Just imagine it, alright? Your entire world underwater.
Lost in time, forever forgotten, drowned and left behind for some crude crew of another world, galaxy or universe to find. Pretty terrifying, right? Although the most likely outcome would be that you’re never found in reference for the rest of time, and the best bet is that you’re an interesting skeleton to look at if deep sea divers find you in a compromising pose. Stupid shit to continue, The Aquatic Adventure of The Last Human.
This is a Metroidvania from Swedish duo Y/C/J/Y, who’ve been at it since 2016. Their first title was an “EP” known as Keep Walking, with The Aquatic Adventure following shortly after, and Xbox One and PS4 ports of it arriving recently this year. They currently have two games in the works, Keep Driving and Sea Salt, but that’s then and this is now. What’s The Aquatic Adventure about?
You play as a human, who sets off in their rocket ship submarine in the year 2980. After flying into a wormhole sitting outside the Solar System, the world waits for you… for 18,000 years. By then, everything’s been submerged in ice and water, and now it’s down to you to either find someone else or some of the ravenous fish who have been causing a mischief.
The word “annoying” gets thrown around a lot, usually by me, due to the field of games I involve myself in, and The Aquatic Adventure is no exception. It’s an annoying game to sit through, it’s an obnoxious game to play, and the pacing is phenomenally boring. It’s all these things and more, and the best part is that it didn’t even start this way.
Once you slam down into the ice sheet and begin to traverse these harsh waters, the tone is immediately set, thanks to an absolutely BRILLIANT soundtrack from Landfall Games’ Karl Flodin. You’ve got this wasted, nihilistic world laying at the bottom of the ocean, no one around but you to appreciate its apocalyptic beauty, and it’s all set to this hauntingly soothing score.
“Welcome Home” is a perfect way to begin your adventure. The endless underwater valleys echoing the song for miles, making you feel like you’re going to be on this sea trip for a while. It’s a melody that seemingly goes on forever, and the bangers don’t stop coming. As you keep going, the music continues to keep this ocean vibe, with drowned-out synths taking over most of it.
I think it needs to be overstated just how sublime this soundtrack is. There is not a single song here that doesn’t overstay its welcome, or contrast with the game and its themes of loneliness and isolation. It might be the best soundtrack of the year, and with that, brings the first complaint: The fact that the sound design disregards this completely.
Don’t you just love having sliding scales in your game? Isn’t it great to just find the sweet spot of how you want your game to sound? No-one at Y/C/J/Y thought of this apparently, because you can only have the SFX and music either on or off completely. A tough break, because the soundtrack would be great if I could hear it underneath the explosions and weapons, and the audio telegraphing of the monsters attacks would be great to hear if I could just tweak the options. So you have two options: “Deaf”, or “Deafening”.
However, that’s the least of your problems. For a Metroidvania, you’re not getting a lot of bang for your buck. The map layout seems to be huge at first, with there being four main districts being where you’ll spend most of your time, but there’s nothing to do in them. There’s small tidbits of information that’s scattered around the areas, but almost all of these are poorly written, or quotes without context. The only concrete fact I could find was that there was a terrorist organisation attacking the cities. Were they responsible? I’unno.
Y/C/J/Y have said that they wanted to shed light on our influence on nature, which is a bold motive to have, even if it never shows up in-game. It’s also quite a moot point to have at this point, as I think the entire world is currently reeling from global warming, and even in-game, it’s rare that you’ll find a piece of text condemning our actions. There’s glimpses of visual storytelling genius that come through every once in a while, which highlights humanity’s gluttony and need for more, but those are literal glimpses. It’s a mixed bag, basically.
There’s also upgrade crates you can find, which are unbelievably necessary if you want to survive. The game gives you a kiss on the lips, or an achievement if you complete the game without grabbing any, but that seems impossible for reasons we’ll get into in 34 words time. A lot of the good stuff you can find in these crates are usually cryptically hidden in obscure areas, and by “good”, I mean “This is essential if you want to beat the game”.
It’s a boss-rush format, first and foremost, so there’s no common threat in the world of The Aquatic Adventure, unless you count your own patience. This is a game that you’re going to be strictly looking at as opposed to playing for half of the time, and what you’re going to be playing isn’t for the faint of heart, as there’s eleven species of fish out there who want your blood.
Looking around online for reasons why I shouldn’t track down the developers and force them to watch the pilot episode of Heil Honey, I’m Home! as punishment, it came to light that the average completion time was eight hours. This is false, it’ll take you more along the lines of four hours. The only reason why the average completion time might be so high is because the game really, really doesn’t care for the player.
From the first boss you fight, it’s clear that the developers don’t give a single fuck about what you think. Bosses will use you as a chew toy almost immediately, constantly filling up the screen and insta-killing your shitty ship half of the time. From The Worm to The Tranquil, The Forgotten One to The Heart of The City, all of these bastard bosses are going to use your ship as a plectrum.
The game almost broke me with The Forgotten One. A testament to bad design, this utter prick of a fish will charge towards you at speeds that you can’t match, meaning you’ll be blasted back into a wall or one of the other hazards, like the corrosive pipes. These pipes will insta-kill you as well, and it doesn’t help that the gas they spray is also something that the Forgotten One literally shits out during the boss fight, meaning that one quick knockback could spell disaster.
The biggest problem from this boss fight is a lack of conveyance. For a few select areas of the game, you’ll need a lamp to see the area, which is necessary for exactly one boss fight, and The Forgotten One is supposed to be fought before you fight the boss who can give you access to the lamp. Conveyance overall is pretty hazy, but none moreso than when fighting The Forgotten One.
It’s a dark green fish, with dark green attacks, and it’s all set in a dark green room… can you see why it’s so difficult now? In the heat of the moment, you’re not going to be able to concentrate on any one element of the boss fight, because everything blends together in this vomit colour palette that makes playing it truly painful.
It’s got that Dandara problem, where the weapons that are available to you at first are about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle. You get a harpoon as your starting weapon, and no amount of upgrades could make this less shit than what it is. It plinks away at the bosses health with next to no health taken away, and if it wasn’t for the super secret hidden harpoon upgrade behind the Parasite’s resting place (Use this guide, please), I’d be there for upwards of twenty minutes.
With this triple harpoon upgrade, the game is mildly playable. You’ll still get tossed around like a towel after the Super-Bowl, but you can at least have a chance in the fights coming up now. That doesn’t make it good, however, as the upgrade is hidden away to most players. If I had never found this triple harpoon upgrade, then the game would have still been as shitty as always.
The weapons don’t change throughout either. You’re going to be stuck with this harpoon for the three quarters of the game, until you finally get the abilities to use torpedoes and a free-aim harpoon, with a saw appearing before that. Too little, too late however, as the free-aim harpoon comes when the bosses start being more below with how they approach you, and the torpedo is shoehorned into the final boss fight, which we’ll get to in a paragraph. The saw is only used to find secret areas, and the canon third boss.
The one nice thing that you can say about the bosses, is that they’re varied with how you approach them. Aside from The Forgotten One and The Parasite, each one is different in how you approach and fight them. One time, it’ll be a horde of sharks who have mines attached to their fins, or maybe it’ll be a stingray with an insta-kill laser attached to its face. For better or, more than likely, worse, you don’t know what you’re getting into.
The final boss can EAT SHIT though. This whole time, you’ve mostly been getting by with having this free-roaming space to dodge and weave the enemy in, and now it’s a bullet-hell all of a sudden. Your harpoons are now useless against this boss, and the only thing that will damage it is slow-firing torpedoes. Fuck. That. This entire time I’ve been able to begrudgingly have fun by being mobile and fast against the bosses, but now my movement is restricted? Are you mad?
This isn’t the same thing as being varied, either, because that implies that my ship has the ability to sync with this boss fight. Your ship is always a wide target that can’t change its direction to up or down, and when you’re trying to dodge rapid-fire sawblades in a small triangle for an arena, the ability to make my ship a thinner target would help.
So if the bosses– The biggest part of the game– Are a bust, what else is there? Well, the game’s pretty to look at. The visual design rarely gets boring (When you can see it, at least), and some of the underwater vistas are superbly drawn. The skittish animation of the monsters and enemies also adds to the atmosphere, and has a vague reminder of Metroid 2: Return of Samus on Game Boy.
There’s not much else to The Aquatic Adventure aside from that. For a Metroidvania, it’s got less meat to its bones than the skeletons that lie at the bottom of the ocean, and there is next to no replay value in any part of it. Hardcore Mode is just doing the game in one life, which… no. Absolutely not. Finally, there’s Boss-Rush Mode, which is just the same game without faffing around for the entry points, so… New Game+, essentially.
In the end, The Aquatic Adventure is a testament to frustration, something so unbelievably anger-inducing, that it took me 6 months to review the bloody thing. Despite having the soundtrack of the year attached to it, and some lovely visuals that go hand in hand with the out-of-combat atmosphere, the gameplay is almost always a bust.
Sorry Y/C/J/Y. I look forward to Sea Salt though.
This review of The Aquatic Adventure of The Last Human is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
A really disappointing mess of a Metroidvania.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.