Aquarist is a simulation game developed for the Nintendo Switch and published by Ultimate Games. As far as aquarium sims go, you can do a lot in this one. However, it’s not a simple game in terms of gameplay, mostly because of the controls.
I was excited to play Aquarist because I enjoy simulation games and love aquariums. I’ve played my fair share of aquarium sims over the years. However, Aquarist has more, which excites me the most. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to scratch my itch.
There’s not much of a story to this game, which is fine. However, the tutorial tries to give you somewhat of a background story, and it doesn’t work. It only causes the tutorial to be longer than it already needs. So instead, the tutorial explains the various things you can do in the game and how to do them—buying a tank and all the supplies needed for it, buying fish, breeding them, and selling fish.
It’s your birthday, and your father gifts you a glass tank of your own because aquarium keeping is his hobby, and he wants to share it with you. The tutorial continues, explaining how you can set up your tank. There were many annoying aspects of this (to the point I kept quitting the game and had to push myself to get through it).
I understand tutorials are meant to teach you how to play the game. However, Aquarist acts as though you’ve never owned a fish before. In real life, maybe you haven’t, but the step-by-step hand holding is extremely unnecessary. Instead of teaching you to buy an item, put it in the tank, and then give you a list of everything else you need to purchase and put in the tank, the game goes through every motion. First, buy gravel, pick it up from your shelf, and put it in the tank. Then buy a light, pick it up, and put it in the tank. Rinse, repeat.
If that’s not annoying enough, the controls were worse. When you buy something, it doesn’t go into your inventory. Instead, it goes onto a shelf in the room. You play as your character in first-person mode, and, depending on where you are, the shelf isn’t always apparent. Then, you must pick up the item (you can hold onto five items at once) and place it in the tank.
The main issue with these controls is that your cursor is a small white dot in the middle of the screen. Picking up a tank heater is a rather large object, so it’s a simple task. But picking up a small rock decor that you can barely see? It will take a while because that cursor must be perfectly on the object to register (and no, touch controls don’t work undocked). Aquarist was first released on PC in the Spring of 2022. It’s easy to see that the controls were not optimized for the Nintendo Switch.
Once you finally make it through the tutorial, you can begin the actual gameplay. You open your first shop in your garage. You’ll have time before opening to restock your fish, clean the tanks, and do anything else you need to do. Then, you can open up shop and begin making money for bigger and better aquariums and stock. You’ll level up over time, too. Eventually, you’ll upgrade out of your garage and run a business in a store. Leveling up also allows you to unlock new items to buy, such as different species of fish.
Playing through the game in this way was fun. I’ve played many aquarium sims where you run an aquarium business but not necessarily a fish store. Aquarist also thinks outside the box in terms of fishkeeping. For example, keep freshwater versus saltwater in mind, provide correct lighting and temperature, clean the tanks when algae build, and more.
Overall, Aquarist is a solid business simulation, but the clunky controls ruined the experience. I won’t revisit it on Switch. Getting it on the PC is probably the way to go.