It's nice when you play a game that's focused on delivering one thing, and delivering that thing well, as opposed to a more ambitious vision that's never realized. Aqua Kitty UDX is the perfect example of this, presenting a straightforward gameplay style that's wholly unoriginal, but also extremely polished. It's an absolute blast to play, it looks great, and there's lots of replayability, although this all comes at the cost of gameplay diversity. Regardless, Aqua Kitty hits all the right notes, and is a release you won't want to miss out on.
Gameplay in Aqua Kitty UDX follows that of a traditional arcade shooter, particularly in the vein of Defender; your job is to defend the kitties mining milk underwater from the waves of robotic undersea creatures that wish to defend what’s theirs. Enemies attack the cat miners from all sides, and the screen wraps around itself; if you keep moving in one direction long enough, you’ll find yourself back where you started. A helpful map on the top of the screen displays where all enemies are at a given point, which can help greatly when a cat yowls as it’s snagged by a jellyfish. If all the cats get kidnapped, or if you take too much damage, you lose.
The simplicity of this design is one of Aqua Kitty’s strongest suits; it offers up a straightforward approach to this genre and executes it flawlessly. Stages rarely feel unfair, yet they usually feel suitably intense, striking that perfect balance in pacing. More often than not, the screen will be positively overloaded with enemies -many of which are firing their own shots at you - yet it never feels like you can’t manage the situation. This is helped in no small part by the controls, which are satisfyingly tight and easy to pick up. Though each stage is nearly indistinguishable from the last in term, the mechanics in place keep things from feeling too stale.
Fortunately, you have some room for strategising when it comes to how you push the offensive. Your ship has both a standard pea shooter and a much more powerful tri-shot, though this latter option is restricted by a cooldown. In addition to this, your ship can take on a series of upgrades obtained from shooting certain enemies, ranging from multi-directional shots to additional satellite cats that double your firepower. Depending on the game mode, these upgrades are governed by either a cooldown or upgrade points, but their effects are the same, regardless. Though these enhancements are rather rote, they sufficiently help make the player feel empowered, and allow for one to customise a ship according to their playstyle.
Aqua Kitty features three separate game modes, each of which are essentially just riffs of the same formula. Classic Mode sees you moving across a world map, clearing out stages one at a time, with a few boss battles tossed in for good measure. Should you fail a stage, it can simply be restarted from the beginning, and the focus is on completing all stages with all cat miners intact. Arcade Mode is almost the exact same thing, but you’re given one life to get as far as you can. In addition to this, upgrades are obtained by spending points you collect from shooting certain fish, and these upgrades can be carried over into other stages. Dreadnought mode mixes things up considerably, dropping the 'protect the cats' objective in favor of a more offensive one. Here, enemies come in constant waves, and you must take down a large enemy ship by weaving your way through it while blasting away components. Once you’ve done enough damage, the ship’s core is exposed, and its destruction results in the stage being cleared.
What will perhaps come as a disappointment to some is the perceived lack of content being presented here, though we’d argue that’s approaching it from the wrong angle. Yes, the three modes on offer are largely the same thing, but they each have their own charms and differences that they feel justified. The point of Aqua Kitty is to be a score chaser first and foremost, and in this regard, it absolutely delivers. You’ll forever be challenged to get a better score than you did, or to make it farther on another arcade run. The quickfire nature of stages - in any game mode - perfectly hit that ‘one more try’ feel, and you may find yourself often replaying a stage you just beat in an effort to score better. Still, for those of you that aren’t enamored with the core gameplay, there’s little else here that you’ll find appealing.
From a presentation perspective, Aqua Kitty UDX excels; this is a charming and pretty game to look at. The story follows a world ruled by cats facing a global milk shortage crisis, which is solved when underwater milk reservoirs are discovered. As you’ve probably guessed, this is a game that doesn’t take itself seriously at all, but that’s a great strength; it’s pretty tough not to smile when a cute cat in a captain’s hat is explaining mechanics to you with the ‘cat speak’ that’s so popular in internet memes. The art style is characterized by an exceedingly detailed hi-bit look; every sprite is meticulously crafted and well animated, and impressively vibrant colors are used to bring it all to life. Indie developers go the route of pixel art all too often, but it’s nice to see efforts like this that are so focused on delivering high quality, detailed art. The music is similarly satisfying, filled with chiptunes and synthesizers. It’s catchy, irreverent, and upbeat, matching the action and tone perfectly.
For those of you that have a friend on hand, local two player co-op is available across all game modes, and this makes the experience even more enjoyable, though considerably easier. The split Joy-Con support makes this game perfect for on the go sessions; it honestly feels like one of the best realisations of the concept yet. With controls that take seconds to learn and stages that can be cleared in a few minutes; this is certainly a great showcase of Switch’s versatility. It can be great fun coordinating strategy with a friend and surviving a round by the skin of your teeth, and although the game generally feels easier with another player present, that just serves to encourage you to explore higher difficulty levels.
All told, Aqua Kitty UDX is a simple, satisfying arcade shooter that looks as great as it plays. It takes one concept, offers a few different angles on it, and ensures it fulfills all that it sets out to do. We’d give this one a strong recommendation to anyone looking for a game that’s easy to pick up and play, this is pure, arcade fun. This is also a one trick pony, though, which means that those of you that aren’t big on score chasing games will want to steer clear. Even so, Aqua Kitty UDX is a game that exemplifies the concept of less is more; we’d encourage you to give this one a look.