I love tycoon games. I love the idea of starting from little to nothing and expanding your empire into something huge. Having previously enjoyed my time with Twice Circled’s Big Pharma and learning they were about to release Megaquarium, a new tycoon game but this time around the world of public aquariums and sea life, I just had to get involved.
Magaquarium, at its core, is a tycoon/management game where you’re tasked with building, tending to, and managing your own aquarium. From placing tanks to choosing the fish and decorations that go inside, the challenge comes from earning as many points from visitors as possible, without boring them to tears with the same stuff.
You’re probably thinking, how diverse can an aquarium really be, it’s fish in tanks? But almost immediately, you quickly discover that it’s not as simple as just chucking fish in a tank and hoping for the best. There’s a strategy involved in aquarium management, making sure you’re not showing too many of the same fish, while also diversifying the tanks with different combinations of fish and decorations.
Add to this the different fishes’ requirements, temperaments, and diets, and you’ll soon find that raising fish isn’t a simple task, at all.
So let’s first dive into aesthetics before we get knee-deep in the water-filled complications of rearing tropical fish. Much like Big Pharma, Megaquarium offers quite a simple-looking isometric visual design which can be fully manipulated and explored by the player. While it’s much more pleasing to view your aquarium creation from the default isometric view, you can also rotate, zoom, and tilt the entire level to see things in more detail, pretty helpful too considering the number of things you’ll be needing to place to cater to each
Aside from this, the mechanics in the game mostly involve pointing and clicking, as you’d probably expect from a tycoon game. Though this added maneuverability of the level certainly helps asses how much space you have to build. Speaking of building, you’ll find yourself creating a series of different habitats for all different types of fish. Some are standard free-standing tanks, others are built into walls allowing you to hide the inner-workings of your aquarium.
Much like a typical tycoon game, the further you progress in Megaquarium, the more you unlock in terms of things to place and sea life you can include in your aquarium. However, the way developer Twice Circled has integrated the aquatic ecosystem into the game is parts genius and frustrating.
You see, each species has their own set of requirements in order to thrive in your aquarium. At first, it’s simple things such as water quality and type of food, but as you progress, you unlock more species that require certain decorations (like caves, for shade), or multiple other fish to satisfy shoaling requirements or even have certain traits which can cause chaos if mixed with other species. This adds the complication of expanding your aquarium to cater to these new species whilst also creating enough variation to please visitors and earn those coveted stars.
The visitors in Megaquarium, however, are some of the fussiest lot I’ve ever seen. I get it, you want to see something different, but removing stars just because you’ve seen the same fish twice is a bit harsh don’t you think? You’re at an aquarium at the end of the day, all you’re going to see is fish… Anyway… the way levels require you to earn a certain amount of stars often means once you’ve hit all objectives, you’ll be sitting around and waiting for the stars to rack up.
Sure, you could further develop your aquarium, but during the early game, you’re so limited in terms of fish species and equipment/tanks, that you’ll be losing stars due to repetitiveness rather than gaining stars because they’ve got more to explore.
Visitors aside, later in the game you’ll find that you’re spending more time catering to the ecosystem than actually worrying about paying visitors, sure, they’re the ones which pay the bills, but you soon grow an attachment to your aquarium, and when things start to go wrong, you do all you can to make things better. Ultimately though spending time tweaking tanks, upgrading pumps and filters, and ensuring fish who have suddenly had a growth spurt don’t plan on snacking on the other fish, is a huge part of the game.
Simply put, Megaquarium is a management sim about micromanagement. Building your aquarium is just a very small aspect of what’s actually involved with the game, and it can be a hell of a lot of fun but also quite frustrating when the only way to acquire a certain type of fish is to wait for the right seller to arrive. For the most part, however, it was really interesting to learn how to micromanage each aspect of the aquarium, from ensuring certain species who had a tendency to have growth spurts were in suitable habitats which could cater to the growth.
One of the more surprising aspects and one of the things I actually loved from classic tycoon games like Theme Park and RollerCoaster Tycoon and that’s the ability to actually zoom all the way in and walk around your own aquarium. So not only can you see it all working from above, but you can also experience your own creation much like the visitors. Maybe if I did this more often I could understand why certain visitors were so fussy.
One thing that stood out the most to me with Megaquarium was that nothing ever got too out of hand, and if it did, it was often easy enough to get in control of it. Megaquarium is a slow game, offering a more relaxing tycoon experience. You’re not dreading the day that everyone’s salaries or maintenance costs come out and you’re able to develop at your own pace.
There are some aspects that need fine tuning and there are also areas which could do with some more explaining, however, Megaquarium allows for plenty of trial and error without causing too much damage to your aquarium.
Overall, Megaquarium on the surface seems like a pretty casual tycoon/management game, and in some respects, it is, however, you can really dive deep into the aquatic ecosystem and really optimize your aquarium to maximize profits – or simply just make a really cool looking aquarium.