Megaquarium is an indie management/simulation game from 2018 where you… build and run aquariums. Think Zoo Tycoon but exclusively aquarium animals. You start fairly simply with a few challenges that work as a tutorial. Each challenge starts with giving you a top-down view of your aquarium and a list of goals to accomplish to make it to the next challenge. They range from fairly easy, like just get x variety of different animals, all the way to more complicated, like not being able to expand your aquarium much (or even at all).
You have to balance animal health and happiness with your guests. Guests will need access to refreshments, entertainment, as well as a variety of animals to see. You also need to make sure you keep hiring staff to fill all the various roles. Animals need certain types of food, but a lot of their happiness is dependent upon how the aquariums themselves are set up. Some need hot water, some cold, salt vs. fresh, a lot of plants for hiding vs. a lot of open space. Finding a balance and making sure you have a variety without making your aquarium so large that it is hard to navigate for both staff and guests is an important part of learning this game.
The truth is if you’ve played these types of games before, then you know what to expect. Management games like this aren’t really the type to reinvent the wheel because there is no need to; the devil is more in the details.
Megaquarium really does succeed in a lot of those details. The graphics are not mind-blowing, but they are polished, and it looks good. The gameplay is smooth with few control issues. The camera movements aren’t my favorite, but once you adjust, it becomes easy enough. The challenges are interesting, with enough variety to keep it from feeling too repetitive, even though these games are by their nature a bit repetitive. There is also a pretty big difference in the difficulty of them. By the time you get to the final challenges in the game, you will be actually pushed a bit, and it can get difficult. More than once, I found myself having to start over because I had made poor choices. But you can learn and experiment with each challenge, and even when I failed, I was still having fun and coming up with plans for the next time.
I think where the game shines, though, is that it is prime for the community, and the developers still go back to it. There are a lot of mods for this game and even some DLC. The developers are also consistently addressing performance issues and making sure that mod integration works well. It really helps to make the game feel like it is still supported and growing even after all these years.
Where it kind of falters a little is some of the gameplay details. One of the biggest problems I have is that the player cannot actually complete tasks for staff like you can do in, say, Zoo Tycoon. I found myself at certain points getting frustrated because even putting staff in zones and over-hiring tasks were not getting done, and you can’t step in to help with AI shortages. Also, the fact that all guest amenities are basically vending machines kind of kills a bit of the look for me.
However, both of these things are not dealing breaking issues. I get why focusing more on the actual animals and aquariums would be a priority, especially for an indie game. Also, the challenge of not being able to do tasks for AI is part of the experience for some people. I tend to prefer when management games let you step in, but some people don’t, and that’s a preference thing.
Honestly, though, the bottom line with this game is whether or not you like these sort of simulators or not. I like the micromanaging and slowly building up, and I find these games pretty soothing. I also adore marine life, so I could play this game for hours nonstop. It is a touch up there in price, especially for some of the limited feel of it. But as I said, the game is still be updated and supported, and honestly, I would rather pay a little much for an indie game to support it, especially the good ones, than have the developers under price and eventually have to abandon it.
If you’ve never played a management game but are curious, especially because you love aquariums, then I would actually recommend watching for a sale on this game. It’s one of the easier to pick up, has great tutorials, and shouldn’t be too overwhelming (although some of the final challenges are pretty rough). Also, again the community is active, you can add a lot through mods, and you can find some good tips and suggestions if your lack of experience starts to overwhelm you. If you do already like management games and running aquariums appeals, I super recommend it. Like I said, this is one of my favorites, and I keep coming back to it years later.