Developed By: Westone (original), Ratalaika Games (re-release) Published By: Strictly Limited Games (Physical), ININ Games (Digital) Categories: Arcade, Retro, Platformer Release Date: 12.14.21
A Little History
It’s finally here. Clockwork Aquario was to be an arcade game developed by Westone, the developers of the excellent Wonder Boy games. The game started development nearly 30 years ago and was supposed to push the Sega System 18 arcade hardware to it’s limits. When looking at games that ran on it, yeah, it really did. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t really leave it’s location tests as by the time it would release in 1993-94, 3D games were starting to become the new big thing, and 2D games were seen as archaic.
Unless you were a lucky Japanese individual to play those loce tests back then, this game was probably going to be just another lost arcade game that never came out. Something depressingly more of a truth to many games that should be. In 2006, the OST for the game would be released for sale, but not much more info would be known until Westone director, Ryuichi Nishizawa would be interviewed for Hardcoregaming 101 by Kurt Kalata. More information about what the game actually was was revealed. Nishizawa would then go to searching for the source code.
This was in 2012. A little over 9 years to the day I’m writing. Strictly Limited Games would soon acquire the rights to salvage this game, as they would do for another game “Hardcore”, now known as Ultracore. It is now 2021, and the last arcade game Westone would ever make is now finally a reality. Finally playable and in people’s hands. Better yet, we’re getting a rad physical edition too. Was this game worth the wait though?
This is on What Arcade Board?
Lets get things out of the way. It makes sense as to why this game never got a proper arcade release. It’s short, and it’s not a quarter muncher, I can’t imagine Sega making money off of this game. It doesn’t feel like it’s just out to rob your money, which is a bit uncharacteristic of an arcade game, let alone a Westone developed game where early ones would have you on STRICT timers. Now that we can toss this under the rug…
I. Love. This. Game. There is just so much character flowing through Clockwork Aquario’s veins. Lots of colorful characters and enemies. Again, it’s insane how this game was suppose to be on Sega System 18 of all things. It definitely seems closer to something Saturn related than the Genesis. There’s even voice acting for the characters, and beating the final boss even has your characters do win voices to the music, a great touch. Nothing about this game feels budget or unfinished too. Just short.
You have three characters to play as. The shonen anime esqe- Huck Londo, the cute Elle Moon, and the Robot Gush. Each have their own unique design,voice clips, and enemy drops will change color depending on who you play as, just as an added touch. On a gameplay front, they’re really not very different, but we’ll discuss that later. Clockwork Aquario employs health like Ghosts n Goblins. That is to say, two hits and you’re out. You also show some battle damage when you’re hit once. I always like that touch in games, just as a nice visual cue to show that you need to take things a bit more serious.
Lets Go West
Onto gameplay proper. Clockwork Aquario is a side scrolling platformer. You jump, punch, and can grab stunned enemies to be tossed. This is shown in the intro. You’re gonna see two sorts of enemies. The harmless, point and combo builders that are balloons, and everything else. The balloons take a single hit, but the enemies that can actually hurt you take two. What you want to do is either hop on or bop on enemies to stun them (turn them blue), then toss them at another enemy for a quick kill, or into those rows of balloons for lots of points and maybe even an item drop.
Items dropped can be gems (colored per your character) that when collected can give you an extra life, healing potions, which can recovery you if you’ve been hit once or be thrown if you’re healthy, or stars, which turn you invincible and able to shoot nice spread shots. In certain situations, this item makes even the toughest sections a walk in the park. Especially bosses and minibosses. The latter usually being closer to just bigger, meaner looking versions of common enemies of a stage.
Big and Not So Bad
Bosses are a bit of a spectacle, though maybe a bit too easy. I’ll say it’s easy to die to them, but if you know what you’re doing, the bosses are a piece of cake. This is for a handful of reasons. Bosses, much like other enemies can be hurt by being jumped on, punched, or having a stunned enemy (or bomb) thrown at them. This is how you’re supposed to kill them, learning patterns and all. If you play on an easier difficulty, you can just bum rush a boss, take the damage, then when you respawn, you’ll have a pretty long invincibility, so you can punch them even more. On a certain boss, if you can jump on it’s head at a certain moment while it’s moving up, the boss will go down in seconds. Despite this, bosses all look great and the final boss is pretty tricky.
Under The Sea
The story is somewhat bare here, with an intro motion comic in the attract mode about how the evil Dr. Hangyo is taking over the world. Taking over the military, launching missiles, destroying monuments…kicking down a sand castle. The monster. You’ll need to go deeper and deeper into the sea to show this jerk who’s boss.
What kind of arcade game doesn’t allow for multiplayer? Clockwork Aquario sure does. You even get a bonus balloon popping stage exclusive to playing with a friend. So which one of you will play as Gush? Playing together even lets you get a little mean and toss your friends around.
Shinichi Sakamoto’s work on music is once again fantastic. At the very least, if we never got this game, at least his music got a wide release over a decade ago. You can even listen to the music whenever outside of the game. On top of that, there’s a bunch of remixes, even some new ones from Sakamoto.
We Stop at Port Ratalaika
Before launch, I had to wonder who was the developer in charge of this port. Turns out, it’s Ratalaika. If this was last year and I had only experience Turrican Flashback, which was rather buggy with crashes, I’d be concerned. However, their recent ports of Masaya and Success’ games, of which I have all reviewed(so far) have been spectacular. Clockwork Aquario is no different, and this time it has bonuses like a music player and concept art gallery. There’s some unlockables too such as playing that bonus stage whenever and playing an incredibly accurate arcade version. By accurate, I mean you can fiddle with the things that arcade managers and developers would. It’s great and I’d love to see this more often.
That said, there are some odd quirks with this. There is no controls page in options. Yes, you only use two buttons, but the game isn’t exactly clear as to how you grab enemies. FYI, you just stun and walk into them. I assume the manual that comes with the physical edition will cover this. One quirk I DO like is the fact you need to beat the game legitimately, on any difficulty before you unlock that Arcade mode, which allows you to credit feed. This is kind of standard for Ratalaika releases. Beat the game, then you can goof around.
Coming Up to Shore
So, is Clockwork Aquario, Westone’s arcade swan song worth the wait? Yes. There is no understating how important the work that Ratalaika and Strictly Limited Games did. Bringing a long cancelled game back from the dead, and then bringing it to modern consoles AND giving it a physical release. In a way, it makes me think about my writing career as a whole. I started with Unseen64, a website all about games like this, which is my passion. I would then write for HardcoreGaming101, which I’d say is the whole catalyst for this game even getting released in the first place. This game was made for me. It’s almost as if I was meant to review it. This game finally coming out means something to me.
Buy this game. Any issues I have are mostly from small oversights in the front end and not the actual game. Things like length and difficulty are a preference, not a flaw. Though maybe I’ve glued on the rose tinted glasses due to me following development. So go into this, expect a fun, colorful lost game, you’re going to get one.
Buy Now: $19.99 Digital – $33.99 Physical – $78.99 Collectors – $145.99 Ultra
*Game Download Code graciously supplied for the purpose of review