What is it? A post human submarine Metroidvania
Expect to pay $10 / £7 Developer YCJY
Reviewed on Intel Core-i7 6700K, 16GB RAM, GTX 980 Ti Link Official site (opens in new tab)
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human fasts forwards through the Metroidvania template, stripping it down to its most essential parts: exploration, atmosphere, and player growth. As the last human alive, you explore Earth in the far future after massive climate change submerged the greater land masses. In a tiny submarine, you putter around underwater ecosystems that have long since adapted to the new world, even if they still show the scars of trauma left from an excessive human civilization. You'll discover secrets, shoot innocent fish (big and small), and explore a mysterious narrative. It's a somber story, but nothing that can spoil the fun of turning my tin can into a mobile fish cannery. I’m not here just to survive, I’m here to upset the food chain. I’m here to get power ups, baby.
Aquatic Adventure is short and the art is minimalist (but holy-cow-gorgeous), and yet it's one of the best Metroidvania experiences I’ve ever had. It understands the best facets of the genre, and uses them to say something more while wrapping my attention around its labyrinths and upgrades and fierce boss fights.
As with most Metroidvanias, you start out with super limited mobility and defense. The first upgrade available is a harpoon gun that can only shoot 180-degrees from tip to tail below the sub, so I spent the first hour or so struggling to stay above bosses to even have chance to shoot them. And without spoiling too much, by the end of the game, I went from controlling a freefalling pebble to a Cobra attack helicopter.
Aquatic Adventure understands the hypnotic power of the genre; I traversed dense, interconnected environments layered with art that told tiny stories without saying a word. I fruitlessly bumped up against thick bundles of seaweed, and returned, vengeful, after gutting a big fish for a saw upgrade. I pressed down into the darkest depths of the ocean without the guidance of a map, navigating rusted minefields and the remnants of human civilization. The McDonalds was closed. It’s short, five hours or so, and the map isn’t massive, but Aquatic Adventure distills a greater sense of discovery, player growth, and mechanical growth into its tiny package than the majority of Metroidvanias today. It’s the genre’s most potent espresso shot: quick, bitter, and just as powerful.
It even has the necessary genre staples for extended play.While I’m unsure what kind of exploits Aquatic Adventure might be hiding, the labyrinthine map, the open order in which you can tackle bosses, and the skill level required to beat some of the bosses should be a gilded invitation for speedrunners. It’s missing the platforming precision from gravity bound games of its ilk, but taking on the final boss with no hull upgrades and a limited harpoon? Phew. I’d pay to see it happen.
That’s especially because the boss fights are so great. Within five minutes of starting, a freighter-sized sea worm burst out of the ocean floor and attacked my sub. I died immediately. The worm puked up dozens of tiny worms I danced around, it flew across the screen towards me, and zig-zagged in and out of the ground as I fruitlessly shot harpoons in its general direction. After fifteen or so deaths, I finally took it down. The only way out of the room was to float through the worm’s freshly eviscerated body and out of its worm ass. I’m fairly certain a passive playthrough is impossible.
But divorced from ethics (hooray!) the bosses are a ton of fun to fight. They’re massive and multifaceted. And since Aquatic Adventure is almost entirely open from the get-go, I encountered some insane bosses right off the bat. If I ever felt too stuck on a certain one, I’d go adventuring for hidden upgrades, or take down another one in the meantime. Almost every boss I revisited felt much easier on our second meeting, both through ability acquisition and the sharpening of my sub shooting skills. And skill is an absolute necessity. The power-in-numbers (and explosions) shark swarm The Chain Gang took me about thirty tries, but I kept going because I knew every failure was my fault. The rest are exercises in bullet hell or in harpoon precision, a couple require puzzling out, and a few, well, they’re tests of cruelty.
The more I progressed, the more I felt the game was trying to get me to think about why I was searching for the means to kill so many bigass sea creatures. Power ups, I whisper, breaking eye contact. An in-game description for one of the game’s bosses says it better than I can: “It's better to think of it as a killer. We'll all sleep better with a monster dead than with a guardian betrayed.” The trick to beating the boss is poised to paint the player as a submarine sadist. The creature was only blocking my path and I tore it apart, limb by limb, as it moaned in low, terrible tones until I reduced it to a pathetic nub. Again, just in the way…
It’s this thematic use of the genre that makes Aquatic Adventure more than just an excellent Metroidvania. The will to grow and progress made me power up snowblind, unwilling to think about why I was chopping up leviathan after leviathan in lieu of succumbing to the super blatant narrative catch: I am the last human. So what’s the point of it all? Why tear through fish after fish? We’re doomed. But since the exploration-reward loop is so deeply embedded, I carried on for the sake of play. And ultimately, the game itself is harmless, but by the end, it jostled me out of a habitual mode of thinking to consider what else I might be harming for the sake of my personal pleasure.
Still, swimming out of that sea worm’s ass was pretty cool.