I have heard this game described as Symphony of the Night meets Ecco the Dolphin. After playing it myself, I would have to say that this is a fairly succinct and accurate phrase to use when describing the game.
You play the game as Naija, a female, humanoid, mer-creature. You spend the entirety of the game exploring a huge
ocean, consisting of a wide array of varied sub-areas, reminiscent of Ecco the Dolphin, ranging from tropical bays to kelp forests to icy arctic waters to underwater cities and more.
Along the way, you gain access to various forms which allow you to do things such as attack enemies, light up darkened areas, or turn into a tiny fish to access otherwise inaccessible areas, among other things. These forms, and additional powers that you pick up along the way, are accessed in Naija's normal form through the use of song. That is, you will learn various three or four note songs that allow you to do whatever you need to do. It is an interesting system and reminded me vaguely of Loom.
The game is beautiful, both visually and aurally. Awesome 2D sprite-based games like this are simply few and far between these days, which is a shame, and it's good to see Bit Blot keeping the tradition alive and well. The music is amazing, and the voice acting is quite good for the most part, particularly that of Naija herself.
The basic, mouse-only control scheme is pretty intuitive. She pretty much just goes wherever you point your mouse cursor. It can get slightly hairy at times in tight, narrow corridors due to Naija's ability to grab walls for wall-jumping purposes, but that's the only nitpick I had with the controls. In addition to the mouse scheme, there are other options available, such as WASD+mouse with hotkeys on the number keys for forms/powers, as well as support for gamepads.
Other interesting things of note include a cooking system that allows you to use various recipes that you find throughout the world (or create from trial-and-error tinkering) to combine ingredients you gain from enemies or various plants into powerful food items that can come in handy in a pinch. Also there are various treasures scattered around the oceans. These can either be new costumes for Naija, some of which have practical benefits gameplay-wise in addition to just looking cool, or decorations for Naija's home cave, again some of which have practical uses in addition to mere decoration. Also, there are four different pets that can be found in the game. These follow Naija around, though only one can be selected at a time, and each of them have their own uses. Lastly, there are three of Naija's memories that, once found, unlock a special ending (which is pretty much a teaser for the hopefully coming soon sequel to this game).
The game, of course, isn't completely flawless. While it didn't bother me personally since I'm used to it from Metroid/Castlevania, I've seen some complaining on the Aquaria forums about the use of a save-point system as opposed to a save-anywhere system, so there is that to take into consideration. Also, though there are the equivalent of portals between areas in the game in the form of Ancient Turtles that you find scattered around the world, navigation of point A to point B can get slightly tedious at times, particularly if you're backtracking. But then, this was again also true of the Metroid/Castlevania games as well, so it's more a mild knock, such as it is, against the genre in general than against Aquaria in particular. Lastly, some of the bosses can be crazy difficult, primarily in that a lot of them require special tricks to defeat beyond just shoot-them-until-they-die. While this is true more of the optional bosses (which is as it should be, in my opinion), even some of the bosses required to gain forms were pretty annoying at times, even if you did know what it took to beat them, and sometimes it's not entirely intuitive or obvious what it is that's expected to be done to kill them. *cough*Mithalas*cough* At least there are the forums
to visit, if one becomes stuck, as I did a time or two.
In a nutshell, if you like the free exploration of games like Super Metroid and its successors or the recent Metroid-inspired Castlevania games, then I feel quite assured that you will also like this game as well. The full game costs $30 and is a 200 MB download, which can be acquired directly from Bit Blot's site
. There is also a 60-ish MB demo
available there, if you want to try it out before buying the full game, the save-games for which are compatible with the full game.
Oh, and though I haven't messed with it myself, the full game comes with a level editor.