A canceled arcade game returns from the dead.
The fact Clockwork Aquario is a video game releasing in 2021 is a miracle. The game first started development in the early ‘90s, meant to be one of the final arcade games from Wonder Boy/Monster World developer Westone. However, it was canceled during development and thought to be gone forever. 30 years later, ININ Games and Strictly Limited worked together with some of the original team to finish Clockwork Aquario and release it, finally. The end result is fascinating, showcasing a gorgeous 2D platformer that was never meant to be. It only has five levels, but with three playable characters and a good deal of challenge, it’s worth experiencing.
You can play as one of three different characters: a boy named Huck Rondo, a girl named Elle Moon, or a robot named Gash. I don’t know why those are their names, but they’re great. It’s a straightforward platformer with a decent jump. Enemies are primarily defeated by stomping on top of them, but you can also stomp on an enemy and then pick it up to toss as a projectile. If you play in two-player co-op, you can even throw each other around. The stages aren’t super long and are split into two segments, with the first one culminating in a mini-boss and the second one ending in a big set-piece boss battle.
It’s a hard game, mostly because of the fact all it takes is two hits and you’re dead. You only have a limited amount of continues in every difficulty except for the training mode, which only includes the first two levels. The interface is confusing, making it a little hard to find out how to even start the game. For some modes, you have to enter the sub-screen and hold down the + button to play. It’s weird. Regardless of the interface, the game is a visual delight. It’s evident how this game was going to push arcade cabinets of the day in its 2D sprite-based splendor. This is a visual feast, topped off with some awesome boss battles.
The best thing about Clockwork Aquario is that it exists today. The story of how the source code was found and pieced together and filled in with help from the original team is incredible. As it stands, the game is just very short. The five stages have a high score element, but if you’re in it to explore the levels, beat the difficulty modes, and romp around it all with a friend, there’s still not a lot to do here. I’m happy I can say I played Clockwork Aquario, but outside of supporting game preservation, I can’t say it’s something you need to drop everything and play. It’s cute and fun, but more as a curiosity than a game to keep coming back to.