Some of the best sidescrolling games out there, including both major and indie titles, often make clever use of an exploration mechanic many have termed Metroidvania, due to both Nintendo and Konami’s classic series perfecting the formula. Essentially, Metroidvania games present a more open-ended world instead of a linear left-to-right path, but often prevent access to certain areas until players get certain abilities or items as they progress, encouraging them to revisit certain areas to progress the main game as well as find some optional goodies.
There have been some quality Metroidvanias in recent years, with the likes of Guacamelee, Dust: An Elysian Tail, and Shadow Complex among them. Now, indie developer YCJY has released their own unique take on the genre with The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human. After playing the game myself, I think it certainly contains some well-done elements, but I still dealt with some frustrating elements that could probably have been fixed with some fine-tuning by the developers.
The subdued story, generally free of cutscenes and traditional dialog, sees a spaceship leave Earth and return many millennia later, only to find humanity completely gone and the last remnants of civilization hidden beneath the ocean. Thankfully, the ship also doubles as a submarine, so its pilot decides to explore and attempt to piece together just what happened, dealing with some nasty creatures along the way. The story is primarily told through text logs you can find throughout the environment, but it never ends up feeling that interesting or important, leaving the rest of the game to deliver the goods.
One neat feature of Aquatic Adventure is that, due to its underwater setting, you can move your character in every direction, rather than running left and right or jumping. It allows the game to provide many vast environments, with some being used for boss battles and others simply for eye candy. The pixel art style admittedly never feels as meticulous or pretty as it could have been, but it gets the job done. The soundtrack also generally works, but is at its best when paired with parts that showcase the game’s underwater world, with songs that provide a memorable sound as well as a haunting, melancholy feeling.
In keeping with Metroidvania tradition, players will gradually unlock various parts of the world by obtaining new upgrades for the ship. These can help you put up a fight with harpoon and torpedo weapons and be more agile when a dash ability is found. There are also numerous hidden optional crates that increase your health, speed, and other aspects. The setting and story also come into play when it comes to the type of obstacles you must gradually overcame to unlock gated areas. Thick seaweed can only be cut with a saw attachment, pipes spewing dangerous liquids must be dashed through, and so on.
Gamepad control works generally fine, as the ship is quick in responding to your movements with the left analog stick, and aiming weapons with the right stick also works as it should. One issue I did have was that, even when I tracked down upgrades that sped it up, the ship still felt a bit sluggish overall. Also, I repeatedly encountered what I assume is a bug where dashing and using the saw made my controller vibrate nonstop until I fired a harpoon. It’s an annoying decision if it’s something the developers did intentionally, but hopefully it can be patched out at some point.
Where the game stumbles hardest is how you navigate. For some reason, there is no full map of any kind, or at least none I found by pressing every button during both gameplay as well as the pause screen. You’re limited to a bare-bones mini-map in the upper-right corner while playing, with its only offering being white outlines of each environment. I’m fine with a game of this type not giving away secrets, but a more helpful map would at least allow me to see the whole world at once rather than making me have to try and memorize the layout on my own. There’s thankfully a fast travel option as you discover certain locations, but those don’t provide any extra info either.
The end result is a game where I spent probably half of my time having to backtrack to various locations in hopes of finding new paths. This chunk of play time could have been drastically reduced with clearer navigation options, but because of the way it is, it prevents the game from reaching its true potential.
It’s definitely worth noting that The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human is not just reliant on exploration, as it also packs numerous boss battles that reward players with important upgrades and new paths. They’re pretty frequent, but thankfully clever and unique in their design. It’s also worth noting that they can be very difficult even early on, meaning you’ll really need to get their patterns and quirks down if you want to stand a chance.
Some fights end up not working as well as I’d like, though. A giant octopus that requires individual tentacles to be destroyed before facing its weak spots head on takes around 10 minutes to defeat, and one slight mistake can lead to instant death and starting from the very beginning of the fight. Taking on the same boss for an hour isn’t fun, but that’s what I had to deal with.
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human isn’t the standout indie title I was hoping for initially, but it’s still not a bad game overall. A faster movement speed, better paced bosses, and most importantly a better navigation system could have made it a very good title instead of just an okay one. That said, if you do enjoy the idea of navigating a unique underwater world without any guidance and dealing with some big challenges, it still might be worth your time. Just temper your expectations a bit.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human has a neat concept, good presentation and clever boss fights, but nearly nonexistent navigation features and some other annoying aspects hold it back from being truly special.