Aqua Kitty, in essence, is a shoot ’em up. However, there are a fairly large number of little quirks in the game that sets it apart from others.
When I turned the game on, the first screen it didn’t automatically bypass was the one for the story, which I got a kick out of: the Earth’s milk supply has dried up, but somehow the cats discovered that there was tons of whole milk buried beneath the ocean floor. To get at it, they needed to mine the precious resource. Your job, as a defender, is to protect the cats working the mines from attackers.
When I first approached the game, I went in expecting a shoot ’em up. I’m not particularly good at them, though I do enjoy playing them. I’m generally pretty bad at them when there’s no discernible pattern to the fire, whereas when there is a pattern (think Touhou) I’m generally pretty okay. Anyway, back on topic, Aqua Kitty surprised me right from the get go. To begin with, when you start the game, you get set up on a world map of sorts. While not unheard of, it’s certainly unusual for a shoot ’em up.
Starting the first level immediately threw me off because of the game’s structure, although it reminded me of Resogun – it’s a shoot ’em up based upon protecting some friendly units on a looped field. The game’s playable area consists of a looped section of water, within which you’re tasked with protecting a number of cats on the ocean floor. There are specific enemy types that can abduct your cat friends, while other enemies try to take you down.
Playing a given level consists of a few waves of enemies, which you need to destroy while protecting all of the mining kitties to essentially gold-star the level. Your grade is based primarily on your remaining cats at the end of the waves. Thankfully, the game incorporates a mini-map that shows normal enemies as grey dots, and enemies that will abduct your mining friends as red. This makes them easy to spot and manageable to hunt down as a primary objective. This all helps make the game manageable for those not too good at them, and streamline everything for those who are good at it. I, personally, found it all to be incredibly useful through the game play.
During the level, you have two meters to watch. The first is, obviously, your health, which is represented through the use of hearts, each of them being one hit you can take. In the tradition of shoot ’em ups, touching an enemy or getting hit by a bullet will hurt you and remove one of these hearts.
The second bar is essentially a power meter. You have access to a secondary shot that is more powerful than your basic attack—that is, a single power shot is worth about two normal shots, at least at the beginning. Each power shot uses up some of the power meter, so keeping your eye on it is helpful. The meter also replenishes over time, so saving your power shots isn’t something you need to worry about too much. This was particularly useful against the enemies that actually abduct the cats, as they were able to be brought down much much faster with them.
As you complete levels, you’re sent back to the map to choose which mission to take on next. The map is laid out with each area set as a group of squares representing individual levels, and completing an area will unlock all of the adjacent levels for you to try. This allows you to make your way to the ‘boss’ of an area without actually completing all the levels in a given area. However, you are more than free to do so if you wish. It added an extra little bit to the game which I found to be nice. It lets you choose your missions, plus add content to the game instead of having a steady line through out.
I tried both Easy and Normal difficulties. The differences between the two seemed minimal in the first area, but became a bit more pronounced down the line. More enemies and more waves make already difficult levels even more so, especially because your health doesn’t get any higher than the five hearts with which you start. As the two difficulties became more pronounced from one another, it became increasingly clear to me that the difficulties were actually very well planned out. It made it so that whether you start on Easy or Normal, the difficulty ramps up at a nice angle for both difficulties, which was really nice to see.
In addition to the Easy and Normal modes, the ‘Hard’ mode is actually Arcade mode. Arcade mode differs pretty greatly from the others, in that it’s more of a traditional shoot ’em up style. You only have one life throughout the game, and rather than getting automatic upgrades at certain points throughout the game, you must collect gems in levels, which are then used to buy upgrades. I, admittedly, have yet to get very far in Arcade mode because I keep dying (usually somewhere in area 2 or 3) but it adds a level of difficulty that will keep you coming back for more, and it has much more replay value than the Easy and Normal modes. And of course, Arcade mode offers that challenge that older gamers will remember from the arcades – one life, all that lovely pressure not to screw up…it’s something you don’t see often anymore.
Also differing from the usual game is a single level, to which you get access after you complete the first boss, that is an infinite survival-style level, where all you need to do is survive. There are no miners to protect, just lots and lots of enemy fishies coming to kill you. It’s tons of fun.
The PS4 version also allows for splitscreen multiplayer, which makes the game even more hectic than it already is, but it also does make the game somewhat easier. Of note: pairing multiplayer with the infinite survival level results in a crazy good time. It is tons of fun to mess around in with a friend, and that alone is a good reason to suggest this as a good shoot ’em up.
The last thing I wanted to touch on was graphics and sound. They’re both so well done that I felt the need to mention that somewhere in here. The music at the start menu is just phenomenal, and all of the essentially chip tune pieces are fantastic from the beginning to the end of the game. The 8-bit styled graphics are very well done, too. While many recent 8-bit games look lazy, Aqua Kitty obviously has a lot of time and effort put into the art. You can see it in the variety of enemies and the animations. The game is just a treat to look at.
Aqua Kitty is a blast to play, and the gameplay is as solid as it gets. The game feels incredibly polished, and is simply fun. The multiplayer aspect adds a lot for me, personally, as I am not a huge shoot ’em up fan, but any game that pits me and a buddy against a common enemy can be played for hours.
Aqua Kitty: Milk Mine Defender DX Review was reviewed using a code provided by TIKIPOD. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 8
- Game is accessible for all skill levels
- Blast to play with friends
- Doesn’t deviate from the class Shoot ’em up formula much, but rather concentrates on perfecting everything it DOES do.
- Awesome throw-back graphics and music.
- While it does offer multiple paths through the story mode, they’re still mostly the same.
- Many of the levels in a given area feel incredibly similar. With the looped map, there’s not much deviation to be had, unfortunately.
- More of a personal gripe – Arcade mode doesn’t have a changeable difficulty.