Aquaria doesn’t just submerge Metroid beneath thousands of gallons of seawater. It also subtly alters its tone, trading paranoid claustrophobia for dreamy new-age introspection as it replaces space-hulks and alien planets with underwater caves and sunken cathedrals. At times, it can be a little like spending a long weekend at a slightly annoying spa, but beyond the shimmering necklaces of kelp and the meandering fantasy soundtrack lurks a game of real depth and complexity.
The controls have made the transition from mouse to touchscreen with relative assurance: moving about is a matter of simply holding down a finger in the direction you want to travel, and then swinging it around when you want to change course. Despite the deep sea setting, there’s little in the way of obvious lag, and things only start to get clumsy with combat.
Interaction with the world is largely handled by a song system, which should be instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever summoned Epona with a quick blast on Link’s ocarina. As Aquaria doles out new tunes, more and more of its world opens up. You’re always left with something interesting to play with, too, whether you’re shielding yourself, moving rocks, or even changing forms and switching to a character who’s handier in a fight, say, or one that can light a path through dark tunnels.
Bit Blot’s amnesiac storyline might not make much of an impact at first, but Aquaria’s gloomy caverns are a delight to explore, and, a rarity for a modern Metroidvanias, the designers don’t constantly lead the way for you. The best parts of Aquaria might actually be when you’re feeling a little lost – either literally, given the sprawling maps that link the game’s dungeons, or figuratively, as you try to learn your way around the recipe crafting system.
While this elegant underwater world may be a little too twee for some players, then, there are still plenty of reasons to dip into Bit Blot’s inventive genre piece. Aquaria’s as personable on the iPad as it was on the PC and Mac, and now you can cross the oceans on your morning commute.