When you think of cities under the sea, your first thoughts – at least if you’re a man-child like me – are of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, memories of playing football with sharks or even Ariel the little mermaid and that lobster chap with the singing voice. What we don’t think of is the total annihilation of the human race, crumbling traces of humankind under water and giant sea monsters out to kill you. The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human tells the latter story and I can promise you that there isn’t any underwater singing to be had from any cute lobsters.
Set in the year 2971, humans have been forced to live underwater, harvesting energy and growing food under the waves due to climate change, the rise of water levels and the Earth’s surface freezing over. Aquatic spaceships were then sent through a wormhole to look for other possible home planets. But as that didn’t go to plan, they are back to enter the Earth’s underwater depths to explore the tombs of humankind and find out where everything went so wrong.
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human is one of the smallest downloads I have ever had on Xbox One, but that doesn’t mean what’s in the package is substandard. In fact, it is far from it.
The game is set in a pixel world of under the sea glory, in the style of a Metroidvania game, and heavy on exploration and finding secrets. You start life in a normal submarine, but eventually gain more weapons like a harpoon, a saw, and a thrust ability, as well as hull upgrades to ensure you survive a bit longer. A basic set up sees you shooting and thrusting with the trigger buttons and initially this does take a bit of getting used to. But getting used to controls you have to do because there are some tough battles ahead.
Early on in your adventure, you come across a giant worm that will kill you instantly if you don’t use some nifty moves and get those harpoon skills going. You see, The Aquatic Adventure is essentially a series of big boss battles amid an exploration game that sees you trying to work out bits of a story from within some crumbling ruins. There are things to avoid – like plants spewing missiles and horrible sewage pipes – but in essence it’s all about the boss battles. But you’ll need to be careful because they are rock hard and you’ll die. A lot.
You’ll die so much in fact that The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human reminds me of the Dark Souls series, delivering hard battles with giant creatures while you’re left trying to work out their patterns. Whether you like this game will therefore all depend on whether you like a challenge or not, and if you don’t mind dying every two minutes. The good news is that the save points are plentiful and you won’t find yourself tracking back a lot. But, as an example, it has taken me more than fifty attempts to defeat the second boss, although it does get easier later on when you get used to the controls and access to all the tasty upgrades which make you much more powerful in your attacks. It is because of this initial difficulty that I did start to get frustrated with the boss levels and as I’m much more of a linear person, the lack of direction in the game didn’t agree with me at all. I hate wandering around aimlessly, even though this is one title that will provide you with some awesome secrets.
The story is told through a number of information stations dotted around the world. It gives hints of what has happened to the humans and it’s up to you to gather up the threads to put together a kind of narrative of the events. Also, it’s great to see the wreckage of old the cities lying around that provides a bit of story as well, with old robots, buildings and a broken McDonalds left desolate on the seabed.
The world is beautifully created in pixel design with some amazing effects – especially when you take in to account how small the download is. I love the bosses and the atmospheric plant and sea life, but the darker levels, the Pipe Centre especially, can get too dark and murky for the pixel definition, making progress a bit of a slog. In the sound department, we have a lovely, floaty soundtrack that is relaxing and stunning, whilst all the effects are work well within the context.
If you love this style of game and really like a tough challenge then I highly recommend The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human. I loved the world but found the repetitive nature of the boss battles not rewarding enough, whilst becoming frustrated at the lack of guidance. I must however applaud the developers at Y/CJ/Y for an amazing design to a game that is so small in its package, but achieves so much in its ambition.