Astro Aqua Kitty (Review)

I liked the original Aqua Kitty, but being a fan of Defender, I was predisposed to liking a competently made tribute to it. ASTRO Aqua Kitty isn’t Defender-like at all. While it retains the look of the original, it’s now a linear shmup-adventure based around exploration, fetch quests, and survival. It’s hard to fit Astro into one category, or even two, that fully satisfies as a descriptor of what exactly to expect. Fitting for a game about a cat, it just does it its own thing. For a sequel to a game that aspired for little more than updating a Golden Age of Arcades classic for modern players, that’s bold. Having said that, it’s easier to pitch the original Aqua Kitty to players. “Did you like Defender? Cool. Here’s a modern version of it given a cute-em-up makeover and contemporary play mechanics.” That’s going to be a game people either want or they don’t. I think Astro Aqua Kitty casts a wider net, but ironically, it’ll be a tougher sell. I’m going to do my best.

When Astro Aqua Kitty shows its claws, it’s an absolute joy to play.

Astro Aqua Kitty kind of feels like a Metroidvania, but it’s not. It’s broken up into absolutely MASSIVE stages that present a variety of objectives for you. Most of these come down to “retrieve person and/or object and deliver to spot on map” type of shenanigans. Along the way, you’ll face swarms of enemies, often so many that the screen temporarily fills up with enough projectiles to make it feel like you’ve slipped into a bullet hell. The pacing can be stop-and-go, as enemies don’t FULLY respawn once you’ve cleared out part of the map. An indicator you’re on the right track is usually running into another big action beat. The lack of respawning is probably to prevent grinding. Yes, grinding. I should mention that there’s RPG mechanics in this. See, I told you it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Astro Aqua Kitty is.

Astro has a relatively simple XP system, but that system combines with a large amount of weapons, items, and variables to create one of the deepest and most rewarding loadout systems I’ve played as IGC. It’s staggering how much variety there is, and how gosh-darn fun it is to experiment and find uses for the various weapons. Two guns can be equipped at once, but they consume various degrees of energy or bullets. The guns themselves have levels and different attributes. You might have, for example, two versions of the basic pea shooter that are both a level 8. But, one might provide a boost in your shield, while the other provides boosts for energy consumption and regeneration. Guns can’t be leveled up. Instead, you purchase them from save stations or, more rarely, collect them from fallen enemies or chests. This applies to passive items too, which might make torpedoes turn sharper, increase chances of critical hits, or add value to the gems you need to buy more weapons and upgrades.

I spy with my little eye: a smiley face.

I do take issue with the pacing of leveling-up. Especially early in the game, where you might gain three levels in a matter of minutes, then go an hour or longer before leveling up again. There’s also a degree of RNG luck in what items are sold in stores and what their boosts are. The item that increases the value of gems was the most desirable, as you can upgrade your ship’s attributes with each new level, but I was stuck with a level 5 “gem cutter” from the second world until midway through the fourth world. That, and sometimes I just didn’t like the guns. I’ve never liked mines in ANY game, and here I found them particularly useless. The sonic wave gun I liked a lot, but it’s practically worthless against many enemies. You’re limited to sixteen spaces to make due with weapons AND items. You can have four items equipped at once, but especially against bosses, you’ll want a completely different set equipped than you would during normal questing. But sometimes, you just plain won’t have a satisfactory assortment. Is that on the game or on me for playing like an idiot? I don’t know, but I know it IS possible to find yourself in that position. I did a couple times.

You’d think combing fetch quests with shmups is a recipe for disaster. It worked for me, but I could understand why people think the game leans a little too hard into it.

Complaints aside, the XP system keeps the game fresh. That’s a good thing, because the set pieces don’t. The underwater setting makes levels feel kind of samey, at least for the first few hours. It’s not until level four that you FEEL like you’re in a different ocean on a different planet. That’s fine, I guess. You play games like this for the action, not for a tour. The enemies are distinctive enough to be a tick above generic. The bosses, on the other hands, will stick with you. They’re longish, frustrating, but unquestionably exhilarating to do battle with. I had an uncanny knack for having the wrong loadout going into them, but you can swap guns on the fly and experiment, and there’s always a save station right before them in case you die. Plus tons of others spread across the levels that the cowardly among us (ahem) will inevitably dash back and forth to after every teeny tiny bit of progress. Of course, there were also times I went large stretches without remembering to just tap the shoulder button once to save at the station. I don’t know why it didn’t just auto save whenever you opened the stores at the stations, but my own scatterbrainness screwed me over a couple times.

I fully admit that Tikipod might have gone a bit overboard with some bosses. You’re usually dealing them plus stationary projectile firing things that respawn if you kill them. I usually was on the last bit of my health when I’d finally win. BUT, I did first-try a couple bosses. Just be warned: they get TRULY ridiculous as the game goes on. Not for the faint of heart.

Astro Aqua Kitty won’t convert anyone not into space shooting, so if that’s never been your thing, I can’t imagine you’ll have fun at all with it. For everyone else, there’s enough twists in the formula to make Astro Aqua Kitty feel fresh. I really enjoyed it a lot, both in short bursts and in extended sit-downs. Even things I’d expect to hate weren’t an issue for me. I’ve NEVER liked having to press a button to change directions in a shmup, but it never bothered me here. The controls, the movement, everything, felt smooth and natural. The variety of characters at the start assure you can play in a way tailored to your strengths. Maybe the missions feel a bit repetitive. Then again, I suppose there’s only so many types of missions you can do in a game like this. But, don’t mistake being repetitive for being boring. I was never bored with Astro Aqua Kitty, and for its genre, you can’t really ask for more. It’s the cat’s meow.

Astro Aqua Kitty was developed by Tikipod Ltd.
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4/Vita, and Steam (Coming June 3, 2021)

$14.99 laid a dead mouse on my chest in the making of this review.

Astro Aqua Kitty is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

An early review copy of Astro Aqua Kitty was provided to Indie Gamer Chick. Upon its release, Cathy paid for a copy of the game for a friend. All games reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are paid for.

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

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