Clockwork Aquario review Nintendo Switch ININ Games Westone Bit Entertainment canceled 90s arcade game sidescroller beat em up

There aren’t too many game development stories out there quite like that of Clockwork Aquario. Conceived in the early ’90s as a bright and silly arcade machine hit, it was canceled and shelved before it ever got a chance to be finished or released to the public. Nearly 30 years later though, ININ Games and Strictly Limited Games have set out to restore and complete this forgotten arcade gem — with the full support and direction of the original developers, too. A decades-long difference between the start of development and end of development like this is unheard of for a game — the team even won a Guinness World Record for it. So many years later, though, does Clockwork Aquario hold up to today’s drastically different gaming landscape in review?

Odds are you’ll know what you’re getting from Clockwork Aquario and whether or not you’ll love it the second you see the vibrant, Japanese ’90s pixel art and anime-adjacent character designs. Clockwork Aquario isn’t a narrative powerhouse with hours of gripping emotional moments and dynamic gameplay. It’s a simple and silly platformer with the barest of bare minimum story tied into it. Pick one of three characters, hop into the game, and spend about a half hour cruising through the stages and boss battles.

Clockwork Aquario review Nintendo Switch ININ Games Westone Bit Entertainment canceled 90s arcade game sidescroller beat em up

It’s basic, but it works. Platforming feels tight and responsive, aside from a handful of sudden enemy appearances or clunky platform placements. Better yet, though, there’s a bit of an added gameplay twist that makes this more than just anime Mario. You can hop on enemies to destroy them, but you can also slap them to put them into a stun that lets you grab ’em, toss ’em, and instantly destroy any enemy that gets hit by the toss. The throw mechanic even adds a little social chaos to the co-op mode, since you can grab your friend and toss them around at will.

The one bummer about Clockwork Aquario being so fun to play, though, is that there’s so little of it to play. You can run through the game in about a half hour, and there really isn’t much else to see once you do. All three characters play the same, so new playthroughs as a different hero don’t shake things up at all. There are multiple difficulty modes, but all they do is change how many credits you start the game with. The lack of content is worsened by the lack of challenge — Clockwork Aquario is a pretty easy game, so the combo of light difficulty and bare-minimum game modes means there’s very little replayability here.

Clockwork Aquario review Nintendo Switch ININ Games Westone Bit Entertainment canceled 90s arcade game sidescroller beat em up

Still, for as brief as Clockwork Aquario is, it’s always a delight to play. The aesthetic of the game is so, so good — it really feels like you’re playing a port of an old-school classic with how faithful they’ve remained to the designs and pixel art of the ’90s. The audio, too, is incredible. There’s a wonderful and cheery soundtrack full of loud and quirky music that never gets old. The icing on the cake is that you can dive even deeper into the art and audio of the game thanks to the bonus Gallery and Soundtrack menus. The gallery lets you browse a couple dozen pieces of artwork and concept work for the game, with short captions giving you some historical context. The soundtrack screen, meanwhile, lets you play every single song in the game, as well as the modern remixes for each track. I’m a sucker for museum-style bonuses like these, so I was so happy to see it in Clockwork Aquario.

Clockwork Aquario was made for a very specific crowd of people, by an incredibly passionate team. Obviously a short and simple arcade platformer like this isn’t going to be a smash hit today, but there are still plenty of people out there who clamor for old-school ’90s arcade bliss. If you’re one of those people, then Clockwork Aquario is the game for you. It’s short and easy, but fun and beautiful. An arcade classic that was almost lost to time, and I’m so happy that it wasn’t.

Release Date: December 14, 2021
No. of Players: 1-2 players
Category: Action, Adventure, Arcade
Publisher: ININ Games
Developer: ININ Games

A Nintendo Switch review code for Clockwork Aquario was provided by the publisher.

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Clockwork Aquario

7

Clockwork Aquario was made for a very specific crowd of people, by an incredibly passionate team. Obviously a short and simple arcade platformer like this isn't going to be a smash hit today, but there are still plenty of people out there who clamor for old-school '90s arcade bliss. If you're one of those people, then Clockwork Aquario is the game for you. It's short and easy, but fun and beautiful. An arcade classic that was almost lost to time, and I'm so happy that it wasn't.

Pros
  • Simple, satisfying arcade action
  • Detailed gallery and soundtrack bonuses
  • Vibrant old-school art and audio
Cons
  • Lack of replayability
  • Not very challenging
Miguel Moran
I'm a writer, voice actor, and 3D artist living la vida loca in New York City. I'm into a pretty wide variety of games, and shows, and films, and music, and comics and anime. Anime and video games are my biggest vice, though, so feel free to talk to me about those. Bury me with my money. Social Media Manager for Akupara Games

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