LadiesGamers Aquarist

Aquarist Review

Game: Aquarist
Genre: Simulation, Education, Strategy
System: Nintendo Switch (Also on Steam (Windows) Xbox and PS4)
Developer|Publisher: FreeMind Games | Ultimate Games
Age Rating: EU 7+ | US Everyone
Price: US $9.99 | UK £8.99 | EU € 9,99
Release Date: October 10th, 2022

Review code provided with many thanks to Ultimate Games.

Happy Memories

When I was younger I was quite into tropical fish. Fish may not be as fluffy as a hamster or even as loveable as a dog, but I always found something quite meditative about sitting in front of the tank and just watching my neon tetras go about their day.

Aquarist is a simulator that enabled me to relive some of these memories in video game form. It’s one of those simulators that is quite relaxing and surprisingly fun to play, considering the premise includes cleaning fish tanks and checking various levels for optimal water for the fish. I enjoyed it much more than I expected yet there are a few significant niggles in the gameplay that hold it back.

LadiesGamers Aquarist
This place ain’t going to clean itself

Humble Beginnings

Aged 14, now is the time when dear old dad walks into your bedroom with a giant fish tank filled with water to kick start your aquarium adventures. He must be an ex-bodybuilder because how he lifts a tank filled with water so comfortably is beyond me. But don’t worry, you appear to inherit this strength too. Anyway, with a little cash, you are then left to get on with your new fish tank project in your bedroom. After the bedroom, you move on to sorting other people’s fish tank woes out. Then you get to set up your own shop in the basement, slowly working your way up to running your own aquarium.

The game’s story mode acts as a step-by-step tutorial on the mechanics. Walking you through various ways of creating your own aquarium, like filling it with gravel, adding filters and a heater and of course adding fish and plants. Your next objective is clearly displayed in the top right of the screen. But the fun doesn’t stop there. You also need to keep the fish happy by making the temperature optimal, feeding them and making sure the tank is well stocked with fishy friends, plants and decorations. Failure to maintain the fish will result in death.

Plenty To Tinker With

There is a surprising amount of things to tinker with and this drip-fed approach does a pretty good job of not overwhelming the player. Once you start setting up the shop you’ll be able to buy multiple fish tanks to sell or maintain to breed fish. You can even customize the cosmetics of your shop such as the floor or wall colour if you’re into that jazz. The game soon turns into a juggling act of cleaning, management and generating revenue.

In the beginning, it will highlight areas of the menu you need to navigate so you don’t get totally lost but this is where the problems begin. The menus are poorly highlighted. Each box has a blue filter so it’s hard to identify which option I was selecting. So when I was checking the filter to try to switch it on I often accidentally sold it because I could not see which option was highlighted. It was only through some good memory skills I was able to overcome this.

LadiesGamers Aquarist
Another project complete

Story mode is probably where you’ll spend most of the time in the game. As you complete tasks you will level up unlocking more fish and items. Saving is usually handled at a designated spot which you can do anytime, this is very helpful as the game can often feel very slow in its pacing. If you exit out, you will resume where you left off on booting the game.

Additionally, you can indulge in Design mode, which lets you build your own aquarium without the constraints of money. You can just create the aquarium of your dreams. If you want a really laid-back experience you can turn off realistic mode so your fish can’t die. 

LadiesGamers Aquarist
Accidents happen

Get Cleaning

Controls are pretty awkward, particularly menu navigation. The game is played in the first-person perspective like most of these simulator games. Movement feels staggered but one of the big pains is trying to hover over an item to select it, like a moving fish. The cursor hones in if you get close to it but it all feels like it was better suited to mouse and keyboard controls. You can purchase and select various tools like sponges to clean tanks and nets to grab the dead fish, to then dispose of them in a bin or sink which is rather questionable (you should not flush dead fish). Initially, it’s kinda fun but the formula becomes a bit dull too soon.

It takes a long time to manoeuvre the sponge around all four sides of a dirty tank. Or taking four trips to the sink with the bucket to fill or empty a tank. The novelty just wears off too quickly. On top of all of this, the game is peppered with bugs and glitches. It was kinda funny to see one of my dead fish quite literally float up to heaven. But not being able to edit the tank when the button prompt is clearly displayed on the screen is just annoying. It is not helped that the text on the screen is minuscule in handheld mode.

LadiesGamers Aquarist
Know it’s hard to clean while you are starring at me dad

The Long Stare

The graphics are kinda goofy. It’s the typical simulator graphical style with a realistic look to everything. Human character models looked just dead-eyed. In one of the early missions where I was fixing the father’s aquarium, he is literally standing there with a long stare while you get on with the task. NPCs in the game feel lifeless, when you open up shop they just statically stand in front of fish tanks or shelves while you see money signs spring out of them. It did get a laugh out of me but that’s probably not the intended effect.

When it comes to your actual aquarium I was impressed with the diversity of fish both freshwater, tropical and marine as well as a multitude of plants, rocks and various decorations. Each fish also has its own blurb if you want to learn more about them which is a nice touch. I guess the main thing you want to know is if you can just sit back and watch your fish. The answer is yes. You are able to zoom into the aquarium and watch the fish just get on with their day. Is it as good as the real thing? Well no, but for video games, it does a decent job. It certainly tickled my nostalgia for the hobby. 

LadiesGamers Aquarist
Learn more about the fish

Conclusion – Fishy Feeling

Aquarist has the potential to be a decent simulator, but it’s not there yet. Controls are frustrating in places and navigating the menus is more tricky than it should be. Carrying out mundane tasks like cleaning fish tanks and building a new aquarium is fun for a while but it doesn’t take long before it gets a bit repetitive.

I feel this may still garner a recommendation if you love aquariums and want to relieve some old memories. But be aware you have to put up with some rough edges and this game won’t suit those looking for a quick gaming fix. It didn’t escape my notice that this game is available on PC but still in Early Access which makes me wonder if it will still see some patches coming in the future. So maybe there is hope for the Switch port yet. Until then I would approach with caution. 

Final Verdict: I’m Not Sure

I'm not sure

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