Have you ever had that dream?
You know, the really calming one where you’re walking somewhere, maybe picking flowers, soaking in nature’s glory? But the instant when you finally find yourself slowly sinking into the melancholy of nature – some giant crab starts chasing you, and no matter the tactic used, you just can’t escape it’s erratic pace and virulent attacks at you?
Well that dream is real, and that crab exists. It sits in the dark terrifying depths of a flooded and deserted Earth in The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human.
Swedish indie developer YCJY began the Kickstarted title by showing a lone ship from the near future leaving a doomed Earth to travel into a wormhole with hopes to help a downtrodden & dying humanity. The ship soon returns and careens into a flooded planet several millennia in the future, but there’s no trace of humans left.
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human is a pixelated, 2D, side scrolling, Metroidvania style game, that depends on the curiosity and bullish determination of only the most hardened player to advance it’s story and expose it’s many hidden creatures.
Immediately as my ship became a submarine and plunged into the planet-coating ocean, I was overtaken by the bright and colorful nature of the environment I was exploring. It conveyed emotion, story, and a bright disposition. I would later find this initially peaceful representation to be deceitful, but overall the pixel art was magnificent and pulled me into the game with haste.
Despite the limited palette and detail, the 2D game felt deep and 3-Dimensional in it’s appearance. Clear separation of foreground and background pulled my vision to every part of the screen, and clever mid-ranged set pieces disguised enough of the map that I felt compelled to explore and discover, which is half of what this game seemed to be about.
Exploration wasn’t the most difficult piece of the game by far, but as it drew on and on, it became infinitely more difficult to keep track of places I’d already visited, or paths I’d already drifted through. The only part holding the navigational tendrils of my brain together was the ever changing themes to certain areas. Each location in the game, called Districts, had it’s own completely unique aesthetic that managed not only to flawlessly blend in transitional areas, but also contain an entirely exclusive ecosystems of colors, fish, plants, and a litany of other visual features.
In this world, humanity had been a lost cause and consequently vanished, but nature had taken the planet back over. It seemed like the only logical choice was to crawl over the planet until I figured out what was going on – until I encountered the first boss battle the deep blue sea chose to throw at me. If exploration was the thing that made my eye twitch from difficulty, the bosses were what made me consider just ripping said eye out.
The first boss, simply called The Worm, was a great way to set the tone for the game. It was a unique challenge like all the bosses, but it still showed me a bit of the hand Aquatic Adventures would be playing throughout it’s labyrinth of underwater tunnels and demons. The main crux of the combat in the game is all boss fights, and hard ones at that. I died a lot, to say the least.
There’s always a silver lining though, and the deaths weren’t for nothing. For starters, they were all mostly my fault. They highlighted a simple control scheme that worked extremely well, putting the responsibility of success squarely on my shoulders. Successes or failures never felt up to chance or due to a one-off random event. My many deaths also allowed for a huge sense of accomplishment when the boss was finally bested, usually warranting a celebration in my chair, or a quick pace around the apartment to revel in my skill and catch my breath.
Bosses functioned squarely off of individual tendencies & patterns that were usually fairly easy to figure out, and struck a nice balance of memorization and execution. They were fairly rewarding to defeat as well, earning a ship upgrade with each victory. This added abilities slowly that changed my approach over the course of the game, altering the gameplay for the better each time.
The surrounding environment also allowed players to deviate from the plan often enough to keep fights refreshing, even after the 20th death. There was two specific occasions where bosses became frustrating, as their pattern was easy to figure out, however despite the frustration they caused I never lost determination to murder them super hard.
The best part about murdering bosses super hard was the soundtrack I got to do it to. Not only did it keep the game from becoming repetitive, but it motivated exploration better than most games. Something that marks a great soundtrack for me is when it has the ability to stand alone, yet never actually pulls apart from the look and feel of the game, but rather works together with it flawlessly to ensure emotional resonance no matter the situation.
Often swelling at just the right moment when finding a new area, the music and sound made bosses hit harder, and tranquil areas of story gathering even more interesting. The only problem was the story itself lacked the payoff that the music so often promoted.
Told mainly through discovering morsels of text in abandoned and destroyed portions of failed communities, the story was thorough, but un-invigorating. Sometimes on screen clues like graveyards, old digital signs, and rotting battle equipment helped guide players to the tumultuous story of the final days of humanity, but ultimately they didn’t deliver in a memorable way.
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human is a fantastic indie that will challenge players to their wits end, but ultimately keep bringing them back for more. It’s a beautiful, addicting, frustrating journey through a ruined planet, and it’s an experience that Metroidvania fans will no doubt enjoy.
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human was reviewed with a PC copy provided by YCJY.