capsule review

Aquaria for iPad

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Aquaria

If you like your role-playing games to be fast-paced action-packed thrillers, then Semi Secret Software's Aquaria probably isn't the game for you. Anyone on lookout for a beautifully designed puzzle-centric game with a killer soundtrack will be pleased with this iPad offering.

Based on the PC game by the same name, the $5 iOS version is also a side-scrolling game with the same retro feel as the original. The game opens with Naija, a mermaid-like creature, relaying the dramatic story of how she ended up in the strange underwater world of Aquaria all alone. You are then tasked with helping Naija explore her new underwater world as she tries to learn about her past.

Sea World: Explore Aquaria with Naija as she struggles to learn about her past.

The standout feature of this game, by far, is the soundtrack which is beautifully composed. Music is key to this game, as Naija uses “the verse” to communicate and interact with much of the world around her. Tapping on Naija brings up a series of eight notes. Throughout the game, Naija learns to play songs that allow her to do everything from fight enemies to pick up objects to become a human (mermaid?) flashlight.

A mini map on the upper right side of the screen is supposed to help guide you with clues about which direction to go in. Tapping the mini map will bring up a larger world map where you can see what parts of Aquaria you’ve already explored. Completing goals such as unlocking songs and defeating bosses will unlock new parts of the map. Aquaria itself is a maze of tunnels and caves that can be challenging to navigate at times. Luckily, you can place markers in different areas of the map to keep from getting too lost.

Despite its musical themes and complex maps, Aquaria is not without action. As the game progresses, Naija’s powers and experiences get steadily darker as she must defeat increasingly powerful bosses. I found the controls, while easy to use in the slower parts of the game, a little awkward once the action picked up.

A-maze-ing: The underwater world of Aquaria is a complicated labyrinth of tunnels and caves.

My biggest complaint with Aquaria, though, is that it is sometimes a little too complicated. It’s not always clear what you should do next, and it's easy to get stuck in certain parts. Bit Blot, the company behind the original Aquaria game, must know how frustrating the game can get as it provides a forum where players ask questions and exchange hints. I had to take advantage of the forum more than once in order to get past certain obstacles.

The good news is that Aquaria only gets more fun and intriguing as you play. Though it starts slow, the game draws you in and the beautiful design and soundtrack keep you hooked. The game is complex but rewarding, provided you’re willing to invest the time this game requires.

[Karissa Bell is a Macworld editorial intern.]

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Aquaria

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