Platform: PS4 (tested), PC (tested), Xbox One, Switch
Released: PC 2018 / Console 2019
Tycoon games have been on the resurgence as city builders have gained their own niche and this is a good thing. Megaquarium is the latest to hit consoles after launching on PC last year. It’s a clean and clear distillation of the tycoon genre that is simple to understand on its normal difficulties and provides a decent challenge on harder ones.
Taking charge of an aquarium and making it profitable requires a few things. Firstly you need aquatic life and each species has its own needs. Some are cold or hot water fish. Some will eat others. Some need room to grow, others need to bought as a shoal to swim together. This will decide the type of tank you’ll put them in and the equipment you’ll need to run the tank. Then comes the decorations. They may need caves, rocks or vegetation to live and coral will need lights to stay alive. Megaquarium makes this super easy to understand though with a simple icon system that you can click on to understand what is causing an issue that needs to be resolved.
Once the fish are in the tanks, you’ll need staff to feed them the right types of food every day and so placement of food containers and worker placement is crucial for running a low cost and effective ship. In easy and normal modes you can get away without needing to focus on this too much but this is where a lot of intricacies are found in the harder modes where the money is much harder to come by. You simply can’t throw more staff at something.
These efficiencies will help you design your aquarium to allow for two things. Minimum staff walking and maximum wow factor for your customers. Often you’ll be using visitor arrows to provide a customer flow around your site and trying to keep the staff working behind the scenes in equipment rooms so they can clear problems and feed the aquatic life as quickly as possible.
When its time to open your aquarium, the guests will arrive and aware you prestige points. Prestige points do not mount up though, they only last for a finite amount of time before they are removed. You’ll need to keep expanding your aquarium and providing an exciting experience in order to keep those points rolling in at a faster rate. This stops the game ever getting stale as you are always looking for what to do next. Prestige points unlock new levels of prestige and with each level comes new fish, equipment and facilities to unlock via research. That, in turn, gives you more things to play with and keeps your fishy lifestyle evolving. It’s an excellent balance of game mechanics that keeps you interested.
The campaign mode takes place over 10 levels and the first 6 introduce new game mechanics each time. The latter levels then give you owners looking for very specific things. Although sandbox mode is there from the get-go, its best to attack it after the campaign mode as it will make the random scenario generator and harder difficulties much easier to digest. There is plenty of replayability here if you want it, even if your aquarium doesn’t get huge and expansive like say a theme park. one game mechanic I really enjoyed was that your guests really hate seeing any equipment on show. That gets penalised heavily with negative prestige (as do fish deaths) so I found forward planning the layout for expansion a must.
The UI on consoles does currently have a few niggles. When dealing with trades of fish as a mission, sometimes those menus get stuck open when you are trying to level up a staff skill. The UI on the game itself though is excellent and fully customisable. That way you can see the stats for each tank of fish that you want to see and adjust them accordingly. It is so intuitive and that is one of Megaquarium’s strengths. I really enjoy the low poly graphics and the fact you can zoom right down into the crowd to float around. On bigger maps, there is more than a hint of slow down on console – especially on the last level when you are using everything. There is one weird audio bug I kept coming across where the sound would distort like a giant crash of metal mixed with a toilet flush. It seemed to happen at random and so I’d mute the game and carry on regardless. Hopefully, that’ll be patched out.
PS4 copy provided for review purposes. I had already bought the PC version.
Megaquarium is a wonderful starter game for the tycoon genre that has bite if you turn up the difficulty later. I really fell for the theme, art style and mechanics such as tank arrangements and staff efficiency. Tycoon game veterans can chill out here too as there's plenty to keep you amused across its 15-20 hour campaign and RNG sandbox games.
Simple to understand, hard to master if you play on brutal.
Rewards efficient design on the harder difficulties.
Can be quite zen-like if you are just playing on normal as the challenge isn't huge
Random scenario generator keeps sandbox fresh for a while.
Weird sound glitch kept making me jump out of my skin!
The game slows down and sometimes crashes when you have a very busy aquarium.
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