Aqualibrium

For the first few months of my site, my goal was to try to finish every game I played for review here.  I didn’t really take into account that most games I’ll be playing either won’t be very good or will be so insanely hard that any semblance of fun will have evaporated long before the game’s conclusion.  Some people say that means I lose integrity.  To which I say, fuck integrity.  I play games to have fun, not to not have fun.  If a video game can’t provide entertainment, what is it good for?  With that in mind, here’s my review of Aqualibrium, a game that I quit after only finishing four stages.  Oh, I tried to play it.  I spent well over an hour with it.  I gave up because I have no interest in playing a game that doesn’t seem to be finished.

The idea is really good.  You play as a dude with a jetpack and.. wait, you’re sold already?  See, that’s how good an idea it is.  I say jetpack and you’re already heading to the marketplace to pick it up.  Well actually, the idea is even better.  At the bottom of each level is a funnel.  You have to cause water to pour from various pipes down through the stage and into the funnel.  To do this, you have to remove blocks, place blocks, and strategically choose the best way to move the water.  This is a great concept for a game, way better and more ambitious than Archifishal Software’s previous effort, Inferno!  But once you actually start the game, it quickly becomes apparent how poorly executed this concept is.

Let’s start with the controls.  They’re terrible.  Movement is super loose, making it almost impossible to accurately line up in a spot you want to be in without having to wiggle your dude back and forth.  The character’s speed is just too damn fast, among other things.  Oddly enough, you can hold the right bumper to make him move faster, which is pure insanity.  A self-destruct button would have probably been more useful.  Mind you, this is a game which demands precision movement.  If you walk over a block you’ve laid down, you automatically pick it back up.  Because the controls are so clumsy, you will inevitably pick up blocks on accident, causing water to flow the wrong direction.

If water spills outside of the funnel, a pressure meter fills up and you die.  This was really the only challenge the game needed.  Smart level design (and the stages are quite smart) is really all a logic puzzler needs.  Of course, those don’t really sell all too well, so Archifishal tried to spruce things up with enemies.  The enemy movement patterns are extremely annoying, in that they have no preset rhythm.  This typically led to them walking back and forth over the spot you must pass by, with no room to actually get past them.  They also don’t seem to react to what you’re doing, so you can’t manipulate them into going a different direction.  This is absolutely brain-dead game design, and it almost totally cripples Aqualibrium.

Mind you, you do get a gun at some point to fire at these guys.  I know it’s in the game somewhere because it showed me it in the tutorial.  But, you have to pick it up, and it’s not in every stage.  Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe because that would have been too fun.  Or too easy.  Yes, it’s probably another game where the developer lost track of reality after getting too good playing their own game.  I’m not sure why a game that is a puzzler has enemies that behave like you’re in a punisher.

The final nail in Aqualibrium’s coffin is the cannons.  They pop up in the fifth stage, and they are fucking brutal.  You have no life bar, so it’s one shot and you’re dead, and death means starting the stage over again.  The game doesn’t ease you into anything.  First stage with the damn things and, bam, cannons everywhere.  They only shoot when you try to pass them, so you have to “tempt them” and then dash after they shoot.  Not all of them shoot straight.  Some of them shoot in arches that seem to vary at random in trajectory.  Here’s the problem: the game then sets up the water in ways where you need to step in front of the cannons to place blocks.  Because the controls are so flaky, chances are high you will charge past the spot you need to be in to place the block.  If you need to stagger the blocks to aim the flow of the water, you’re also likely to accidentally pick up a block you already laid down.  Perhaps that block was also serving to shield you from the cannon.  Perhaps then you will get shot for the 400th piss-guzzling time.  Perhaps then you will realize you’re playing a game that wasn’t ready for the market.  Perhaps then you will weep for the $1 you just utterly murdered.

The pink things are the cannons. You will grow to hate them.

There’s a couple little problems too.  My TV is big enough to stand in for Jabba the Hutt’s dress form, but objects on-screen are still too small and not detailed enough.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell what is a gate that only you can walk past and what is a gate only an enemy can walk past.  They’re supposed to be distinctive based on color, but the colors are not bright and different enough.  I’m pretty sure I’m not color blind, and I’m pretty sure my television isn’t fading.  I know I’m not the only one who felt that way about the game either.  How did this thing make it this far along with so many problems?  I wasn’t aware XBLIG has a no-child-left-behind policy.  Not that it should have one.  If said child is born without working limbs, proper vision, or brain activity, that fucking kid needs to be left behind to ripen up a bit.

This is the second time in a week that I’ve played a game that is awesome in concept but miserable in execution.  Aqualibrium should have been fun.  It should have contended for the leaderboard.  But it wasn’t ready for the marketplace.  The controls are horrible.  The AI is too stupid.  The cannons are too unforgiving.  And because those three things are so bad, you can’t enjoy the puzzles, which again, seem pretty well constructed.  Aqualibrium suffers from an identity crisis.  It wants to be a puzzler, but it also wants to be a punisher, and on top of all that, it wants to be a bullet hell.  I don’t think those three genres are compatible.  You know, developers?  Prove me wrong on that.  I really do want you to.  I’m just saying it sounds like mixing oil and water.  And a lit match.

 

It’s too bad I, I mean the Microsoft Points, fucked up making that video or else I would have had room to rip on the cover art. I know the developer is capable of better, because the cover art for Inferno was well done. What happened to this game?

Aqualibrium was developed by Archifishal Software

80 Microsoft Points can’t really talk about being an idiot, because they filmed a video of Kairi trying to point out how the brain-dead enemies don’t move or give you room to get past certain sections.  Only they filmed her playing against the wrong enemies, ones that you can walk past without getting killed.  I’m not sure why those are in the game, other than as a waste of digital memory, but that’s not the point.  All the other enemies in the game behave the pretty much the same way and will stop and camp in front of places you need to walk past and you have no hope of getting between them.  But, the particular enemies we filmed her with are the exception to that.  And yes, she’s blaming the Microsoft Points on the mistake instead owning up to it herself.  What a bitch, in the making of this review. 

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

6 Responses to Aqualibrium

  1. I had the problem that the visual clues / blocks you can interact with were confusing to a point that it took all the fun out of the game.

  2. Roby says:

    I actually enjoyed this game quite a bit. But maybe that is because it struck a note in the DOS gamer in me. Nothing in this game was explained but, it didn’t take long to understand how each block worked for me. But maybe I am just used to having no explanations from a game that looks like it’s from the DOS era.

  3. Really wanted this game to be good. I still intend to give it a bit more time, but yeah, those damn cannons…

    I’m not sure why the controls don’t bother me (and I’ve only used the speed up function for advancing the water, never if I have to move), but I’m certain the subsequent review will mirror yours in every other respect.

    • In Easy mode at least on level 5, the parabolic guns are usually firing slowly enough that you can drop a block in front of them after they’ve just fired – makes it a little easier since they’re the main frustrating ones 🙂 (generally the horizontal guns on that level don’t interfere too much I think if you stay far enough away from the gun itself)

      • I have noticed that placing blocks help, but half the time I end up needing those blocks to divert water and have to go retrieve them, which gets just as sticky. Stage 5 isn’t even all that bad, it’s when the guns start hugging almost every available rest zone later on that I really cry foul. I legitimately enjoy the game, but when I’m more focused on the guns / enemies firing every which way instead of moving water from one spot to the next (the fun part), it just feels like it lost its focus somewhere along construction and become more of an unintentional punisher instead of a puzzler.

  4. Mike Robins says:

    This is exactly the same game which was released in 1991 on the Acorn computer! ;o) It was much more entertaining in those days and the graphics where amazing compared to other games like Ibix The Viking and E-Type. – Cataclysm – Hours of fun….. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMlZ2MwYvuA

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