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Aqua Kitty: Milk Mine Defender (PC) artwork

Aqua Kitty: Milk Mine Defender (PC) review


"Spoilers: this game features cats."


Off the top of your head, can you recall the last time you've played an arcade-style submarine title? What immediately comes to my mind is In the Hunt, an action-filled, 2D shooter with amazing attention to detail. Ask me to name another one, though, and I can only give scenarios from other games, like the bizarre, ape-faced submarine from Toki, or the cool underwater segments from Metal Slug 3. Suffice it to say, except for simulations, it's not even funny how much submarines have a niche appeal in the video game medium. But if you've been yearning for a new, submarine-themed action game for some time, then publisher Tikipod Limited has fulfilled your video gaming, um, underwater conflict needs with Aqua Kitty! Spoilers: this game features cats.

So, what amazing adventures and dazzling, life-changing mechanics await the subsea enthusiast? Well... this is essentially a variation of 1981's Defender, a classic, side-scrolling shooter whose concept involves fighting enemy waves on stages with looping maps, all while preventing foes from slyly snatching away victims off the playing field. Though, instead of dealing with ships and aliens in space, you're now fighting robotic abstractions with an orange-coated, eye patch-wearing feline with a speedy submarine (and a grey companion in local co-op), on a planet with a milk shortage problem. Despite sounding somewhat apocalyptic, the game is rather bright and colorful in nature, even having a catchy, Amiga-inspired soundtrack, not to mention your ragtag boat crew includes a jolly, pipe-smoking captain and sonar technicians whose only equipment is a photo camera being held by a worm attached to a fishing rod.


A typical stage starts out like this...


If you're waiting for me to make a case for Aqua Kitty being completely different from its forefather, then you're in for a disappointment. However, while both titles are basically the same at the core, the modern iteration does enough subtle changes to the mechanics that you can easily be engrossed in the action without thinking the devs did a simple clone job with cats.

Thankfully, the one thing that really needed to be copied was successfully recaptured: the frantic pace. A stage starts out on a respectably easy note, only being tasked to take out a few robotic fish in the first of five to eight waves. But the odds are quickly stacked against your submarine as the waves pile on top of one another, each refusing to let the previous whither into existence before making their presence, while also including a bigger stock of foes than its predecessors. Before you know it, you're stuck in a shoaling of fish, and though you can speedily bolt for safety, know that refuge is but a fleeting feeling, because another shoaling is coming in the opposite direction! There is scarcely an inch of sanctuary in the mid to later waves in most stages, meaning if you want to make it out alive, you'll need to play offensively.

It's not as simple as quickly blasting away everything on screen to clear a path, either, as the game's rogues gallery are a smart and varied bunch; there's fish that shoot projectiles in three, simultaneous, opposite directions, hasty fish that make slight shifts the second you attack, orbs that slowly track your sub, crabs that occasionally hop off the sea floor, fish with wide fins that take up screen real estate, and so on. And again, while easy to eliminate in early waves, dealing with these differing enemies when the screen is crowded requires some legit concentration. In lots of cases, too, when a miner cat is being abducted, you pretty much have to perform a blitz just to stop it in time.


... but quickly spirals into this!


Fighting offensively plays a huge role in conquering the seas, but you'll need to do it strategically, and that usually requires handling your weaponry sufficiently. Your standard projectile attack isn't enough to fend against the swarms, which is why you also have a rapid-fire. A hearty dosage with this destroys several opponents if planned right, but, of course, the drawback is how quickly it depletes and slow to recharge. Also coming into the fray is the typical shooter power-up item that sometimes appear, bouncing around the map while also switching to different powers before you can break it. Ranging from abilities that allow you to shoot from behind and diagonally, to having backup fighters and a bomb with a wide blast radius, that, when all used correctly, can help your sub in the long run.

Though, depending on what mode you're playing on greatly influences how you'll go about using and rationing certain items. In Normal mode, power-ups are timed, disappearing after just a couple seconds of use. One strategic upside to this is how you don't have to grab power-ups after breaking their shell, letting them sit in place until you actually need them. This is especially useful for stuff like bombs, where you can wait for a horde to hover in their vicinity, then... crackle-pop!

Arcade mode, on the other hand, allows your sub to keep powers. However, here, items now work on the Gradius selection system! Meaning, if you want a specific power, as well as upgrading, you'll need to keep collecting crystals until the selection hovers over the right item. And, unlike Normal mode, you'll need to obtain the crystals right as their shells break, because when they hit the sea floor, the crystals shatter. If all that wasn't enough, one vital modification changes the vibe in Arcade mode: fail once, and everything resets, placing you back at the beginning, a stark contrast to saving progress after each stage in Normal mode. This places even more weight on the Gradius system, since you can't repeat stages for farming, and common scenarios will force you to either choose an important upgrade you've wanted for eons, or gain an additional heart to keep your sub from exploding after one more hit. Choices!



While I'm sure some people will dispute that Defender is still the more intense game, there's no denying that Aqua Kitty succeeds at being an enthralling throwback that also manages to stand out on its own. And it doesn't do so with overtly fantastical modes, absurd gimmicks (unless you count the cat angle as one), dramatic cutscenes, and what not, but small touches here and there that change enough of the template to avoid being called a poor rip-off. Kudos to the devs for crafting an addicting action title, and doing so with a submarine theme, no less.

Note: this review is based on version 1.06 of the game.

4/5

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (November 27, 2014)

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