Tamagotchi games lost their luster in Japan in early- to mid-nineties, yet their appeal strangely lingers yet up to today, and keeps popping up in a variety of shapes and places.
Seeing as tamagotchi is a pretty beaten-up idea, it takes a bit of creativity to not make a dull bargan-bin buster; and when it comes to creativity, Astraware is on the front lines as far as I am concerned. That is why Insaniquarium is not just a simple rehashing of the ages-old tamagotchi concept.
The premise of the game is deceptively simple. You have an aquarium, into which you put fish that you purchase. You feed the fish, which costs a certain amount of money, and you upgrade various components to better take care of your fish. For instance, you can upgrade your food to be more nutritious, and you can upgrade the amount of food you can drop into the aquarium at any one time (the default is only one food drop at a time, which can be difficult with more than a few fish swimming around). The fish hang around until they become green, at which point you have to feed them, else they die and go belly up. You can also purchase expansion fish, like the carnivore, which eats other fish but generates diamonds that you can pick up for extra money. In addition, all fish drop coins of varying amounts: young fishies drop nothing, medium age fish drop silver coins, large fish drop gold coins, and ancient fish (which is rather rare) drop diamonds. Each of those brings you additional money, that you can, as mentioned above, use to upgrade various things.
But not all is quiet in Aqualand. Occasionally, monsters come; and you have to destroy those monsters through various means. The simplest one is a monster that floats around and tries to eat your fish. You can zap him with a laser (which you can upgrade to inflict more damage, if you so desire). The second worst is one that cannot be killed by a laser, but has to be fed a large amount of fish food, at which point he simply explodes. Neat idea, just difficult to implement, since he keeps eating your fish as you feed him! The last one is a missile robot, which not only is tough to kill, but also launches sets of 3 rockets at a time, which auto-lock and chase 3 of your fish. You first have to destroy the rockets, and then destroy the robot with your laser. And then, sometimes, you get combinations of two of the above (on upper-difficulty levels).
Generally, a level is completed when you can purchase 3 parts of a sort of an egg (I’m really uncertain why Astraware chose to use an egg, though). Each part costs a relatively large amount of money, and generally, it’s not particularly easy to get the required amount. The trick is usually to have the maximum amount of fish that fits into the aquarium, since then, even when the aliens come to eat your fish, you still have enough left over to generate enough income to replace all of the lost fish.
There are two modes of play: quest mode and challenge mode. In quest mode, you have to go through a series of progressively difficult levels, where things get more and more hectic with each level aliens come more often, fish get hungry more often, and so forth. Fortunately, the game has another neat little feature that can greatly help you in your tamagotchi endeavours: it has what it calls “pets”. These are animals that cost nothing for you to obtain (though you must unlock them through completing levels), and in return help you in one specific area different for each pet. For instance, one pet helps you feed your fish. Another one collects the coins that fall on the bottom of the aquarium. Yet another one helps you kill aliens. There’s quite a few different pets, so they cover a large array of activities.
The challenge mode is significantly more difficult than the quest mode, hence the designation. In this mode, every time the aliens appear, they not only eat your fish, but also cause prices to rise, fish to become hungrier (i.e. needing food replacement more urgently), and so forth. Of course, since the price of everything goes up, that means the price of the egg that you must purchase to finish the level also goes up making it that much more difficult. But once you finish the quest mode, you should be able to pass challenge mode with a moderate amount of effort if only because you will unlock all of the pets, which will help a lot in the endeavour.
So far I have said nothing about any of the non-gameplay issues. They do deserve mention, however. The most obvious one, and one that made me giggle with uncontrollable joy, is the graphics detail. Not only does the game use hi-res+ on my Sony Clie NR70 but it allows me to play in landscape mode, full-screen. It’s basically the equivalent of paradise, or as close as I’ve ever gotten to it through my Clie. I am very, very impressed with the quality of the graphics, and a definite thumbs up to Astraware for pushing the envelope of gaming on the Palm platform.
One of the negative things that I dislike about Insaniquarium (and about Bejeweled, and about many other recent Astraware games, for that matter) is that, for some strange reason, when I play the “Sony-enhanced sound” versions of the games, they do not allow me to play MP3 files: they cut out the MP3 sound, even if I set them to mute and all sounds to off. That’s somewhat annoying, since, well, I prefer listening to my own music rather than game sounds, for obvious reasons.
Besides that one little annoying glitch, I did not experience any problems with Insaniquarium, and it is such an addictive game that I would tend to overlook it in favour of its gameplay. I feel clichι saying that Astraware did it again it made another battery life-using game for me but there is really no other way of putting it. They did it well, and they did it again. To borrow a beaten-up saying, two thumbs up for Insaniquarium.