Mhmmm. Do you smell that? That's a hot new release fresh out of the Nitrome oven. This one smells like adventure, so grab your wetsuit and let's dive to the ocean floor!
Aquanaut is a game of underwater exploration that puts you in the driver's seat of a small submersible pod on a mission to discover hidden treasures. Using your mouse, click and hold to guide the pod around a colorful undersea world. Navigate through dangers of the sea, up and around rocks and structures and, with a steady hand and a little luck, you will find the treasure chest at the end of each level. As an added challenge for additional points, collect coins and gems scattered around the levels to increase your score.
The dangers that stand in your way are the plentiful sea creatures that inhabit the world. Ranging from puffer fish — that rhythmically expand and contract, often blocking your path — to some very smiley starfish, these enemies will damage your pod with every touch. At your disposal is an unlimited stash of depth charges. Press [space] a drop charge that will go off in three seconds or when it comes in contact with an enemy, which ever comes first. Most enemies take multiple hits to destroy, but will drop precious coins and valuable gems. Just be careful not to get in the way of your own charge, as they, too, will damage your pod.
The tide also plays an important part in your adventure. Depending on the stage, the water level will rise and fall in certain areas, occasionally exposing small islands or areas that your pod can roll across, albeit slowly.
Analysis: I love games that involve underwater exploration, and Aquanaut serves up a hearty dose of this type of fun. As usual, Nitrome delivers graphically with stunning pixel art and fantastic water effects. Everything in the game, from the water line as you get near the surface to the coral lining the rock boundaries, all fits very well. The enemies are drawn in a familiar Nitrome style, and yet are fairly widely varied as the game progresses. After a while, though, the levels themselves tend to blend together because there isn't much variation in the level decor.
The gameplay in Aquanaut moves at a comfortable pace, improving on the somewhat sluggish movement from both enemies and player-controlled characters that we've seen from Nitrome in the past. In fact, I often had to slow myself down as I was blasting through the levels and slamming into enemies with little regard for safety. Needless to say, this isn't an effective strategy; around level 6, the game's difficulty ramps up and demands a lot more finesse. With this difficulty comes more frustration, and it begins to seem like three hits isn't quite enough to get through these later levels. Making good use of the depth charges becomes essential if you wish to make it to the high score table. But the reward of just finishing each level was enough for me.
If you've played Nitrome's games before, you will find some familiar elements as well as some welcome additions and improvements. If you've never played a Nitrome game before, Aquanaut is a great place to start.