One genre that has seen plenty of releases on the DS family of consoles is that of pet simulation: all the fun of owning an animal without the expense, smells and responsibility. Next in line via DSiWare is The Aquarium of Luck, bringing the job of fish ownership to two screens. The title itself is strange, and we’d advise young children that survival of pet fish isn’t down to luck, but monotonous routine and cold, hard cash.
This title recreates those elements of pet simulation with remarkable realism and authenticity. The Career mode necessitates a routine of feeding and cleaning the fish, while also providing them with the occasional growth hormone for good measure. Career is the right word, as your goal of making the fish happy isn’t to feel love for your finned friends, but to simply move onto the next level, with a new aquarium tank and all new fish. When your aquarium’s statistics in Hunger, Cleaness — that’s the game’s incorrect spelling, not ours — Vitality, Growth Rate and Tank Happiness are maxed out, you move on without even looking back.
Once you realise that you’re not keeping these fish as pets but as a focused entrepreneur, it’s a case of getting down to business. Cash is used for basic supplies of course, but also to buy more fish and decorations, which provide an all important boost in happiness. Whilst using and purchasing items is all completed with minimal stylus taps, the threadbare manual does fail to provide some vital information. The first is that when you buy a new fish and put them in the tank, they appear as a set of bubbles until magically turning into a fish the next game-day. It also fails to tell you that when happy your fish drop items, they look like large scales, which you have to collect with your stylus. Without these it will take a long time to fill the happiness guage. It’s all a bit creepy and strange, plying fish with growth hormones, seeing them appear out of bubbles and picking up mysterious moulted scales to boost happiness.
Aside from these basic and peculiar steps, there’s not much else to do when looking after your fish. In fact, to progress to the next day — or at least that appears to be the effect — it’s necessary to play a simple match-3 puzzle game, which is also your only source of income. The task is to match up aquarium-related objects in order to remove the various coloured tiles, with the options of a relaxing non-timed mode that earns little money, or the more challenging timed mode that doubles your income. As you progress into later levels and aquariums, these puzzles can be pretty challenging. There’s the option to retry as many times as you like until you’ve earned some money, so the game’s only over when your patience has run out.
The final mode on offer is ‘Challenge’, involving yet more match-3 puzzles to unlock additional fish to purchase in your career. There are also three save profiles so no-one can take advantage of all your hard work: this title does encourage hard-nosed business practices, after all.
The presentation, meanwhile, is mediocre and far from memorable. The aquarium backgrounds are fine, though the actual fish are uninteresting cardboard cut-outs with minimal animation. Stock music plays inoffensively in the background, forgettable and perfectly suited to the humdrum activities. We’ll mention the manual once again to clarify that it is utterly useless, leaving you to interpret and understand this title’s strangeness all on your own.
The Aquarium of Luck is, ultimately, a very simple and uncomplicated game: basic resource management combines with an uninspired and repetitive puzzle game. A couple of graphical glitches and peculiar rules contribute to a surreal experience, while the concept encourages you to look after the fish, without necessarily caring about them: it’s a glorified fish farm. The gameplay is relentlessly mediocre and not worthy of your time.