Review: Aqua Naval Warfare

Currently on sale on Xbox Live, does Aqua provide high adventure on the high seas or is it merely just another twin-stick shooter?

I recently got a chance to sit down and spent more time with the multiplayer and have made a few minor changes including correcting an error I made to that section of the review.

Aqua takes place on the vast waters of a fictional ocean where two naval powers are suddenly thrust into war with one another. You play as a Captain Grey who commands a single, small, ship in the Emperean fleet and most of the game’s campaign is spent trying to survive the initial attacks by the mysterious adversaries.  The game’s artistic style is based on the popular “steampunk” genre of science fiction, and from the moment the first game menu appears the steampunk roots are immediately evident.  The world and vehicles are colorful and well designed, and developer’s interest in the steampunk genre really shows. The game’s story moves forward largely with the help of hand-drawn “motion comic” cinematics between episodes that, while lacking the color and vividness of the in-game design, are none-the-less well done and enjoyable to watch.

At its’ core Aqua is really just a vehicle based twin-stick shooter; dodge incoming fire with the left stick and shoot enemies with the right.  In this regard the controls and game play are superb; functionally Aqua had no major flaws that I noticed while playing except for the relatively minor difficulty of small precise maneuvers when the game called for them. Of course you are supposed to be sailing a boat and more often than not this difficulty in precise maneuvers felt realistic and possibly even intentional and never really hindered my enjoyment of the game.  While the game plays well, the fact is most people, including myself, are rarely able to get too invested in a typical twin-stick; luckily Aqua does a few things notably different that improves the experience.

The most obvious to me is that Aqua has a full, well-developed and engaging story line.  A fairly elaborate world has been crafted for the game, a comment not often made about other games in the same genre.  While the story gets a bit bogged down in an attempt to insert a love interest (as many stories often do), it is overall fun and interesting with a full cast of characters.  Which brings us to the next rarity in twin-stick shooters; the game actually includes full dialogue sequences and consistent dialogue in game as well.  Unlike some twin-sticks that simply flash some text at you in the beginning of a level, or in some cases at the beginning of the game, and then never communicate with you again; the characters of Aqua talk through the entire game helping to move the story along.  The voice acting is unfortunately hit or miss, with some being fantastic and others both annoying and poorly done.  (I personally could only just barely stand the voice acting of Captain Grey)

Aqua continues to diverge from the norms of the genre with more than just an engaging story.  Many times in the game the developers added squad elements to the play style.  Allowing you to pick between four varieties of squads made up of four ships each, you can order them to attack major targets, attack targets at whim, defend targets (and in some cases defend front or back specifically) or just follow/support you in your attacks.  This element of the game was fairly limited which was unfortunate as it often felt like it was at its best when the squads were included, but its’ inclusion at all added an additional level of richness to the game play that would have otherwise been sorely missed.  In addition to squads, Aqua alters our perceptions of most twin-sticks by giving us large open levels in many cases.  There are no “rails” in this game, the screen doesn’t move in a certain way to contain your movement and you aren’t stuck in some simple rectangle map running in circles.  There is opportunity to explore (and find collectibles) in most of the game’s levels and in the few that don’t the game often plays more like a platformer; making your way though a base, avoiding traps and even detection.

Beyond that, the game succeeds in several other avenues as well.  While there are only three ships available to you, and their design is only altered slightly from one to the next, the ability to customize your weapon layout and upgrade choice makes it feel like far more than only three designs.  The weapon types are for the most part varied and while some are good for any occasion, many are best used in certain situations with certain enemies.  Speaking of, the enemy ships are all similar in design (after all a fleet would be fairly similar to each other) but there is enough variance that after a relatively short amount of game time you will be able to identify them well enough to know what weapon(s) you should use on them, and what weapons will have you running for your life.  Single player offers several difficulty levels, as well as a “skirmish” mode where you fight waves of enemies, both adding slightly to the replay value of the game.

The game does have flaws though.  The campaign, while fun, is fairly short.  All told I played through it in roughly four hours.  Many levels of the campaign are also some variety of escort/protect missions, and while not as annoying or frustrating as they have been in other games, more variety would have been appreciated.  There is a lack of camera movement, which is unfortunate not only because it made zooming in to better see close fights impossible, it prevents the gamer from getting a better look at the game’s impressive designs. It would of also made certain weapon pick-ups easier to see as well; contributing to an overall problem of not making it readily clear what kind of mines you were using or the ammo supplies of your mines and torpedoes.   Skirmish mode feels largely incomplete taking away some replay value.  There are only a couple of maps, where the same five waves of enemies continue to repeat themselves.  It is completely disconnected from the campaign; you don’t have access to ships or weapons you have unlocked and even the game’s HUD layout is changed for the mode.  As is, it just feels like wasted potential tacked on to add more value to the game. Multi-player is local only, so I was unable to try it out fully; but it has a couple of modes: Chase which is a time or score based race to defeat more enemies than the other player. Battle Arena is essentially Skirmish mode for with a 2nd ship.  Both could be potentially a lot of fun, but the local only aspect will be an issue for anyone who doesn’t have someone sitting next to them to play with.  Even if you were only able to play with friends over Xbox Live, the mutliplayer mode would of felt much less “tacked on”.

In short, Aqua Naval Warfare is a fun game that highlights how radically different twin-stick shooters can be, and furthermore how much better they can be.  An engaging story built on solid game mechanics makes Aqua worth playing, although ultimately I really wanted to like it a bit more than I did.  At full price the game’s flaws might have served as more of a deal breaker, namely its’ limited replay value, but at sale price the game is definitely an entertaining way to spend your evening. It is certainly one of the better twin-stick shooting experiences I’ve had, and would highly recommend it for fans of the genre; and for those who aren’t fans this might the right game at the right price to win you over.

Final Rating: 7/10

CBR Break Down:

Console Played On: Xbox 360
Approximate Time to Completion: ~4 hours
Gamer Score Earned: 120g/200g
Price Bought at: N/A – CBR was furnished with a copy for review purposes
Recommended Purchase Price: $5 or 400 Microsoft points is pretty much the perfect price

$5 still too rich for your blood?  Well how about free?  That’s right, the guys at Games Distillery have hooked us up with 2 codes for the full version of Aqua Naval Warfare to give away to our readers.  Want one?  Easy to enter easy to win, simply leave a meaningful comment on this review and you will be entered!

One entry not enough? Well you can gain up to two bonus entries!

First, simply  “like us” on our new facebook page.

Second, follow us on twitter and send the following tweet: “@ClearanceBinRev is giving away two copies of Aqua Naval Warfare for XBLA! RT and follow to enter! More details at: http://bit.ly/f5eW2f

Make sure to include your twitter name in your post if you choose to enter by that method as well.

The contest will go till 6pm central time on Thursday, February 3rd. (Plenty of time to still buy the game if you didn’t win!)  We will then randomly select two winners from the pool of eligible entries and then contact them either through e-mail, twitter or facebook depending on their method of entry.  Failure to respond within 24 hours will result in a new drawing.  Good luck everyone!

  • Nice review, nice game, nice contest. I’m in!
    (Twitter: @L231)

  • Informative review here I enjoyed it
    @gsli
    pls delete previous post!

  • Nice Review about it.. Wanted to get this game on the Dashboard Deal but dont have the money to renew my Live right now so this should be a good chance of me getting it 🙂 Liked on facebook Followed and tweeted on twitter thanks for the contest good luck all 🙂 Twitter = http://twitter.com/mixmastar0b

  • I really enjoyed the demo…It was far better than what I was expecting. I would like to win one :). Great review btw.

  • looks like a fun game, thanks for the contest! following on Twitter now too!

    @thanatos273 is me on Twitter

  • Fair review – and really like the angle of the site since detailed reviews for “on-sale” content are always timely and appreciated.

    Entered via twitter as well: fatboyjam

  • Very good Review. thanks for the contest!
    ( Twitter : @Zerospartan)

  • Thanks for the great review. I’ll have to see how I like the demo now. @mpais is me on Twitter.

  • Interesting review. I’ve never heard of this XBLA game until today, but it sounds fairly good. I followed and tweeted: @solidalchemist and liked on facebook

  • Hrm… I honestly didn’t think this was a naval warfare game to the likes of this at first. I honestly didn’t give it a second thought when it came out. I’ll have to check the demo now at least (Or the full game? =D)

    Twitter’d this too: ExplodingRat

  • $5 is the right price for this game…but free is always better.

  • Very thoughtful review, McGee. What a breath of fresh air, totally just sold me on the game while at the same time addressing the flaws.

  • Great review man, the demo was funy lets hope I win 🙂

  • It seems like a decent game. I do like twin-stick shooters. I’d like to give it a shot. Thanks for the contest! I also liked on Facebook as Jake Boss as Tweeted as BossVersion1.

  • Thanks for the review and contest ^^
    @genxsis83

  • Sounds neat, maybe I should give it a shot after all.

  • I love games like this. I’m glad you wrote a review on it.

  • nice review..would like to play the full game

  • Thank you for the in-depth review. It was an interesting read. As a huge fan of shmups, Aqua naturally appeals to me. I can’t quite recall why I didn’t buy the game after playing the trial. What I do remember liking were the art design and strategic gameplay. I felt that the ability to issue tactical commands to your support ships was a great feature.

    Thanks CBR (and Games Distillery) for the giveaway!

    @incphi

  • Yep, I’ve mostly seen middle of the line kind of reviews. It was either this or Minervas Den for Bioshock 2 so I went with Minervas Den. I’d love to win it to give it a try though.
    Thanks for the contest! Tweeted @skrammas

  • Loved the review–really entertaining. Also tweeted the contest (Deals_In_Amazon twitter)… thanks!

  • I want to check this game out. It sounds like a steal at 5 bucks (though free would be even better).

    Plus finding that it has nifty avatar awards makes it sound even better.

  • Not too bad. Thanks for the review.

  • I’ve been on the fence regarding this game since forever. I love steampunk, and while this game comes in that flavor, I’m not sure if it’s something I’d actually play to the finish. Of particular note is that the review mentions that the game forces the player into a lot of escort missions – something that I’m not keen on.

    I did download and play the demo – and lo and behold – it was mostly an escort mission. Escorting as an objective is annoying enough in RTS games and other genres, but on a twin-stick? I’m still on the fence. I’ll probably end up making an impulse decision the night before the XBL Marketplace offer expires. Unless I score the game from here. 😀

    Liked on FB, and tweeted: @bomberbadj

  • Thanks for the review, I actually hadn’t heard about this game before so this was a nice introduction. I like the twin stick shooters, but usually don’t have the time to get good enough to compete on the leaderboards. To have a story to play for sounds great. Also, I know you listed 4 hours as a con, but that sounds just about the right length for a game like this, for me.

  • Nice review. I was not sure after playing the demo, but hey, maybe this game has something going for it after all. Thanks!

  • Thanks a lot for the informative review. I played the demo for while on my Xbox and thought I should look into a review for this game. It was pretty fun and the avatar costumes were neat. Thanks for the contest too!

    Tweeted on Twitter: @XboxFan85

  • Great review, actually one of the most retailed review on XBLA game. You don’t see this type of review for other XBLA titles unless they are either overhyped or has a backing of known game company. I was actually interested in this game last year but I guess too many people complained about the length, not to mention there wasn’t that many greatly detailed reviews like this one back in May 2010. But now I’m most definitely interested in playing this game. Also I’m a fan of this type of gameplay 🙂

  • The pic for this looks way cooler than I thought it would – glad that it holds up in most ways.

    Twitter: @ilRadd
    Facebook: Mark Monzo

  • Sounds good. Will try out the demo and hope I win! Good luck to all.

    ~d

  • Sounds interesting, never played a game like this before, might have to check it out.

  • Sounds like a great game, Not many people cover naval warfare!

  • O god I hate tacked on Multiplayer. ( RE5 anyone?) Other then that, sounds decent. I dont know how the game can tack so much on in 4 hours, character development takes awhile for stuff to really shine. But hey as long it’s done not toooo bad right? Also, WaterWorld XD.

    @Darklurkr23

    *thanks for the contest*

  • Found your site on CAG! Nice reviews =)

  • Awesome site guys. I love you are reviewing games others don’t take the time to.

    I was kind of leery because of the escort missions so held off been then heard about this contest so thought hey what do I have to lose 🙂

    Keep up the good work.

  • After reading the review, I decided to watch the trailer. Now I want to play it. They don’t make many boat games and I think I would enjoy the battleship style. The game reminds me of Aegis Wing.

  • I didn’t think I would be interested in this game, but you had me at “steampunk.” A unique twin-stick shooter with an engaging sci-fi story is right up my alley. I do prefer twin-stick shooters that have co-op, so it’s a little disappointing that it is not included, but other than that it sounds great. Great site. I like the detailed reviews for these games that most of the time don’t get enough attention.

    Thanks for the contest!

    Liked and RT’d – @abadmotivator

  • CAG. Just found this site. Interesting review. I LOVE the background mish-mash-up of all the video game controllers.

  • I liked how a game has a decent storyline instead of pure strategy and timing. A short game that does seem to be worth $5, but entering this giveaway for a chance to win it for free is most likely what will happen for the people who are here.

    Tweeted as @ropes

  • I didn’t even know that this game existed. Nice review and I agree this is a radically different twin stick shooter and a nice alternative to Geometry Wars. I had fun playing the trial so far, so winning the full version would be super sweet.

    Here is my bonus tweet:

    http://twitter.com/Phantoms_Heart/status/32369574234034176

  • Followed at @_yousufhussain_

    I usually don’t like boat games, but this one looks pretty cool. Thanks for the in-depth review though, as someone above mentioned, most XBLA games don’t get these kinds of reviews.

  • Very Nice. Will have to check this out.

  • Nice review. I’m more tempted now that I know what the game is about.

  • I had tried the demo of this a long time ago and didn’t feel like it was worth $10, but as you said in the review, $5 is a good enough deal to overlook its flaws.

    I entered on Twitter, as well: @clarknielsen

  • The demo seemed interesting, I wouldn’t mind trying out the full game!

    Twitter @fresh0288
    Facebook – Doug Klein

  • Great review. I like that it seems pretty laid back being a twin stick shooter but at the same time appears to have a good story as well. Also a unique art style is always a plus! Hopefully I can to try it out for free myself thanks to you guys. Cheers!

  • Played through the Aqua demo yesterday, and I agree with the review. Even though I didn’t play the whole game, the demo (both the training and intro mission) gives a good idea as to what is in store for the rest of the game. Rounded out by the review, it is easy to tell if it is worth 400pts to you. I am on the fence simply because of the other 5 twin-stick live arcade shooters I already have and don’t know if I need another. If I could trade one of those for Aqua, I would as it seems to do what it is trying to do very well. At the same time, I would not spend 800pts for it, so it is either sweepstakes winner, or 400pts before the sale ends for me.

  • Nice review. I will definitely consider buying this game….that’s if I don’t win the contest of course.

  • Perfect posting, I am browsing back again usually to search for fresh news.

  • Nice review! might have to try the demo now ^_^

    Twitter @SpaceBabs

  • Came here from CAG. It is a very nice review and to be honest I never actually knew what kind of game this was before reading what you said.

    And as one person that writes some reviews (at my own blog) I have to say I envy your ability to form sentences. Mine… aren’t as nice.

    Tweeted @Kaltic

  • Played through the demo and I agree with your review; I loved the added story element, which is not something often seen in this genre. Look forward to picking this one up soon.

    Twitter @DonBurns99

  • You caught my interest with the mention of Steampunk, I love the style. Overall you inspired me to check out the demo, I’m always on the lookout for decent XLBA titles, but they’re never covered extensively as retail titles, so it’s usually a risk when buying them. I’m okay with only local co-op though, I love playing with family and friends so that’s hardly considered a flaw to me. Been awhile since I’ve played a naval based game, so thanks for taking the time to review this. =)

    • Quick correction to your comment Trev, there is no co-op. Multiplayer is local only and appears to be a racing game; I unfortunately didn’t have anyone local to play it with so I didn’t get to test it out.

  • I’ve never tried the game before and to be honest, it completely slipped my mind that it was even on sale this week. This review gave a good indication on how the game is and works and I’m pretty tempted to check out this demo! Hopefully Captain Grey’s team won’t let me down. Before I confirm the purchase, I might as well try to win it for free though, so here’s to me throwing luck to the wind!

    Here’s my retweet and follow: http://twitter.com/#!/LawlPwned/status/32634980475609089

    I liked under my facebook which is here: http://www.facebook.com/LawlPwned

    Once again, great review. Convinced me to check out the demo!

  • This game looks pretty fun, and especially for a contest, the price is right! Steampunk games always get my attention. 🙂

  • Very good and informative review. Higher score than other gaming sites. Might consider this for co-op

  • Ahh, I love twin-stick shooters, especially ones with good controls (primary reason why I didn’t buy MicroBot). I really enjoy games with stories that can hook you–I usually play Arcade games if they’re fun and/or if they have easy achievements. Thus I really like when I have a game with easy achievements AND a good storyline. I’m sad it’s short, though (oh well: easier achievements for me), and because its multiplayer is lacking. Can’t beat 400 MSP (sale price)–or FREE for that matter.

    Also, I find the CBR Breakdown to be very helpful.

  • 4 hours does seem pretty short but for only $5 that is a real bargain.
    Thanks for the giveaway

  • Dual stick shooters can be real fun, and really take me back to the old school arcade gaming of the past, great review!
    tweeted by @agentcoop007
    Liked on FB by me Neil Merschbrock

  • hope i win :), Tweeted =@pikemoney , also liked on facebook = http://www.facebook.com/clearancebinreview?v=wall#!/profile.php?id=1804599542

  • enjoyed the review and great idea for a site!

  • Nice contest bro.
    Have a nice week/weekend

    I’m in.!
    On CheapAssGamer my name is; QThaKiller ( Also My Gamertag On XBL ).

  • I really liked the trial I played of this game, but $10 and no online co-op made the game unworthy of a purchase in my eyes. Half the fun of these shooters is being able to run through them with a buddy over Live! Great job on the review and thank you for the contest!

    Also followed & re-tweeted as @velikost

  • Overall, Aqua – Naval Warfare,looks to be a stellar addition to both the shooter genre and the XBLA lineup.

    Twitter @pic3k

  • I am impressed! I found your site from the contest link on CAG, and oyur review is not only very well written, but it addressed everything I would have wanted to know. I feel that a lot of reviewers, even on the big, well-known sites, let their own personal feelings of a game or genre interfere too much and overrun any objective observations. After reading your review I think I will check out the demo of this game, it seems to have potential.

    On another note, I think I will be checking this site regularly. It seems that this is made for me, I’ve gotten to the point where I rarely buy games that are not on sale/clearance.

  • Good review on Aqua Naval Warfare. This seems like it would be a fun alternative to Geometry Wars 1 & 2.

    Tweeted @ radicaldreamer3

  • Thanks for the review. Like everyone else, it makes me want to try the demo too. I liked the facebook page and retweeted under AkariK.

  • Good review. I’m in since it is free thanks. Good Luck to everyone. 🙂
    Liked on FB Ray Del Pilar
    Twitter: @Chronorayven

  • Decent review but when I got the chance to play it on a friends XBox, I would have to at least give it an 8, it’s pretty addicting! I will “Like” you on Facebook as well.

  • Game seems awesome. I love steampunk games and navy warfare games, so combined is just…whoo man.

    Twitter name is @Infinite0112. Thank you!

  • Nice review! I am going to get the demo now as it has made me want to play it. ( :
    Liking on Facebook as well!

  • Nice review! Awesome contest!

  • Nice review and contest. Thanks

  • Great contest. I’m in!

  • Great review – definitely sounds like something I’d like 🙂

    Looking forward to reading more reviews on your site – I’m a recent follower both on here and on Twitter (@hodsey77)

    Thanks for the contest 🙂

  • I love twin-stick shooter games. Thanks for the contest.

  • The contest is officially over. Congrats to @incphi and @JamesFerguson for winning Aqua! 160+ entries in our contest and the random number generator liked you best! Thanks to everyone for entering with your comments, tweets and likes.

  • Loks like this will be tons of fun. I’ve been getting into XBLA games of late and always want new ones to play. Glad to see reviews here to help me out.

    I just hope I’m not to late to enter the contest!

  • Pingback: CBR’s 6 month anniversary! Help celebrate by winning five XBLIG’s!

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