It feels like it’s been years since I played a good management sim, and now I’ve ended up playing two in a row (the first being the wonderful Two Point Hospital). You would think I’d be a bit tired of them now, but I think it’s fair to say this is one of my absolute favourite game genres, and playing well-made games in your favourite genre is always a treat.
From the developers of Big Pharma, the simulation game that is kinda more of a puzzle game, comes Megaquarium, a game about managing an aquarium, filling it with interesting fish, and pleasing your guests. While it’s not without its flaws, Megaquarium is a relaxing experience at a very reasonable price point.
The true price of fish
Besides actual currency, which you need to purchase tanks, equipment and fish, as well as pay for staff and food, you also need to earn prestige points in order to rank up and gain access to new equipment and fish. Prestige fluctuates throughout the game, with sickly fish or dirty toilets causing you to lose points, while happy fish and clean facilities netting more prestige. There are also ecology and research points that are generated by different species of fish, which let you unlock new species and equipment respectively. While this may seem like a lot, and I’ll admit the distinction between which fish earn you research points versus ecology points seems arbitrary and most of these currencies are fairly easy to generate. Prestige points can be frustrating to earn, especially if your aquarium is poorly laid out and guests are not getting to see your best exhibits.
Water quality tends to be one of the harder factors to manage, as you’ll want exhibits with lots of fish for those prestige points, but the more fish you have, the harder it is to maintain decent water quality.
The game features a substantial 10-level campaign, providing 10 scenarios with different parameters and challenges, which helps to keep things fresh. Most of these were challenging without being impossible, though some of the objectives require huge amounts of prestige, which was a point of frustration for me in the middle levels of the campaign when I was still getting the hang of laying out my tanks efficiently.
While the objectives for each campaign level are varied enough to keep things interesting, every time you start a new level you may feel like you’ve taken a step back, as you are often bumped down a couple of prestige levels, meaning you’ll be researching some of the things that you already unlocked in a previous level.
Warm fish, cold fish, happy fish, dead fish
Regardless of other objectives, keeping your fish happy and alive is crucial to a successful aquarium. While some fish are happy in a tank with the right temperature and quality water, some fish require lights, rocks, plants or hiding spots. Water quality tends to be one of the harder factors to manage, as you’ll want exhibits with lots of fish for those prestige points, but the more fish you have, the harder it is to maintain decent water quality.
Placing fish in tanks is a delicate puzzle that requires regular monitoring as fish grow.
As you rank up, you’ll unlock better equipment to achieve this delicate balance of factors. Some fish have other requirements, such as shoalers who need a certain number of companions of the same species, while others require exclusive access to their preferred food. Many fish will attack or even eat certain types or sizes of creatures. Some fish grow larger over time, which may mean they need to be moved to a larger tank, or they may suddenly eat tank mates who were not previously at risk. Placing fish in tanks is a delicate puzzle that requires regular monitoring as fish grow. This is made more difficult by the interface, which displays fish in a long, long list with no way to sort or filter them. Hopefully, this will be added in a future patch.
The people in your aquarium are fairly easy to please. Guests simply need available benches, toilets, gift shops and access to food and drink. Staff have their own traits and skills, which improve over time, making them more efficient at their jobs, in theory. Unfortunately, the staff AI leaves much to be desired, and they will quickly become overwhelmed as your aquarium grows. There’s little in the way of staff management tools, and the interface for dealing with staff is quite clunky. I’ve lost many a fish due to hunger or low tank temperature because staff members just weren’t getting to their duties, and although you can pick staff members up, you can’t force them to feed a specific tank, for instance. At least the staff in this game never need to rest.
Another weak point of Megaquarium is performance. The game runs very smoothly in small and medium aquariums, after which things start to slow down considerably. At first there’s just a pause as a new day starts, then there’s input lag, and finally, with a huge aquarium, everything feels sluggish, especially when running the game at ‘fast’ speed. By the time I completed the massive final aquarium, the fast speed was nearly indistinguishable from normal game speed.
The developer has been patching the game regularly since launch day, so I am hopeful that these interface and performance issues will be dealt with. Despite its flaws, I’ve already poured 30 hours into Megaquarium, and I suspect I’ll be sinking a few more hours into it in the future. In addition to the 10 level campaign, there’s also a sandbox mode with flexible parameters. You can also choose from four levels of difficulty in both game modes. I played on normal difficulty, which is pretty manageable as long as you don’t expand too much too soon.