When the Tikipod team released AQUA KITTY UDX onto Xbox back in 2017, they managed to recreate an old-school Defender-styled affair, twisting it for the modern world, mixing in some cats and providing a fun time for all. Now though those same cats are heading to space, and with ASTRO AQUA KITTY a similar enjoyment level can be had. But this is no longer a Defender clone, for Tikipod have gone all out with a Metroidvania-styled action-shooter that manages to bring an altogether new experience in tow. It’s very good too.
ASTRO AQUA KITTY sees our friends the Aqua Kitty cats jetting off into space, looking for cookies and attempting to grab as much loot as they can. It’s a group of mysterious water-filled asteroids that are their calling and this colony of eight rocks plays host to the stages you’ll find yourself working through, all in the hope that you’ll be able to help the team grab as much loot as they can, or at least before the marauding pirate rabbits put paid to this adventure.
If you were a fan of AQUA KITTY UDX, then you may well be disappointed to hear that ASTRO AQUA KITTY plays out totally differently. Yes, for the most part the premise is similar – take to your sub and blast anything that moves – but from there the Tikipod team have gone to great lengths to separate the two titles.
In ASTRO AQUA KITTY you’ll initially find yourself choosing your crew, consisting of a Pilot and an Engineer. It is these two who will have back and forth conversations with each other, and with those they meet throughout their galactic adventures. Honestly, I’ve not found too much need to worry about the decisions found here though, and even though Pilots come in the form of Heavy, Scout, Chaos and Fighter, and the Engineer works the Repair, Defence, Gadget and Energy route, all with slightly different opening stats, it doesn’t take long before the RPG elements of ASTRO AQUA KITTY come to the fore and pretty much negate any starting benefits.
You see, maneuvering your ship/sub through the huge levels that play host to this adventure will see you taking down all manner of enemies, all of which are attempting to cause harm to you and your feline friends. Some will come at you at speed, whizzing around and firing off the odd salvo. Others sit in place or crawl the walls of the asteroid you are navigating, aiming homing missiles your way. More come armoured, or in packs, taking more hits than normal. The enemy variety is huge, with many foes coming your way as and when you make your way through each asteroid, solving puzzles, gaining experience and following the crazy but totally unneeded narrative and story as you go.
Thankfully then you and your felines have a sub that is more than capable of fighting back – in more ways than one. Standard RPG tropes of sub levels, battery power (required for weaponry use), damage capabilities, health, speed and more are all present, with a 16 slot cargo bay helping build out those stats. It’s here where every single weapon or device you discover and purchase begins to have a brilliant effect on your ship, doing away with the limits of your initial Pilot and Engineer choice to turn your sub into a feline fighting factory.
Two weapons can be assigned at any one time, and there are the likes of a Plasma Gun, Plasma Cannon, Torpedo, Proton Rifle, Laser Beam and more. Each of these fires off slightly differently too, with amendments in range, damage, critical hits and amount of battery drain all needing to be considered. Attached to the A and B buttons, with X and Y dictating further passive and aggressive skills like Fast Firing, the deployment of Sentry Guns, or even Holograms to distract enemies, and it’s easy to work with the arsenal at your disposal. Even more so when you understand that a tap of LB switches your sub in the x-axis orientation.
Further are four slots in your sub for your Devices; items that allow for a variety of scenarios. Mostly you’ll probably want to utilise the power of a Repair Droid, add a stronger hull, or a bigger battery pack to allow for more firepower. But again, much like with the weaponry, there are a huge range of items and Devices present throughout, and how you go about setting up your ship for each stage and level will probably dictate the amount of success you have. It’s easy to switch these on the fly too, so if you ever find yourself up against a challenge, a different tactical route is more than viable.
As progression is made, and as enemies are taken down and loot is found, your gems stack and XP grows. It’s here where more powerful weapon levels and Devices are so important, allowing you to balance things in the process. It’s important to know when to drop a new item in for maximum effect. The whole thing is helped massively by a brilliant checkpointing system in which docking at a save point not only fully recharges and heals your sub, but also lets you buy additional goodies from a shop, whilst also adding further gem-costing upgrades in terms of overall health, armour and energy. It is however pretty easy to become overpowered, especially in the opening stages, and you’ll possibly find that the difficulty curve of ASTRO AQUA KITTY is a smooth one. Get to the latter stages however and you’ll be glad you spent time working the grind, and making the most of the additional passive and active skills which can be implemented is critical.
The shop is well-stocked with every passing docking station, and even if you think you’ve found yourself a decent little loadout that is capable of carrying you to victory, there will be times when you need to mix and match options a little more. Purchasing various other weapons and devices if only in case they become needed is a tactic that should be considered.
This is no more true than when coming up against some of the end of stage bosses that frequent the asteroids found in ASTRO AQUA KITTY. These are huge affairs, full of grunts, covered in shields and with immense power. When you discover your screen is full to the brim with all manner of danger, there will be times when you need to switch up your usual tactics and weapon types to compensate for what they bring.
Much of ASTRO AQUA KITTY consists of heading out down different pathways, shooting, dodging and exploring every nook and cranny as you go. Blockages will need to be shifted with the help of folk you meet, quests will need to be commenced in order for progress to be made, and skipping back and forth across the asteroids’ maze-like structures is pretty commonplace. Thankfully, even though these stages are pretty large, and constantly refilling with respawning enemies, your sub handles brilliantly, with a decent speed and pace to allow for dodging or run and gun opportunities as you see fit. It looks good too, with crisp, clear, super colourful visuals allowing you to pick out danger, and rewards, at every turn.
At no point through this adventure will ASTRO AQUA KITTY ever feel like a burden, and thanks to the generous checkpointing nature, and equally great uncovering of the Metroidvania-type map, this is a game that you can easily jump into for five minutes at a time, or for as long as you wish. In fact, if you’re looking to really power your sub up, making it a full-on killing machine, a bit of grind and repetition works well, farming specific areas before moving on ahead. This isn’t a short adventure either, and whilst I’m sure that speedrunners will be able to make their way through everything it holds in a few hours, don’t be surprised if you find yourself heading well into double figures in terms of the hours spent with these little cats.
On the whole, ASTRO AQUA KITTY is as delightful a playthrough as the game which first spawned the adventures of these felines. But it’s not perfect and it’s an utter shame to see that every single boss fight results in some serious lag and slowdown. It’s strange too as throughout ASTRO AQUA KITTY everything plays super smooth, no matter how many enemies, rockets, lasers or bullets are found on the screen at once. But come a boss fight and not only do the initial throes judder into play as some fast quips and narrative burst out from the background, but upon destruction and success frame rates drop massively, so much so that you will be left sitting twiddling your thumbs for the action to start again. If ever a quick fix was needed to a game, this has to be it for the Tikipod team.
Other than that though, and the fact that occasionally you will feel like the grind is there just to ensure you’re left powerful enough to compete, ASTRO AQUA KITTY is a delight. It’s a well-thought out space-themed Metroidvania that will appeal to a range of players; especially those who revel in the micro-management of weapons, items and the percentage points they bring. If you liked what the kitties brought with AQUA KITTY UDX, this is going to please you on an altogether grander scale.
You can grab ASTRO AQUA KITTY from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S right now