Arcades! Ancient mighty machines taller than a man, gateways into different worlds, altars upon which the young men and women from the past would deposit their offerings in search of adventure….At least that’s how I remember them, but the truth might be closer to them just being quarter devouring machines. Still, there’s a certain feeling unique to arcades and Clockwork Aquario brings it up in spades.

Original development of Clockwork Aquario was as an arcade game back in 1992 but the quick changing of the gaming environment resulted in its cancellation. Almost 30 years later, it emerges from the depths with a shiny new coat of paint, ready to bring back the glory of the old arcade games. Jump on, slap and throw everything in your way as Clockwork Aquario takes you on a 2D ocean-themed adventure!

The Good - Wonders of the Ocean!

Clockwork Aquario is a particularly vibrant game. Cheerful, bright colors as far as the eye can see, colourful enemies and even more colourful stages; it’s the visual equivalent of a candy shop. Taking full advantage of the stylized art style and extremely well made pixel art, it's clear that the visuals were given high priority throughout development. In 1992, Clockwork Aquario was meant to push the arcade hardware to its limits and it absolutely shows as the visuals, even while nowhere near realistic, still hold up today. One look at any individual frame of the game will immediately let the players know what the game is all about: a fun, fast paced, vibrant and light-hearted adventure with a cast of both characters and enemies that are full of life.

Clockwork Aquario plays almost as good as it looks. It’s a very reactive game and the basic gameplay is easy to grasp and go ham with. Jumping and slapping are the main tools at the disposal of the player to navigate through the levels and they are effective against every enemy in the game, no matter the size. Successfully stomping or smacking an enemy will stun them, giving access to the second main mechanic of the game: throwing. Simply by walking into a stunned enemy, it’s possible to pick them up and throw them at high speed to anywhere on the map, including at other players for a combo, or simply at other enemies for a two-in-one kill.

TL;DR

  • Colourful, beautiful art
  • Simple and rewarding gameplay
  • Quirky visual humour

The Bad - Small fish in a small Aquario

Clockwork Aquario has a bombastic first impression but after not too long, it feels…Dated. While that is to be expected from a game made in 1992, it was released in late 2021 and in many aspects, it feels like it was not adjusted for the time period at all, rather banking on things that would have sufficed back in the day.

Clockwork Aquario is a short game and in an extremely noticeable way. Even for fast paced and short arcade games such as Metal Slug, Clockwork Aquario feels like it barely gives the player time to get acclimated before it ends. There are five levels with very short timers of less than three minutes each and it is always much more than enough to completely blitz through the levels, even at a leisure pace. The bosses don’t take much longer and even a careful, methodical player will easily be able to beat the entire game in less than 30 minutes with any given character. And seeing as the only differences between each character are very, very minor movement options and absolutely no changes in either stages or story, Clockwork Aquario feels like an appetiser rather than a complete experience. Although there are a handful of options to extend the experience (such as a two-player mode and the single bonus stage), it never feels enough as these tend to be just more of the same.

Another point where the game shows its age is how cramped it feels and how that interacts with the gameplay itself. Clockwork Aquario is not a difficult game but it can oftentimes be cheap. The sprites are huge and take up a lot of the screen, which makes it not only possible but common that enemies will simply spawn very close to the character and grab a quick hit before the player has an adequate amount of time to respond. The difficulty in Clockwork Aquario lies mostly in memorising stages to know when enemies will appear, rather than anything particularly exciting - get hit in the face with a mechanical fish long enough, and you’ll be wary of it flying towards you at any given time. Even the difficulty settings change nothing other than how many tries the player is allowed to have before they are booted back to the title screen. No AI or enemy changes - just less harsher punishment after getting cheap shotted by a roly-poly robot coming at the player from outside the screen.

The music is passable but nothing special and the gameplay becomes somewhat repetitive. It’s all well and good to stick to a basic gameplay core of jumping and slapping but the game is simply too short with not enough options to make up for it. Clockwork Aquario has very, very minor differences between the playable characters: one moves slightly faster, the other is a little taller, the other is balanced. Certainly not enough for the player to sink their teeth into and during the gameplay, there is only one proper power-up for the players to pick, the invincibility star, which is so hilariously overpowered that any player that lucks out and obtains it during a boss fight will almost certainly two-shot the boss without challenge. Variation in the background and scenarios is fine but when the stages go by so fast, gameplay should be able to provide a handful more options.

TL;DR

  • Unsatisfyingly short
  • Artificial difficulty
  • Lack of gameplay variation

Final Score: 5/10

Despite everything that is there to be said about how Clockwork Aquario falls short, the truth is that it is still simply a fun time, albeit an extremely short one. It would be a lie to say that the experience was ruined by its shortcomings and a more truthful approach would be to say that it simply ended too soon to make up for any of them. Clockwork Aquario feels like a game that could have been great had it just been expanded on and pushed to its limits once again in 2021, just like how its devs intended to do back in 1992 - instead, it is a quick flash in the pan. It’s hard to balance out the genuine fun the game provides with the disappointment of just how little there is to it.

Clockwork Aquario is quirky, fun, and carefully made. It simply doesn’t do enough to keep up with the times and despite being a modern release, it feels like it belongs in the past. It’s a still picture of a bygone era, a treasure that feels too small for even the arcade machines.

Thank you for checking out our Clockwork Aquario Switch review, thank you to ININ Games (via PR Hound) for providing the review code and thank you to our $5 and up Patreon Backers for their ongoing support:

For more reading, check out our review of Aspire: Ina's Tale.