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Thursday, 15 February 2018

Review: Aqua Kitty UDX


Review: Aqua Kitty UDX

Retro arcade blasting action with the addition of kittens, who doesn't like kittens!?



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Aqua Kitty UDX
TikiPod | Nintendo Switch | Digital Only
1-2 Players (Local Only)
Reviewed by: Curtis Chapman | 15th February 2018

Developers Commentary by: Dugan Jackson - TikiPod Ltd

* Review Code Provided by: TikiPod Ltd *





Nintendo Play is joined by Dugan Jackson, Founder of TikiPod Ltd, for the included Developers Commentary.


This week, Tikipod’s indie arcade shooter Aqua Kitty UDX docks at the port of the Nintendo Switch eShop, priced at £6.49. Will you help these poor kitties mine sea bed for sustenance, or are you just more of a dog person?

In an age when earth’s supply of milk has run dry, intrepid felines have found a new source of the white gold deep on the ocean floor. It falls to you to protect these brave kitties as they harvest the full-fat goodness from a seemingly robot infested deep blue sea. As silly as it sounds this is all the framing that this arcade-inspired shooter requires.

Levels are simplistic; with the game taking place on a wrap-around horizontal plane. One or two players must prevent the milk miners, stationed at 2 or 3 fixed points, from being abducted by JellyGrabbers, all the while dispatching of, and avoiding fire from, the myriad of robotic enemies looking to take you down. An on-screen radar alerts you to when one of your cats have begun their abduction, giving you until they have been plucked from the sea to attempt to rescue them. The radar does a good job of making the difficulty manageable, though ignoring all other enemies to make a b-line for your abductor is still the quickest way to end up in pieces.

Developers Commentary
Dugan: The original design was quite different, something more akin to a puzzle matching game involving shooting. We went through a range of experiments before ending up with gameplay we have now which is Defender-like. When we reached that point, we then turned to thinking how can we modernise that gameplay.So we made changes such as no longer needing to catch the falling abductees – adding weapon pickup systems – a secondary turbo fire gun which you need to learn to use in balance with the default submarine weapon – a selectable map allowing branching route choices (and the ability to retry levels at a whim) – varying sea level depths and so on.


Tikipod has opted for a strange hybrid of pixel artwork. With blockier 8 bit graphics featured in the games title, menus, level select map and some of the UI, and significantly higher resolution for all the main game assets (player, enemies, powerups etc). While independently they are both visually appealing, all of one style or the other would have been more preferable. The game’s music is spot on and controls are tight and responsive, with split joy-con play available if required.

Developers Commentary
Dugan: It was designed that way. As the game is a homage to old ‘80s arcade and console games it made sense to make the menus in that resolution, they have a certain retro charm. When you enter the game you then get crisp HD resolution pixel artdisplayed which really pops out by comparison. The HUD is kept in the menu resolution as a subtle stylistic visual method to separate the gameplay area from the foreground (if you look carefully this is the case for the far background underwater too – for the same reasons).



Aqua Kitty UDX Screenshot 1


The games main attraction, the Classic mode, features 25 levels of increasingly difficulty, with boss appearing every 6 or so levels. The main gameplay loop remains fairly unchanged throughout but later levels ramp up the difficulty to a point where it’s hard to find a safe space on the screen with all of the enemy bullets flying around. Power-ups appear on each level, either temporarily changing the pattern of your attack or dropping bombs to destroy everything in the vicinity. Defeating a boss permanently increases the amount of time you can activate your turbo fire for without needing a recharge, this, unfortunately, goes a way to unbalancing the difficulty and forces you to save highscore Leaderboard attempts to a later point when you have fully upgraded your ships turbo fire capacity.


Developers Commentary
Dugan: The levels are of course balanced with regards to the increase in firepower, as the key to success is to keep enemy waves from overwhelming you. The extra weapon power helps allow you to do this, and with due care you can reserve its use for tougher or large groups of enemies. Also with experience you can learn other important tactics – one example being the use of puffaboom enemy fish. Their explosions harm enemies and enemy bullets, allowing you to use their destruction as temporary shields, as well as offensive weapons.

Regarding leaderboards – to get higher scores you also need to practice your skills anyway. By replaying the earlier easier levels with increased power (and skills), you find it actually changes how they are played too which is great fun. .


In Arcade mode, the levels of the Classic mode are replicated identically with powerups being replaced by a gem currency that spawns instead of power-ups during play. At any point during the level, the player is able to purchase powerups that passively remain until the end of the game. It’s a small change, one that makes Arcade mode slightly more entertaining to play than Classic. It sadly does not do enough to differentiate itself from the Classic mode and the inclusion of some extra levels or further changes to gameplay mechanics would probably have remedied this.

Developers Commentary
Dugan: Arcade mode was created to add an extra level of challenge forthose who had completed the regular game (Classic mode). You get the ability to purchase powerups in a Gradius style, and keep them between levels this time. Once you are powered up it makes the level dynamic quite different too. Even simple things like adding vertical firing weapons means you can now worry less about the jellyfish (as an example), as they can be shot down at any time even whilst they are in the air.



Aqua Kitty UDX Screenshot 2


Both modes feature "Infinite Espresso", a survival challenge level with no kitten to save, just infinite waves of enemies to defeat. Playing this is not necessary to continue the level but attempting to best the modes leaderboard can become a welcome distraction from the main game.

The third and final mode, exclusive to the UDX version of the title, is Dreadnought. The mode tasks you with attacking an underwater submarine made of square blocks. Destroying enough of these blocks exposes the submarines core, allowing you to destroy the ship. The mode is initially a little confusing as the target times to complete each of the modes 13 levels are rather tight, requiring you to move at lightning speed to achieve them. Once you do, however, the mode becomes one of the most entertaining parts of the game.

Developers Commentary
Dugan: The target times are a guide only, they are not a deadline. On the first play the focus is just trying to take down the Dreadnoughts and stay alive, but as you gain confidence you can progress to attempting to beat the level times if you choose. Collecting the kittens in this mode becomes more important too as they refill any active weapon pickup timers that are active. Ultimately it’s all very flexible, depending on your personal play style.


Aqua Kitty UDX is a fun arcade title that doesn’t take itself too seriously, although the main gameplay loop is quite repetitive, with the optional Arcade mode not providing much in the way of alternate distraction, the addition of the Dreadnought mode provides enough variety to make it definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre.




Many thanks to Dugan for his discussion during this review.



FOR THE WIN OR FOR THE BIN?



+ Emulates the feel of 80's arcade classics.
+ Hectic fun with 2 players.
+ Large assortment of enemy types.

- Little variation between Arcade and Classic modes.
- Dreadnought Mode initially overwhelming.

Verdict: Above Average - Worth a Try



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