Aqua Kitty is a game about cats harvesting milk from the floor of the ocean. Turns out, it’s the only place left to obtain the delectable drink, and these kitties are so dependent on it that they’ll overcome their fear of something they despise even more than dogs – mass amounts of water. Mining operations are now fully functional, but unfortunately things have gotten a bit fishy as the robotic-oceanic inhabitants are hell-bent on eradicating your presence from their domicile. Get ready to put your furry little mittens on the controls of a combat-ready submarine to make sure this doesn’t happen.
The simplistic approach to the gameplay is reminiscent of classic arcade shooters like Centipede and Galaga, while functioning more like R-Type and other horizontal-scrolling shooters – basically, just move and shoot everything standing in your way. It’s accessible but also requires a great deal of persistence to master. Mix in the element of defense, as you’ll need to protect your feline brethren that are harvesting the milk, and there is a nice added sense of urgency to the gameplay.
You see, mixed in with all of the robotic-looking fish that want nothing more than to blast you out of the water, there are also jellyfish that want to snatch up the kittens working on the ocean floor. Once a jellyfish has grabbed hold of one, it’ll slowly make its way to the surface, and you’ll have the shoot it down before it leaves the playing area. The ultimate goal in each level is to stop all kitties from being captured, but as long as one remains on the ocean floor, you can still finish the match.
All of this action takes place in a confined area that you’re free to traverse at will. At the top of the screen, is a map that allows you to see the location of yourself, enemies, and those hardworking kittens you’re trying to protect. Going past the left or right edge of the map will bring you to the opposite side, in a seamless manner – unless you’re looking at the map, you wouldn’t even noticed that this happened.
To those unfamiliar with this style of game, it’s worth knowing that there isn’t much diversity to the gameplay. Every level in Aqua Kitty plays exactly like the last and the only variance is the addition of different – and usually tougher – enemies as you progress through the campaign. This isn’t a knock against the quality of this product, but a warning that repetitive, high-score setting games like this, aren’t for everyone – so keep that in mind before diving in.
Controls are fairly simple; movement of the submarine is relegated to the joystick or D-pad while projectiles are mapped to the A and B-buttons. Pressing or holding A will fire a standard machine-gun attack, which has unlimited ammo, and pressing B will fire a more powerful burst attack that quickly depletes, but regenerates in time. One thing that is a tad different here is that the bumpers (LB and RB) are used to change the direction you’re facing. This is a nice implementation because being able to face a single direction and back-up, without turning around, lends to better precision – which is essential by mid-point in the game.
There are levels 23 levels available. In theory, playing straight through all of these levels shouldn’t take long, however, there’s an extremely dense challenge here, so practice will become a necessity if you want to see this one through to the end. Seriously, this game is old-school hard – just wait until the entire screen is covered with enemies and bullets. Also, there’s a level that allows you to face off against unlimited hordes of enemies until you run out of lives. This is a nice alternative for those who just want to blast away at stuff or set high scores without the added responsibility of protecting anything.
As simple as the graphics appear to be at first glance, they’re also immensely charming. Your submarine and the enemies may be a bit small on the screen but the amount of pixelated detail on show is surprising. The subtle shades of blue used in the backgrounds, which consist of water and sky, allow the vivid colors of the various enemies to really pop – especially the effective use of orange and red. The only downside is that the stages mostly look identical and offer little variety. But does it really matter? Not really in a game like this that’s dependent on fun gameplay – which it absolutely has.
The awesome chiptune soundtrack is also a notable highlight of this already special package. Most of these songs are highly memorable and vaguely remind us of some of our favorite scores from the days of the SNES. Ambient, driven, and sometimes mesmerizing to the point of eliciting goosebumps – refer to level select music – this is an impressive job all around.
Exclusive to the Xbox 360 edition of Aqua Kitty is local co-op mode, which allows you and a buddy to work together to protect the mining operation. Both players will share one screen which can be a bit restrictive at times considering you must be heading the same direction to scroll the screen side to side – there is no zooming in or out of the viewing area. It functions well enough, but you must be verbal about which direction you need to head next if you want to succeed. That said, it would’ve been nice for some sort of split-screen action, though we understand how that might not have functioned ideally in a game like this.
Aqua Kitty can be downloaded from the Indie section of the marketplace for only 240 Microsoft Points, and while admittedly it’s not for everyone, it’s worthy of the small asking price to find out if it is something you’d enjoy. Just be sure to have your catlike reflexes finely tuned – this is one tough kitty.
Aqua Kitty is one of the finest indie games you’ll find on the Xbox Live Marketplace. If you’re a fan of horizontal shooters, and can handle a seriously old-school challenge, this is a must have – even more so when considering the criminally low asking price. There might not be much variety here, but when everything is this refined, it doesn’t really matter. Download Aqua Kitty as soon as you have a chance, and be sure to milk it for all it’s worth.