Video games let us transport ourselves to distant worlds. Magical kingdoms, empires in space. Non-descript locations in the Russian wilderness that utilize far too many shades of grey. You get the idea.
But some games don’t aim for this. “Scrap the grand adventure, the great moral debates or the fascinating characters and let’s think small-mindedly,” they say. “Let’s think inside the box. In fact, let’s fill that box full of water and throw in some badly rendered plants or tacky ornaments. And let’s chuck in a fish or two for good measure.”
I’m talking about aquarium sims. (Well I’m talking on their behalf but I assume that’s what they would say.)
While it may have started off fairly innocently, a fish here or some pebbles there perhaps, the now seemingly endless string of entries into such a narrow genre have begun to blur together into a muddy collision of big eyed apathy. And I say there needs to be an end to them.
And while it’s true that aquarium sims are not yet the primo pet simulation property, especially since dogs, cats, horses, hamsters, guinea pigs, owls and giraffes are putting up some stiff competition, how many virtual fish tanks do we really need kicking around?
I’ve crunched the numbers and all we really need is one. One for young children to buy if they’ve always dreamt of owning a fish, but their parents are a special kind of crazy that forbids the high maintenance, and potentially suicidal, nature of owning a fish. Nintendo released Endless Ocean back in 2007 and really that should have been it. The fact that they released a sequel this year is shameful enough to warrant getting lamped with a fish bowl.
I know we’re all about Blue Ocean week here on Nintendojo, but I’m putting my foot down. If we’re going to have to be subjected to any more games involving fish, water, aquariums, diving or any kind of kelp, I’ve got some ground rules we’re all gonna have to stick to. Capiche?
Now that game sounds like it’s just about flat-sharing with a trout, but try this concept on for size: Oceanic Survival Horror.
While many aquarium games put the player in the flippers of a budding diver, the prime example being the Endless Ocean series, or simply restrict active involvement to a panning control of the camera, what about an aquatic adventure that allowed gamers to become truly immersed in their playing world? Become the fish and face the true terrors of the deep, where the family cat is the least of your worries.
Picture starting off your adventure as a young minnow, just leaving your family of several hundred siblings for the first time, off to explore the ocean and find a mate. Learning which type of plants are food and which are poisonous, knowing where it’s safe, and where it isn’t, and dealing with obstacles such as predators of all varieties, breeding season and the naturally occurring and man-made damage caused to the ocean would all be part of your grand underwater experience.
A game that showed the eat-or-be-eaten mentality of the sea, think Finding Nemo but with more visible intestines, would be a great way to learn about the ocean, whilst also putting up a decent challenge. Just make sure things don’t go belly up.
Explore the Deep
As I’ve pretty much made clear, video games and nature documentaries have not only made us far more aware of sea life, fish and the ocean in general but have also humanised the vibrant sea bed as a pleasant and attractive community full of vivid stimuli. But there’s plenty of stuff deeper down that’s far less approachable.
Thousands of feet down into the bowels of the Earth lie some of the most interesting and elusive creatures in all of nature, often evolving in a environment completely devoid of natural sunlight. Ranging from the angler fish (pictured) to massive squid and jellyfish that dazzle their prey with bioluminescence, the ocean depths would offer up a real alternative to the conventional sandbox ocean game that we’ve seen before.
Think of it as the punk alternative to mainstream aquarium games. There’s a lot of black, a lot of spiky protuberances and you may well catch something you’ll end up regretting. And the near pitch-black setting would be ideally suited to any console that’s perhaps a bit low on the processing power. (Though of course, none come to mind.)
Make Another Electroplankton
Perhaps the most original and quirky aquarium game to date, or just original and quirky in general, Electroplankton combined musical originality with hard-to-define microorganisms and an off-the-wall art style to match. The original game released in the West in 2006 and saw a second release, in several pieces, through the DSiWare service, not to mention its foray into the world of Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
But the game was somewhat flawed. Critics noted that there was no way to save your musical creations and it seemed that for all the product’s ambitions, it felt like being in one of those modern art exhibitions where you’re encouraged to lick the walls.
Since fish and realistic visuals are so last century, shouldn’t Electroplankton be given a true sequel and another opportunity to appease the masses? Perhaps make it more goal-orientated and less overtly artistic. Just don’t make the Plankton sing “Sweet Child of Mine” with the Krill on bass, Nintendo, and we may just have the perfect aquarium game on our hands.