Ever since I was a kid one of my favorite video game genres has been the simulation game. Growing up I loved playing games like Theme Hospital and RollerCoaster Tycoon. While the genre was popular in the 1990s and into the mid 2000s, the genre kind of died out for a while as major developers seemed to abandon it. With the rise of independent game studios, the genre has come back strong with several great simulation games being released over the last couple of years. I was hoping one of those games was going to be Megaquarium. Megaquarium was designed by Tim Wicksteed who created the 2015 pharmaceutical simulation game Big Pharma. Big Pharma is a game that I really enjoyed so I was hoping that Megaquarium was going to be just as enjoyable. I had such high expectations going into Megaquarium that the only thing that worried me was that the theme of building an aquarium wasn’t a theme that I was really interested in playing. I never knew building aquariums could be so much fun as Megaquarium makes a strong case for being one of the best simulation games released in the last couple of years.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Twice Circled for the review copy of Megaquarium used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
For people who are familiar with simulation games, Megaquarium’s gameplay is going to feel quite familiar. In the game you play as the director of an aquarium. You need to do everything required to run an aquarium which includes setting up the exhibits, hiring staff, decorating, setting prices, researching, and other day to day tasks.
I would say that the main mechanic in Megaquarium is setting up the exhibits. Setting up an exhibit is actually quite simple. You begin by choosing a tank type, choosing the desired size, and placing it in your aquarium. You then need to choose the fish you want to place in the tank. Each fish in the game has different needs that you need to meet in order to keep it healthy. Fail to meet these requirements and your fish will die. All fish have some basic needs which involve getting the right type of food and having the right temperature and water quality levels. Some fish have more specific needs like needing certain items in their tanks or a need to be with or avoid other types of fish. You especially need to make sure not to put a fish in a tank with another fish that will eat it.
These different requirements makes setting up the tanks in Megaquarium feel like a puzzle. The fish have different needs and you need to create tanks that will keep all of the fish happy. You can usually create a tank featuring just one type of fish which is pretty easy and kind of boring. It is much more fun and rewarding creating tanks featuring several different types of fish. This makes the puzzle aspect of the game quite a bit more challenging as you have to balance all of the fish’s demands to make sure you make a tank that will satisfy all of the different types of fish. You also have to make sure that none of the fish are going to eat one another. I have to say that I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed this aspect of the game. It is quite satisfying creating an interesting tank that features several different types of fish.
Now with the tanks in your aquarium it is time to look at resources and how research is handled in Megaquarium. There are four different types of resources in Megaquarium. Like every other simulation game the first resource is money which is used to expand your aquarium and add more exhibits. You can earn money from entrance fees along with selling various food and souvenirs. The second resource is prestige which is earned from running a good aquarium and customers exploring your exhibits. Prestige is used to advance your rank which unlocks additional research options. Finally we are left with the two research resources. Research in Megaquarium is broken down into two paths which use different resources that are acquired when visitors look at your exhibits. One type of research unlocks additional fish/aquatic lifeforms and the other research path unlocks more equipment and objects that you can place around your aquarium. While the resources and research mechanics are kind of simple, they both work really well for Megaquarium as they keep your focus on building your aquarium instead of focusing on handling your resources.
The next major mechanics in the game involves handling your staff. Like most of these simulation games you need to hire staff in order to run your aquarium. Staff in Megaquarium are responsible for feeding fish, fixing broken machinery, cleaning up, running gift shops, and maintaining the day to day operations of your aquarium. Each staff has different attributes that determine how well they will do their job along with skills which they need to perform jobs. After hiring staff you can give them priorities, choose where they will work in the aquarium, and eventually decide what skills they will learn as they level up.
The final main mechanic in Megaquarium is making sure your visitors are happy. You need to pay attention to your visitors in order to provide them with food, drink, restroom facilities and whatever else they need. In particular visitors don’t like to see the inner workings of your aquarium. After the first level (maybe the second level) your visitors will react negatively if they see the various equipment that you need to use to keep your aquarium running. The filters, heaters and other machinery that is used to make tanks suitable need to be hidden behind walls or the visitors will start complaining. This makes building your exhibits more complicated as you need to provide the required equipment for your tanks while keeping them hidden from your visitors. This can have a real impact on how you ultimately design your aquarium. You either have to put to put part of your tanks behind walls to hide the equipment or you need to build little rooms and use pumps to allow your equipment to access your tanks from a distance.
With these type of games most of the fun comes from being able to design the theme park/hospital/aquarium of your dreams. I think Megaquarium does a really good job with this as it gives you a lot of options while also making it easy to design whatever you want. All of the objects in the game can be found in just a couple menus, which are organized really well. You just pick what you want, rotate it, and then place it where you want. You can place walls or expand your aquarium with a quick click and drag. The game uses a grid system which makes it really easy to layout your aquarium. Megaquarium might not have all of the design options of other simulation games made by larger studios (as it was made by a one person studio) but it still gives you plenty of options. The game includes around a hundred different fish/marine species and there are a lot of decorative objects as well. Without a lot of work I think you could easily make the aquarium of your dreams.
As I mentioned earlier the one concern that I had before I started playing Megaquarium was that the theme didn’t really appeal to me. I didn’t hate the idea of building an aquarium but I wouldn’t say it was a theme that I was particularly interested in. Despite not initially being into the game’s theme I still loved playing Megaquarium. You can immediately tell that the game was a passion project for the designer as the game has a lot more detail to it than I was expecting. People who have a real interest in aquariums should really enjoy the game but the game is still really enjoyable even if you don’t have that much interest in the theme. I have always liked simulation games and have played a lot of them. Having said that Megaquarium is a great simulation game.
In addition to the gameplay, the production quality is also really good. The game’s art style has a light cartoony style but I think it really works for the game. I am far from an expert on the topic but the fish actually look surprisingly accurate. As I mentioned you can tell the developer has a passion for aquatic lifeforms which is shown in the amount of detail presented in the game. I also thought the music was quite good as it helps create a good atmosphere for designing your own aquarium.
I also think Megaquarium deserves a lot of credit for giving players plenty of content. The game includes ten different levels which start you with different aquariums and objectives that you have to complete. The first four levels work as an extended tutorial which I think is a good idea as it allows the game to take its time introducing the mechanics instead of throwing them all at you at once. The rest of the levels give you different situations that you have to deal with in order to reach your objectives. In addition to the ten levels there is also a sandbox mode that lets you create your own aquarium. So far I have spent most of my time with the levels but the sandbox mode lets you build whatever aquarium you want. You can adjust different settings to make the game easier or more difficult. You can also choose to turn on objectives which occasionally give you different objectives you can complete which spices up the gameplay. At the moment I have played Megaquarium for around 9-10 hours and I don’t anticipate getting sick of the game anytime soon. If you like simulation games, especially if you are interested in the theme, I think you could get a lot of time out of Megaquarium.
While I had a blast playing Megaquarium, I had a few small issues with the game.
I would say that the biggest issue with Megaquarium is that it is kind of easy at times. Unless you are extremely careless or expand way too quickly, I don’t really see a path to actually losing a level or going bankrupt. While I actually like it, I could see some people being turned off by the extended tutorial. I liked that the game takes its time teaching you its mechanics but I could see some people wanting to just start playing the game. You could jump right into the sandbox but I would recommend at least playing the first four levels as they introduce you to the basics of the game. If you like simulation games for the relaxing experience of building your own park/aquarium/etc., I don’t see the easy difficulty being much of a problem as you can just sit back and enjoy making your aquarium. If you like to be challenged though you might be a little disappointed as I think the only way to fail in the game is to make a huge mistake or waste a bunch of money.
The only other significant issue I had with the game is that there occasionally are times where you mostly have to just sit back and wait while you acquire resources to complete objectives, earn money, or complete research. In particular in some of the levels you are given the objective of reaching a certain prestige level which means you mostly have to sit and wait until you acquire enough prestige. I wish the game had some way of monitoring where you are gaining and losing prestige points as your total seems to just go up and down with little explanation of why. The game has a fast forward button which lets you move through these slow points quicker but there are some breaks in the action where you mostly just have to sit around and watch what you have created.
The other problems I had with Megaquarium are little things that are more nuisances than problems. First I really like that the game allows you to move items around the aquarium without incurring any cost. This gives you a lot of flexibility while designing your aquarium as you can move things around if you change your mind. I wish there was an option to select a group of objects move them together though. If you have to move exhibits around it becomes a hassle moving all of the walls and other items individually. This is worst in the levels where you start with a partially built aquarium that has things placed in ways that get in the way of what you are trying to do. Another issue is that you will occasionally get popups from staff upgrading/completing objectives/etc which interrupt what you were currently trying to do. I kind of wish that instead of the popups the game could have made these notices show up as messages that you could address when you weren’t busy doing something else. There are also a few other small graphical glitches and other small issues that are a little annoying at times but don’t drastically impact the game.
Despite not being that interested in aquariums heading into the game, I had a blast playing Megaquarium. Since I was a kid I loved simulation games and Megaquarium does the genre justice. Even if the theme isn’t all that interesting to you, you can have a lot of fun with Megaquarium if you like simulation games. Megaquarium succeeds for a couple reasons. First the game creates an interesting puzzle mechanic as you have to figure out how to build tanks that fulfill all of the needs of the fish you place into them. Second the game does a great job making the game accessible with easy to use controls. Third the game gives you a lot of customization options to create whatever aquarium you want. It is really satisfying building your own aquarium. Finally the game has a lot of content which will keep fans entertained for a long time. Megaquarium is not perfect as the game is a little too easy and there is some occasional downtime. Megaqurium is a great game though that I had a lot of fun playing.
If you don’t like simulation games or really hate fish/aquatic lifeforms, Megaquarium might not be for you. If you like simulation games though I would highly recommend picking up Megaquarium as it is one of the best that I have played in a while.