a campaign, or build in a sandbox, to become the best aquarist of all time. It goes without saying that this game caught my attention when it was first announced it was coming to consoles. Now, my dreams of running an aquarium from my handheld tablet-console were going to be realized.
From what I’ve written above, the premise for Megaquarium should be pretty evident. In either campaign mode or a sandbox mode, players are given the reins to run their very own aquarium. Everything from layout and architecture to species included and their tank decorations is totally up to the player.
The campaign is honestly more of s long tutorial to teach the player how all of the game’s mechanics work individually and in concert. That said, it works very well. Each scenario is distinct enough and includes unique-enough goals that I did not mind playing through each one. In fact, as each level is cleared, the new scenario gains higher-and-higher stakes. At one point, I was tasked with building an aquarium with every kind of shark, and that was a really neat experience.
As far as a simple premise for a simulation or management-style game goes, Megaquarium knocks it out of the park with a simple and engaging one.
I feel like I need to point out that simulation and management games are rarely heralded for their gameplay. Megaquarium is much the same here. There isn’t anything groundbreaking. However, given the console controller I was using (mainly the Nintendo Switch Pro controller), the menus and navigation were actually pretty easy to handle.
The menus were easy and simple to navigate. I never got lost, and only forgot about specific menus and overlays a few times. I was pleasantly surprised at this, because typically, unless I spend excessive time in these games, I tend to overlook certain menus and functionalities, making the game harder in the long run as a result.
Megaquarium doesn’t break any new ground, but it doesn’t have to. I never once found myself frustrated with the controls. Picking new species and decorations for a tank is easy, and the difficulty lies in generating enough currency and points to continue growing your aquarium, not in finding the right button.
The game has a multitude of options for tools to make aquariums better for animals and guests as well as ways to spruce the place up. Bathrooms, vending machines, trash bins and benches all play an important role. If there aren’t enough of one of those, the entire guest ecosystem could suffer. In addition, it is important for the player to hire, train and maintain appropriate levels of staff. Staff members have different skills and priorities, so hiring the right ones is especially important.
Finally, players have access to a wide variety of equipment with which to run their aquarium. This brings pieces of rollercoaster tycvoon to the forefront, because players need to think about the layout of their aquariums. I love that there is always a mild puzzle to solve. Laying out an aquarium takes planning, and the game reflects that to a degree.
I was very pleasantly surprised when I loaded the game for the first time. It is obvious that the game is not exactly graphic-intensive, but I was still pleased to see just how smooth the game ran. There were no hiccups or frame drops that I can remember.
The graphics are simple, and that really keeps to the game’s strengths. Sure, fish and exhibits might look a bit cartoony, but I honestly think they are better for it. The gameplay is not hurt, and in fact, the art style lends personality to the fish, guests and staff members.
Music is the piece of the puzzle that is definitely a little lacking. No matter how you’re building, the music stays the same. This might not bother some folks, but after more than 10 hours of play, the same little loop really started to grate on me. I was even tempted to listen to a podcast over the music on several occasions.
The sound design isn’t all bad, though. Sound effects and ambient sounds are delightful. Fish plop into water, walls clang into place and more.
Megaquarium is the latest in a long line of management and simulation-type games. I truly enjoyed my time building exhibits and stocking them with fish. On certain occasions, missions would arise asking me to build a specific tank or trade a different aquarium for a specific fish. These helped to break up the gameplay and give more concrete, but smaller, goals.
Megaquarium is a must-play for fans of the genre, or honestly, people who tend to be on the fence as well. Strong performance, concrete goals and solid gameplay make this one easy to recommend.