‘Neo Aquarium’ Review – CRAB BATTLE!

Neo Aquarium is the weirdest game I’ve played in a very long time, and any conventional attempt to review it is almost certainly doomed to failure. When I first saw the trailer for it up on Playism’s store, I just laughed. And then laughed some more. And then sent off an E-mail asking for a review copy. Below is what I witnessed. Don’t skip any part of it. Just sit, and watch the whole thing. You’ll appreciate it all the more. As you can see, I just had to share it with the world, and tell you about this game – anything less would just be shellfish.


Neo Aquarium is a 3D arena fighting/shooting game where you can play as a barnacle. Singular. You move by reproducing, and control the next barnacle in line.


Neo Aquarium is a game where lobsters have eye-lasers and can crush their watery foes with flaming telekinetic tentacles.


Neo Aquarium is a game that has two separate and universal button combinations to sever your own limbs, which will then float around on their own accord, firing lasers at your enemies.


Neo Aquarium is a game where crabs use their terrible psychic presence to brainwash sea cucumbers into joining their armies and uniting against their foes.


Neo Aquarium is a fast-paced battle between cosmic crustaceans with a relaxing aquarium-decorating mode. There are constant on-screen temperature, oxygen and pollution gauges for the water.


Neo Aquarium is a game where you can fully replace severed limbs by shedding your shell, immediately regenerating and growing larger. Fights escalate as the fighters constantly expand.

There’s a story here – some explanation for why all this rampant silliness is happening, but it’s halfway between the Dadaist lunacy of Bangai-O and the earnest wackiness of Earthworm Jim. The opening plot scroll, the monologues between fights and even the ending are utterly incomprehensible. There’s something about interdimensional aquariums, mutations and mother nature being pelted with frozen potatoes. Best not to think too hard about it. I really do wonder whether the original Japanese version was this insane, or whether Playism felt the need to embellish the writing in a game about lobsters with eye-lasers.


So, it’s Thunderdome underwater. Thundercube, if you will – two crustaceans enter, one crustacean leaves. You can customize your personal aquarium with rocks for cover and laser-shooting defensive wildlife if you want, and this is pretty relaxing. There’s a fairly broad range of things you can decorate your home turf (and surf?) with. Fights take part when your aquarium is mashed up against another, either in story mode, competitively via network or custom battles – either way, a brawl ensues.

The action feels floaty and slippery, almost as if the game was taking place deep underwater, and the combatants were crabs – fancy that. The controls are fairly simple, mapped around a SNES pad-esque layout. You largely move while locked onto the target, facing them wherever you go, although you can un-lock to manoeuvre more freely if you wish. Each crustacean has two ranged attacks, one melee attack, and three charegable super-moves that drain from the same power bar that the shell-molting ability uses. You can also detach your legs or pincers at will, and have them shoot or claw remotely while you generate new limbs, meaning that you can surround your enemy with yourself, if you play your cards right. What a concept.


Each creature has their own play-style, with their super-moves being completely unique, and their ranged and melee attacks handling slightly differently. One crab has a powerful front-firing beam, but being a crab, it insists on walking sideways. In the case of the barnacle, the game plays like nothing else – you’re a barnacle, and thus, you can’t move. You can traverse the map by pressing the jump/swim button to spawn a new barnacle in the direction pushed, though, and transfer control to that. All your past bodies act as gun emplacements too.

The game is low-fi and low-budget. The animations on the various crustaceans are fairly wobbly, and the game only supports 4:3 aspect ratios. The music is an interesting high-point, with it being all over the place, from mellow ambience to electro beats to vocal rock accompanying crabs beating the crap out of each other underwater. Just another layer of strange, strange atmosphere to the whole thing. The game was apparently a university project, and primarily a one-man show, which explains a lot.


I’ve neither mastered the game yet, nor unlocked everything. There’s a variety of secret/bonus characters to unlock, including a diver, a submarine, and some kind of aquatic magical girl. While it’s nice to see our surface-dwelling selves represented, the crabs and sea-life are the stars of the show here. Them and their strange powers, detachable limbs, continually expanding bodies and the ability to mind-control lesser sea life to battle on their behalf. Fights often become a glorious visual mess of swirling lasers, flailing claws and floating limbs, and I’m not sure I’d have it any other way.

In all truth, I just wouldn’t feel right giving this game a numerical score. It’s weird, unpolished and wobbly and really doesn’t fit into any real genre pigeon-hole aside from possibly ‘shooter’ or ‘fighting’. There’s a lot of ridiculous charm here, and the game isn’t going to break the bank, being just over $7 for the next two weeks. Neo Aquarium is available for Windows PCs only, direct via Playism, who localized and are distributing the English version. They’ve also got a demo, if you want a bit of scampi before you buy the whole lobster.

A geek for all seasons. A veteran of early DOS-era gaming, with encyclopaedic knowledge of things geeky on all platforms. The more obscure and bizarre, the better. If you've got indie news you want to break in a big way, send it this way!

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