For this game review, I will be writing about the PC game, Insaniquarium. Insaniquarium was a winner of the Excellence in Design category of the Independent Games Festival (IGF) back in 2002. It is an old PC game, and when I first got the game, it was on a CD. The game was build on PopCap Games’ proprietary game engine. It was developed by Flying Bear Entertainment, and published by PopCap Games
Insaniquarium does not have it’s own official website. Here is an embedded video of a sample of the gameplay.
A farming game, but like, with fishes
The game is set in a fish tank. You buy and feed fish. When the fish grow to a substantial size, they will begin pooping out coins, which you have to collect. You can have up to 3 special pets in each level in the tank as well, and each pet has a special ability that helps you in maintaining the tank.
Once you have amassed enough money, you can buy upgrades, such as better fish food, more creatures that poop out diamonds that help you earn more money, etc. In essence it is a farming game, where at every level you have to begin farming from scratch.
The ultimate goal of the game is to buy eggshells to create a full egg to unlock special pets.
The challenge in the game, is to keep clicking to keep the fishes fed and alive, and also to kill any aliens that spawn in the tank. They spawn at any random location in the tank, and if they may eat or kill your fishes upon touching them.
This is a short bullet point of my gameplay experience playing 1 level
- Feel anxious when the music fades and the alarm sfx comes on when the alien comes
- I feel very frustrated when the aliens eat my fish
- When aliens eat the prince fishes (fishes that turn blue after a long time of being alive) I feel devastated
- In the harder levels, I feel stressed when multiple aliens come out and the fishes blindly swim towards the aliens to their deaths
- I feel relief when the level ends when I finally manage to buy all the eggshells
- I feel curious, excited and motivated at each level to unlock the new pets
Lens #1: The Lens of Emotion
First of all would be the lens of emotion. This game employs it a lot, and I definitely felt it when the aliens come out and start targeting my fishes. There is anxiety and frustration, but also a sense of relief and satisfaction after you kill the alien and see it explode with the sound effects.
Lens #4: The Lens of Surprise
The lens of surprised is used also in the alien spawning mechanic of the game, the alien spawns randomly and you have no idea where it will be, so you’ll always have to be on standby to click and blast the alien away from all the fishes. This element of surprise makes the game more exciting and challenging.
While surprised is used in the challenging aspects of the game, it is also used in rewards. At the end of each level, after collecting each eggshell, the egg will hatch into a surprise pet that you may employ in your tank in future levels. The surprise lies in seeing what the pet looks like, and its special abilities (being able to feed fish, being able to help you kill aliens faster, etc.)
Lens #9: The Elemental Tetrad
Considering aesthetics, technology, mechanics and story…
The game gets a 10/10 for aesthetics, I feel. The movement of the fishes are very realistic, and the art style of the fishes, aliens and UI of the game are consistent. The animation is smooth, and really gives the feeling that the fishes are swimming in water.
For technology, as the game is very old, it does not require a lot to run the game. The game could even run on a raspberry pi. No controllers or other gear are required, as the only control in the game is by clicking using a mouse. As the game is relatively simple in graphics and does not have any insane installation requirements, there is not much to say on how the technology used by the game helps to enhance it.
The mechanics of the game revolve around protecting your fishes and keeping them alive, because the more fishes you have, the more money you will earn as the fishes are constantly pooping out money. The motivating factor for this, is the many upgrades and new aquatic creatures you can purchase in each level. Higher level aquatic creatures may eat your fishes, however in exchange they poop more expensive items such as diamonds or pearls.
Gaining more money as fast as you can can allow you to buy more eggshells to complete the egg and end the level. Players are motivated to continue on to complete every level, in order to complete the full collection of pets.
While the mechanics are great for making an entertaining game, there is a lack of story in the game. The end goal is just to collect all the pets, and there is no storyline. There is a final boss at the last level of the game, but there is no mention of the origins of the final boss, or even why there are aliens spawning in the tank. While the game is already good without a storyline, having a story in the game would give more meaning to the end goal of the game.
Lens #23: The Lens of Motivation
The end goal of each level is to get 4 eggshells that help to make one egg. Once you get the egg, the level is complete and the surprise pet is revealed. The game shows and motivates you towards your end goal by showing your progress in buying the eggshells, right next to the amount of money you’ve collected in the game.
Lens #39: The Lens of Meaningful Choice
Before the start of every game, you are prompted to choose 3 pets from your collection of pets, to have in your tank in the next level. Each pet has a special ability, and based on the tank and types of aliens that may appear, you have to make an informed choice: Which are the most useful pets that’ll help me get to the next level in the most fastest and efficient way? It depends on your play style, and priorities (time, being less stressed about aliens, earning more money ASAP, etc.)
In the middle of the game, upgrades can be purchased. With limited funds, players have to make an informed choice on what upgrades to purchase that’ll help them advance further in the game. The decision making is important as some upgrades are less productive than others. Ultimately, it’s about buying the eggshells.
There are a lot of good lenses used in this game, that help to make the game more interesting, as a farming type of game. There are more that I have not mentioned here due to the page limit, however as good as this game is, there are still some things lacking. That’s why nobody plays this game anymore and it’s considered dated.
One of my gripes with this game is that, there is really only one barely visible goal here, which is to collect all the pets available in the game. There is no story, while there is a final boss, there is no mention as to why we have to defeat this boss, before I reached the final level I never even knew there was even going to be a boss.
As a kid, I never thought much about all these things, which made this game the best game ever to me. Looking through the lenses of game design, while this game has interesting and exciting mechanics, it’s not something I would play again once I’ve defeated the boss.