In my many decades of gaming, I’ve learnt to give anything and everything a go. I’ve also learnt to never let the title of a game throw out prejudices prior to actually spending some time with what is promised. But when you see a game arrive that promises turtle racing in its title, then you would surely expect some underwater turtle based racing events to keep you busy. And as a big racing fan, whether I’m behind the wheel of the latest supercar, or trying to frantically navigate a sea creature around the largest ocean, I care little. Racing is racing.
Not with this game though. And in fact, after spending a few hours with Akuatica: Turtle Racing, completing its single player story, participating in a tacked on additional mode that best represents the name, and showing my friends the way to go in the local multiplayer option, I still have absolutely no idea what is going on, why the game is called what it is, or what on earth was going through the mind of the team behind it throughout the development of the game.
That’s not because it’s all bad though. In fact, I’ve enjoyed playing Akuatica Turtle Racing. However, even with the fairly low price point that it comes with, I’m still finding it very hard to recommend. You see, the confusion found within the gameplay will probably turn many away, and if that doesn’t, then the slightly dodgy control scheme certainly will. And that would be a bit of a shame really as the game itself is a weirdly delightful little playthrough.
The main draw of Akuatica: Turtle Racing is that of a single player story mode in which you get to take control of a fish. A very clever fish. Making your way through multiple short stages, you’ll be tasked with solving puzzles, fighting off enemies and just trying to get to the end of each before your fishy life is made extinct. With all movement tied to the left thumbstick, and a strangely simple yet convoluted attack system on the right, it doesn’t take much to swim and splash your way through the well designed puzzles that are placed in front of you.
You will find a bit of frustration mind, and that is because an awful lot of what is found within this game boils down to full-on trial and error. Why you are placed in control of this fish, and what exactly your end goal is, is rather difficult to determine, as the story is played out through strange fish fuelled conversations, before you find yourself swiftly sent on your way to the next puzzle. Even once you’ve nailed each of the stages, you’ll still be left confused as to what all the bother was about.
See, occasionally you’ll need to swim at breakneck speed to avoid swarms of bigger, badder fish, whilst at other times you’ll be requested to take your time, escorting baby turtles back to the safety of their mother or attempting to get a submarine to shoot itself with homing missiles. You’ll also get to jump into the hotseat of a small tank, or train, navigating stormy waters whilst trying to hit action boxes or save baby birds from utter death, all with the help of your floating cursor-cum-dagger. Yes, if you have no idea what I’m on about then you are not in the minority. I’ve played the game thoroughly and still have no idea.
For all its delightfully strange ways, it is this attack and action system which really lets Akuatica down from the get go though. Controlled by the movement of your right thumbstick, the constantly flashing arrow is clunky to move around, occasionally seeing it latch onto a target whilst at other times it will happily ignore anything you are trying to fight back against. Even then, once you think you’ve got a target in your sights, you’ll find that the scroll of the screen will be enough to leave you failing to ever hit the target, leaving your scaly friend to sink to the bottom of the ocean in the flurry of a death sequence.
Not that dying has any real impact on the game mind you as the combination of super quick stages, and the fact that any you find yourself struggling with can be skipped without a care in the world, will see you completing the story of Turtle Racing before you even realised it has begun. In fact, the 27 or so levels that are in place will only really take you a couple of hours to complete. Less once you understand how each one works.
There is also no fluidity to the stages, and just as you get to grips with the swimming aspect, and understanding how being a fish really works – something that Akuatica does very well – then you’ll find yourself needing to ditch those skills for an on-rails target shooter, or boss encounter. It would have been great to have been treated to a simple little walkthrough without all the randomness – and that is something that could have given Akuatica Turtle Racing a bit of an identity. But it doesn’t, and even though the visuals and audio are rather delightful, it comes across as a confused little beast.
And then we have the multiplayer. Well, in fact, we have the multiplayer mode and an even stranger, even more ridiculous, single player version of the same mode. See, even now, I have absolutely no idea why on earth it has been included and, more to the point, what the whole idea behind it is. From what I can gather, and very basically put, Turtle Mode gives you the chance to put your fish skills to the test as you attempt to rid a turtle’s back of numerous fish – and other strange items. To do so, you need to skip your way around a hotchpotch of an area, placing your fish on the same tiles as other fish, collecting coins as you go.
But if the opponent is bigger than you, then it will be game over. To rid the turtle of these guys, you’ll need to drop a bomb onto the tile prior to the fish landing. It’s a very simple process, and even though the waves of fish increase, the bombs you have access to decrease and the action gets a bit more frantic with every passing minute, at no point does it ever see progress being made, or come across as ‘fun’. ‘Confused’ yes, but not fun.
The multiplayer side of this tasks you with doing the exact same thing, but this time in a race to the end against a local sofa based friend. Again, it is strange at best and whilst the initial intrigue is probably big enough to draw you and a mate in, it won’t be long before you are bored of the whole thing. The fact that the controls in navigating your fish around the board are clunky at best certainly doesn’t help, and with the usual cursor/dagger attack system already proving cumbersome, it doesn’t ever allow for free flowing action.
Akuatica: Turtle Racing is a very strange game. The main single player element is worth a playthrough – and the price pretty much dictates that you may as well give it a go – but clunky controls and a tacked on Turtle Racing mode that never sees any turtles raced, really does bring nothing but bewilderment to the table. By all means give it a go, but don’t expect to find yourself ever going back to it once the story is over.