Click here to view the Aquarium by DS description page for more information.
Review by tankMage (November 2017)
Oh man, Aquarium by DS….Well, the name says it all, you can fill five tanks with fish, feed them, breed them, and unlock new types of fish by doing so. Players will also have to clean the tanks, make sure the water is to the fish’s liking, and keep fish that like to eat each other apart. I try to give every game I review a fair shot, but I have to be honest: Aquarium by DS is not worth playing and a few hours of intense boredom was enough to let me know what I needed to about this game, so I didn’t complete it. In my defense, this title doesn’t seem to have what most people would consider an ending. Anyway, some games are bad and/or frustrating, yet manage to have some entertainment value. Then there are games (like this one) that are just completely boring.
There’s really no explanation as to why you are taking care of these fish, which is fine. Strangely enough, there is an intro scene for this game that reads something like a commercial with phrases like “create your own aquarium”. I guess the devs felt the need to explain what the heck the game is about despite the fact that the title tells you everything you need to know. All of the fish you can raise exist in reality and the devs threw in descriptions of the various species, which was sort of interesting, so this game has some educational value if nothing else (assuming the descriptions are accurate).
The graphics really helped kill this game in my opinion. A title about feeding fish better look damn good, because it doesn’t have much else to go on. Everything in Aquarium by DS is drab and depressing, however. Even colorful creatures like clown fish are somehow gloomy thanks to the color palette the devs used. Most of the fish look fairly real, with the exception of stuff like jellyfish, which is to the game’s credit. Of course the fish clip through each other constantly, which spoiled the illusion. It was also funny watching tiny fish suck in food nearly half their size. In one instance a lion fish ate another fish that was almost the same size as it, which was good for a chuckle.
You can also add backgrounds and decor to your tanks, but it all sucks. All the plants are nearly identical to each other, even though they are different species. The wallpapers look like something you’d find in any pet shop and the terrain decor is boring stuff like rocks. It’s a shame, because they could have made the decorations really interesting, but something tells me the devs didn’t care. The UI is also ugly as hell and it’s hard to tell what the icons are supposed to be in some cases. So yeah, they really dropped the ball here.
Music and Sound
The music is nice enough I suppose, but it goes out of its way to be calm and soothing, which only adds to the depressive atmosphere. Some of the songs sound like the sort of tunes that get piped into a dentist’s office to distract patients from the horrific drilling sounds. You can freely change the music, which is a nice touch, so one can’t complain about not liking a particular song. The sound effects are just a bunch clicks that let you know you just selected an icon.
Aside from it being difficult to determine what each icon is, the UI works pretty well. In fact everything is laid out conveniently and it takes maybe three clicks at most to get what you need. I did have trouble finding the save function, but who would want to save this game anyway? (To the one Aquarium by DS fan out there: Calm down that was just a joke.)
How do you make a game about raising fish interesting? Apparently the devs were unable to answer this conundrum and decided to just add a bunch of tanks you can fill with fish so it takes all day to feed and clean them. See, there’s a fundamental problem with the concept of this game: fish aren’t terribly interactive. You can say what you want about a game like Nintendogs, but at least dogs can communicate with humans to some degree. They also need to be walked and played with. Fish only need a bit of food and a hospitable tank (which can be a lot of work in reality) so interacting with them in a meaningful way is out of the question if you are going for a realistic game. As a result, Aquarium by DS is a pretty empty experience. Plop a few fish in the tank, feed them, then wait to feed them again. Maybe you get to squeegee the glass if you are lucky.
Ok, ok, so Aquarium is not THAT simple, but almost. Players do need to make sure the water isn’t too hot and that the pH is safe for the fish in the tank. Different types of fish have different habitats so you can’t mix salt and freshwater fish or predators and prey. Take good care of your fish and they will breed, which unlocks new types of fish. You can also decorate the tanks, but none of this makes for an interesting or fun experience. It’s kind of sad, because I thought this game had some potential when I first started out.
The Two Player Experience
On a side note, Aquarium by DS allowed people to connect via the Nintendo DS network (or whatever it was called) and trade fish. Maybe this would have been a good idea if there were more types of fish, but we’re talking about a total of thirty, half of which are available from the start. To be fair, caring for a fish properly can cause it to get pretty big, so maybe someone would want your prize winning guppy. At any rate, it’s a moot point, because the online service for the Nintendo DS is defunct. I guess I’ll never know the joys of online DS fish trading.
It’s possible to make a fun game about fish. I remember playing Odell Lake for the Apple II in elementary school and having a good time trying not to get eaten while finding food. You could even play as different types of fish that occupied their own niches on the food chain. Of course, Odell Lake and Aquarium by DS are different types of games, but that’s the root of the problem: some concepts do not make for a fun game. Maybe more creativity, better graphics, and more content could have saved this title from being such a dismal failure, but what’s done is done and Aquarium isn’t worth the SD card it’s burned onto.
Take the time and money you would have invested in Aquarium by DS and get a goldfish, this game sucks.