I remember being a preteen that loved browsing sites like Newgrounds. It was in places like this that I found indie games like Gretel and Hansel, which absolutely blew my mind at that age because they melded a familiar story and memorable characters with dark, gruesome twists. Indie creators design some of the most unique games, in my opinion, because they do not have to cater to a mainstream audience and have the independence to move in whatever direction their heart desires.
This brings me to Newbuild-C, an indie developer from the UK who most recently released the 2D shoot-em-up game Aqua Populo. As I mentioned earlier, I love the free rein indie creators have and this game delivers an action-packed experience that pays homage to titles popular in the 80s such as Space Invaders. It seems as though games inspired by this era have become a favorite in recent years, (does anyone remember Puss! from the TVGB tournament last year?) and I’ve really enjoyed this throwback to one of the most nostalgic times. Honestly, if you don’t love the 80s I’m not sure you can call yourself a real gamer when this is literally when video games rose in popularity. But I digress.
Aqua Populo has a simple goal. All you have to do is survive 100 levels in your yellow submarine. You’ll quickly notice, however, that this game is anything but simple as you begin your descent into the dark underwater world filled with aquatic sea creatures and menacing bosses. There are two game options: Normal Mode and Timer Mode. I’m not exactly daring when it comes to trying games for the first time, so I chose the safer of the two options. I didn’t need my ego to be completely crushed. Sure enough, my first playthrough was disastrous. There’s no tutorial so you are immediately thrown into fight mode as you have bug-like creatures shoot projectiles at you. Within seconds, I took a hard hit and my submarine burst into pieces, which in turn caused me to lose one of my three lives. After that, I knew I needed to take my level of focus up a notch. Newbuild-C was not here to play easy.
I appreciate that all you need is your keyboard, no mouse, although shooting moving targets is harder than it looks. I was impressed with how easily I could maneuver my vehicle but quickly became irritated by the speed of my enemies’ attacks. I thought the sea turtles were friendly at first glance but their innocent appearance deceived me and I succumbed to their deadly assault within seconds. Strike two and I was down to one life in less than two minutes. Let’s just say that I was disappointed in my abilities.
It took a few more tries to get the hang of things, but I finally did manage to make some progress in Aqua Populo. Each level gets increasingly more difficult as more monsters spawn from the depths and you start to encounter larger bosses with more powerful attacks. This game requires a little practice to master the controls and start to predict the attack pattern of each enemy, but it’s a fun, colorful little game that’s great for a lazy weekend. Check it out on Steam if you want to test your abilities and attempt to swim your way to level 100.
Gameplay - 8/10
Plot / Writing - 5/10
Design / Visuals - 8/10
Pros + 80s-style vibes with great graphics and colors
+ gameplay has the right amount of challenge that requires adeptness and focus to win
Cons – lack of story makes this 2D shooter feel a little one-dimensional
– would like to see a variety of sound effects and music, especially with level progression
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