Aquaria is a beautifully detailed game of exploration from independent developer Bit Blot. You control the restless young Naija, a curious underwater dweller who sets out to discover her world. The ocean is teeming with mysterious caverns to explore, strange sea creatures (some friendly, some otherwise), and troves of ancient secrets buried by time. Aquaria is as much about interacting with and exploring the environment as it is telling a story. And it does both with a level of beauty rarely seen in independent games.
The controls in Aquaria are simple and can be customized to your liking, but the default mouse setup usually works best. Simply point-and-click where you want Naija to swim. Tapping the left mouse button gives you a boost or lets you kick off walls for a little extra speed, while the right mouse button brings up the song menu. With these songs, Naija can use the mysterious force called the Verse to alter her environment, learn new abilities, attack foes, and even change form.
Playing Aquaria is a much deeper experience than a romp through your typical video game. Every aspect, from the music and artwork to the setting, level design, and gameplay, is crafted around exploration, discovery and intrigue. You'll spend most of your time swimming through caverns exploring the undersea world. There are loads hidden caves to find, some of which offer treasure, others nothing more than a beautiful piece of scenery. Just about every inch of the in-game world is screenshot worthy, making this quite possibly the best-looking independent game ever released.
While anyone can immediately pick up Aquaria and start to play, it takes some time for the experience to really sink in. You won't be truly hooked until an hour or so in when the story and gameplay really begin to heat up. And if the simple premise of exploration isn't enough to draw you in, Aquaria includes a number of extras to entice you back for more, such as an in-game cooking system that lets you combine ingredients to create more powerful items. The full version even includes a level editor!
Analysis: When it comes down to it, there really are no major faults in Aquaria. The whole experience is conveyed extraordinarily well from every possible angle. You can nitpick it, of course, and find a number of minor points that some players take issue with (such as Naija's slow swimming speed or the similarity of the colors on the song grid). But really, if the Knytt/Metroid-esque style of exploration game appeals to you, picking up Aquaria is a no-brainer.
While the game itself may not be a revolution, the individual accomplishments in game design add up to something that's truly a grand experience. The sense of wonder and amazement never stops in Aquaria, and each moment of discovery is as fulfilling as the last.