Shooter. Shmup. Shoot ‘em up. You may have your own preference of title for the genre, but regardless, the action distils to blasting against the odds with your arsenal of weaponry, and gamers have been tackling this challenge since the days of Defender and Space Invaders. The Switch has a heavily-armed fleet of side-scrolling 2D shooters to choose from, and for every R-Type, there’s a plethora of enjoyable – albeit similar – clones to take a ride in, but on occasion, a contender arrives with its own fresh take on the genre. Astro Aqua Kitty achieves just that, with the added charm of a crew of cats on board.
Astro Aqua Kitty is the sequel to Aqua Kitty, a shooter with striking visuals and a simplicity of design that managed to captivate gamers upon release. But where the original game confined itself to the wraparound aesthetics of Defender-style levels, Astro Aqua Kitty broadens its scope, with areas that span out in all directions. Players of the first game will notice some familiar gameplay mechanics, but this sequel offers new content to its repertoire too; this is a follow-up that expands its horizons to offer a much more luscious package. Just what these kitties deserve!
Your first decision is to choose your Pilot and Engineer from the small selection available. Each character has percentage ratings for attributes such as Speed, Health, and Armour, as well as specific Skills that tweak the experience a little. These are the first indications that there is more to Astro Aqua Kitty than being purely a shooter; the game has RPG elements that are inviting enough to encourage play but not so overbearing or convoluted as to dissuade anyone who may not be familiar with the RPG genre.
The context for this adventure: Our chosen cat heroes have been assigned the task of exploring an asteroid belt, where probes have detected vast volumes of liquid within the rocks, and a high density of gems and crystals to be recovered. When your cat crew arrive on-site, teams of companions are already on the scene, evidenced by a network of small-scale bases set up within the asteroids, which often act as Save Points within the play area.
The fact that these asteroids feature large volumes of liquid is important, because your vehicle is a submarine (yes, you may have played a shooter set in space before, or based underwater, but have you ever experienced a shooter that is underwater and in space?!). The opening few minutes teach the basics, and fellow cats working in different parts of the map often divulge a little snippet of helpful advice as you drift past them. Besides allowing you to save your progress, these hubs often feature a shop, where you can buy new equipment for your vehicle.
For the most part, however, the shop will not be your primary resource for upgrades. New equipment can often be found when destroying certain enemy craft or blasting orange loot crates. Equipment falls into two categories: weapons and devices. The weapons are satisfyingly diverse enough to encourage experimentation, and chances are once you’ve found your favourite you may be hard-pressed to relinquish its use. Plasma Guns, Proton Orbs, and (my weapon of choice) Sonic Guns are amongst the selection, and you can choose two to assign to your A and B buttons. Bear in mind however that your B weapon has a cooldown time.
Devices can often either improve your ship’s protective capabilities, or the efficiency of your weapons. One option is a Coffee Machine, which – brilliantly – reduces the cooldown period for your skills (Coffee, it seems, is a galaxy-wide energy boost). Each item has a rating, so that – for example – you can only use a level 8 Repair Droid if your Sub itself has reached that level. You have a limited amount of cargo space, and so the choice is whether to store equipment for future use or recycle it for additional gems (which can be spent to increase your sub’s base stats). This management of your inventory is just the right side of enjoyable.
There are plenty of different creatures to shoot as you travel around the landscape, and these opponents are varied enough that almost balletic movement is required to dart around them. Some enemies are fast, some slow; some have homing missiles, others utilise a cascade of bullets. Smaller foes may only require a few hits to eradicate them, while others will feature a little health bar that depletes when your shots land on target.
Missions may include escorting another vehicle to safety, capturing pirates, or mining for a specific resource. New areas of the map open up following your success at achieving an objective; it’s a carefully composed progression rich with new ideas. Cat-chievements can be unlocked, and a choice of five difficulty levels (including the option of Permadeath) means that there is flexibility in adapting the challenge to suit.
All of this, combined with minutely detailed pixels and jaunty tunes results in an inviting excursion into the unknown, filled with feline charm. A deep-sea delight.
Astro Aqua Kitty Review £11.99
Inventive and exciting, Astro Aqua Kitty is a wholly satisfying ride. Not revolutionary, but nevertheless a must-have indie gem on Switch. It’s an underwater RPG shooter with – ahem – plenty of depth.