Clockwork Aquario was initially a victim of the gaming industry’s shift towards 3D games. Development he began in 1992 at Westone Bit Entertainment, a now-defunct studio best known for the Wonder Boy series. The game was completed by him two years later, but by that time it was completely shelved as most of the arcades had shifted to his 3D experiences and fighting games. A retro-focused publisher, he remained that way until Inin Games acquired the rights and improved it to run on modern devices.
If Clockwork Aquario had come out in the early 90’s it would have cost a lot. It’s the kind of arcade game that draws you in, with big sprites, bright colors, original worlds, and a hilarious soundtrack. You see it and you want to play it. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to experience it in an arcade because it was never actually released. But decades later, it’s finally available in a new format and playable on both PS4 and Nintendo Switch.
As a game, Clockwork Aquario is pleasantly straightforward. It’s an action-platformer where you play as one of three characters running through a futuristic world, jumping on mechanical fish and popping strange balloons with your head. Jump and Grab He has two main actions that can be used to attack enemies or throw them at each other. It’s very simple, yet chaotic, with five worlds each ending with its own giant boss that, in the tradition of arcade games, must be defeated using pattern memory and quick reflexes.
There are a few other things you can tweak besides the visuals. Arcade games are notoriously difficult – the more you try, the more quarters are spent – so Clockwork Aquario offers his three different difficulty options. This doesn’t really change the game itself, it just gives you more or less credit to get through the whole thing. There is also a training mode that you can play around with to see how it works. In addition, it is now possible to pause the game, which was not possible in the era of arcade cabinets.
However, the most striking thing about this game is its appearance. This is incredible pixel art with huge, expressive characters and a wide variety of bizarre enemies. Everything is mechanical, so you can watch robot fish and squid fly through the air and giant clams shoot fireballs. I played it on the new OLED version of Switch and it was amazing. There are plenty of visual options too, so you can make your game look super crisp and clean, or add scanlines for a retro effect.
I’m not sure how long Clockwork Aquario will hold my attention, but I’m certainly glad it exists.Preserving video games is a complex subject, but with so much of its history lost, it’s been a long time coming. It’s nice to see a project that clearly demonstrates a love of forgotten source material.