It's been a few years but Aqua Kitty is back in a brand new spacefaring adventure and it's quite a treat for fans of arcade shooting.
I reviewed my first Aqua Kitty game way back in 2014 and a few years after that, I took a look at an enhanced edition of it known as Aqua Kitty UDX. Both of them are very fun shooters that feel like Eugene Jarvis' 1981 arcade classic Defender and they feature a cast of kitties which adds a layer of fun. Anyway, Astro Aqua Kitty follows its predecessors when it comes to core gameplay although it's a very different game overall due to its sense of exploration and RPG elements. Right off the bat, let me say that this new formula makes for one rewarding adventure that feels less arcade-like and more immersive and personal. Progressing through the somewhat large levels while exploring for goodies is satisfying stuff and once you acquire enough firepower to finally take down a boss, it feels awesome!
After choosing your pilot and engineer (I picked Scout and Repair because they're the cutest), you'll begin your quest. Controlling your submarine involves holding 1 of 2 buttons for your different equipped weapons and you can also unlock skills upon levelling up that you can assign to a few other buttons. Although you can freely move around, you'll have to switch direction often which allows you to shoot at enemies ahead of you as you move backwards and you also get a speed boost for moving forward. It's all extremely simple and intuitive and whenever you wish, you can enter the inventory screen where you can equip newfound weapons and devices with the latter providing boosts to your capabilities. Optimizing your loadout can be a lot of fun, especially when you figure out a combo that makes you a force to be reckoned with. Oh, and you'll also level up and amass gems that you can purchase new gear and upgrades with.
I'm happy that Astro Aqua Kitty involves as much exploration as it does since it sometimes feels like a Metroidvania because you obtain items that allow you to open certain doors or activate devices such as drilling machines that clear the path ahead. In fact, this element is implemented so well that I didn't want to leave any level as I figured I may have left something cool behind. Another solid implementation is the skill system where you unlock various active and passive skills; one for each level-up. However, you can only equip 4 simultaneously so tinkering around with what works best with your current loadout can be a lot of fun. Do you need more energy to power one of your weapons? Would a helper bot give you the winning edge? Will fully recovering your health every 70 seconds help? It's up to you.
Of course, one aspect of Astro Aqua Kitty that can't be ignored is its adorable game world. Not only is the character art charming, you'll also read many silly dialogue exchanges and witness lots of cute sights within stages such as little kitty faces in command towers and hanging out eating snacks. Meanwhile, the music is very synth-heavy and '80s-inspired which is a perfect fit for its retro-style gameplay.
Before wrapping this up, allow me to talk about Astro Aqua Kitty's less desirable aspects. The biggest annoyance that I faced while playing is the boss fights. It's not that they're too difficult; it's that you can be ill-prepared by not having a weapon that can damage it effectively. After clearing out an entire stage and realising that you can barely scratch the boss, you'll wander around the level while visiting each shop until you finally come across weapons that can do the trick. Once that happens, you'll still face a challenge but it'll be much more doable. On a similar note, some stages can be quite tedious because you may have to complete similar scenarios back-to-back or blast away at loads of rocks that are constantly in the way. Lastly, I found the environmental graphics to be a bit bland at times. Don't get me wrong; there are some lovely and detailed areas for sure but some parts could definitely use much more visual flair.
If you're looking for an intuitive arcade shooting adventure with rewarding RPG elements and a satisfying sense of exploration then you'll love what Astro Aqua Kitty has in store. Just make sure you stock plenty of weapons to deal with its impressively tough bosses.
- + Simple and satisfying Defender-style shooting with fun exploration elements
- + Adorable kitty-filled game world
- + Rewarding upgrade and weapon systems
- - Bosses are often a bit too daunting, especially if you're ill-prepared
- - Gameplay can be tedious in some areas
- - Environments could use some sprucing up