Since the dawn of the 'Amiga era', Psygnosis have managed to impress time and time again with their innovation and quality game design. We now expect to receive an audio-visual treat whenever we pick up one of their glossy, black boxes. However, too many Psygnosis creations have fallen short of the mark due to poor playability. Shadow of the Beast is a prime example of this 'art-before-gameplay' syndrome; it looks great, but it's just too hard!
What, though, do we think about Aquaventura? Well it just falls short, not because of the naff graphics and sound, but because of a lack of variety.
Dare to be different
For starters, it's got one of the oldest storylines on record! Yep, it's the 'post-holocaust invasion from space' story again (last man on the planet goes out for revenge, etc, etc): a bunch of nasty extra-terrestrials called the Spurcians have taken advantage of the Earth's predicament to launch an invasion. The eight remaining underwater colonies have been taken over and only a handful of people remain alive, aboard an orbiting freight vessel called Genesite (gosh, what an uncannily appropriate name!). In a last-ditch attempt to liberate the colonies, a lone warrior called Josh Aldrin (that's you, that is) is sent plant-side to send the Spurcian scum to meet their maker. Genesite, however, doesn't survive, making Josh the last human in existence; his mission is now one of revenge!
Polygon without a cause
An incredibly good intro sequence leads up to the action (it fills the whole of disk one as per usual) and a nice, haunting tune begins as you reach the attractive main screen. All OK so far. However, the game itself is a rather odd mixture of game and graphic styles which only just seem to work together. You could call Aquaventura a flight sim for the most part, but there is no cockpit view available; you are given an external view from behind your craft at all times. This doesn't work very well at all, because objects can pass between the ship and your viewpoint, blinding you for a few seconds. A cockpit view (with exterior views available) would also have improved update speed because the computer would have had less to manipulate on screen. Anyway, there is so little to see of the craft from behind, that it seems pointless to have made the thing so detailed!
Enemy vehicles meanwhile are made up of bobs, the scenery is made up of polygons, and the end-of-level alien of vectorballs! All movement and combat occurs above a flat, blue-striped surface which is obviously meant to be the sea, but you are in fact left with the impression that you're flying at low level above a twinkling deckchair!
Despite all this however, there is still much in Aquaventura's favor. Movement is, on the whole, very smooth, although sometimes the end-of-level guardian can slow things down a little. And then there's the tunnel section, which you must navigate in order to get from level to level. This is made up of line vectors(!), although your ship still remains a solid 3D image. Clearly, a polygon tunnel would have been impractical, and the mixed idea works very well. Extra weapons and fierce combat (which doesn't slow screen update - you're fighting bobs remember?) also add to the game's playability.
In the end, though, things just get more and more samey since the only real difference between levels is the amount which needs to be done for their completion. Ultimately there isn't much incentive to complete the game once you've died on level nine and have to start again from the beginning.
Aquaventura features one of the best intro sequences to a game that I've seen for a long time. In deep space, a lone fighter blasts off from a giant starship and narrowly escapes as the mothership is devastated in a nuclear explosion. Unfortunately, Psygnosis didn't have the good sense to quit while they were ahead...
A couple of years ago there was a flood of demo disks showing the fascinating things that could be done with a load of rotating balls - unfortunately, those demos were considerably more playable than this. The game involves flying a spacecraft above the surface of a watery planet in an attempt to destroy the power source which shields a mysterious pyramid. Various space invaders will annoyingly get in your way and you must blast them with your cannon and missiles.
Once the power source has been destroyed, the pyramid can be attacked and forced to disgorge the ferocious wobbly-ball monster which unaccountably lives inside. As the monster twists and turns, firing missiles at your ship, you must hit each one of the balls until it is finally destroyed. At this point you will be sucked down into a wire-frame Channel Tunnel through which you must fly without smashing your ship on the walls. During this maneuvre, alien ships are coming the other way and must be dodged as they seem to be driven by French pilots who have failed to notice that we drive on the left. If you emerge safely on the other side you are deemed to have reached safety and your ship is rearmed.
It would be fair to say that all of this is well done. The graphics are smooth, the music is exciting, the controls are responsive. The problem only appears when it becomes apparent that there are only eight levels to the game and, adding insult to injury, they are all virtually identical - the second level is the same as the first with more aliens to avoid! However, with the ship so easy to fly and the enemy easy to hit, the game might give satisfaction to younger players who won't notice that there's no depth to it. Once the purchaser has played the game for an evening and glimpsed the true nature of the beast, though, they'll realize that it is, like the end-of-level snake, just a load of balls...
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