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Game Review #090: The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John B.

Developer: YCJY Publisher: Digerati Category: Arcade, Action, Multiplayer Release Date: 01.03.19

Price (at time of review): $12.99

Buy The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human from the Nintendo eShop here.

YCJY brings us another crowdfunding success story with The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human for the Nintendo Switch. The game was originally released for PC and iOS devices in 2016; luckily, publisher Digerati picked it up for a Switch release this year. It’s a metroidvania style game that emphasizes exploration and atmosphere between extremely challenging boss fights. It’s a solidly built game with one glaring design flaw – but let’s get to that when we get to it.

Under the Sea

The environmental themes of The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human aren’t very subtle; the game’s prologue begins with the Earth’s surface becoming flooded, forcing humans to live underwater. In the year 2971, ships were sent to neighboring star systems to scout for habitable planets. Thousands (or more!) of years later, the Argo9 returns from its scouting mission with a lone survivor – you. The ship doubles as a submarine, which is convenient, as it lets you explore the underwater remains of human civilization. Along the way you’ll find upgrades for your ship and holotapes chronicling the downfall of mankind.

While the exploration aspects are well-executed and following the sequence of events that led to humanity’s destruction is interesting, the overall message of the game is somewhat messy. The game clearly believes in mankind’s effect on our environment, making the case that we need to take care of the planet better than we have been. But that message is muddied when you consider that most of the forward momentum of the game is based around attacking and destroying nature. Sure, some of the bosses are mutant monsters spewing poison, but some are just big animals protecting their home and/or offspring.

There’s no way to get around them and move the story forward or get their rewards without killing them. You also get some weapons that alter the landscape, which, again, seems to run counter to the game’s message of environmental responsibility. It’s a game that seems to be making the case that the moral thing to do is to not progress through it. Perhaps the game is trying to say that it doesn’t believe mankind will ever learn; perhaps it is issuing a challenge to its players to be better about taking care of the planet. It’s unclear, and this isn’t the only murky area of the game.

Life is Not Better Down Where It’s Wetter, Take it From Me

The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human takes the metroidvania format down to its barest essentials; exploration and boss fights. Exploring the ruined earth is a satisfying, darkly atmospheric experience. The different areas of the game’s map are distinct and diverse, full of wonderfully detailed remnants and ruins of civilization. You can open new paths by obtaining weapons from defeated bosses or by finding ship upgrades littered about. Some upgrades just give you more health or increase your regeneration, which is good too.

The boss fights… hoo boy. They are tough. Real tough. They take time and patience to complete. Most bosses can kill you in one or two hits, regardless of how many hull upgrades you’ve found. Finding the right strategy to get past a boss is only half the battle; being able to do it is something else entirely. Just on their own, the bosses are a huge challenge. Taken together with the game’s atmosphere, the boss fights often cross the line into frustrating. Parts of the atmospheric aspect of the game are the darkness and the unknown; that’s great for exploration, but in a boss fight it sometimes feels unfair. I can’t tell you how many times I died because I simply couldn’t see the action on the screen. Adjusting the game’s brightness didn’t really help. Playing on my TV, which traditionally handles darker games better than the Switch’s screen, didn’t help. When I fought a boss in a dark area, the experience changed from playing a game to something of a chore. Earlier I mentioned the game’s one design flaw, and this is it. Not every boss has this issue, but the ones that do grind the game to a halt.

Graphics Are Hotter Under the Water

The hand-drawn pixel graphics of The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human are a huge selling point for the game. The wonderfully imagined and exquisitely detailed backgrounds make the exploration aspects of the game more than worth the occasional frustration of the boss fights. The passing wildlife, the exotic plant life, and the decaying ruins of civilization combine for a wondrous and compelling visual style that will linger in your thoughts well after you’ve finished the game. The music is frequently tense and dark when the light is low, but thoughtful and slow in the light. Matching the soundtrack to the game’s physical atmosphere is a smart move that enhances the exploration aspects of the gameplay. Overall, the art design of the game is spot on.

We Got Some Troubles, Life is The Bubbles

The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human is a solid minimalist take on the metroidvania genre. It ditches platforming and action to focus on exploration and boss fights. It creates a fascinating atmosphere to explore and a rich history to discover. Its environmental themes are sometimes at odds with the gameplay goals, creating a somewhat confusing message. While the gameplay environment is captivating and beautiful, the darker parts of the world can make for unnecessarily frustrating fight sequences. I have to give the game full points for ambition, but the execution might need a little tweaking. Still, it’s a gorgeous and fascinating deconstruction of its genre that is well worth your time to play.

Final Score: 8/10

Buy The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human from the Nintendo eShop here.

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