Have you ever been in a pet shop and thought to yourself, hey, those fish look super cool and easy to keep…only then when you look into aquariums and fish keeping you discover just how much work is required? Yeah, me too. Fear not though, the developers over at Sigur Studio have come to the rescue with their delightful sandbox Aquarium Designer to satiate all of your fish-keeping desires.
Aquarium Designer by all means isn’t your typical sandbox simulator game, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. If you go in expecting hyperrealism and, you will find yourself disappointed, irrespective of the fun facts you find on the fish descriptions.
I wouldn’t call myself an expert in any case regarding fish, but growing up my dad kept an array of exotic parrotfish and angelfish, so I was excited to see just what Aquarium Designer had to offer in the way of exotic breeds and realism.
It didn’t disappoint.
You can choose between two game modes; a campaign and a creative mode. Both modes are fun and offer their own unique gameplay, but they are still currently lacking in some areas.
The campaign will see you taking emails from customers as well as your in-game uncle, picking out the right vegetation, heaters, filters, substrates and of course fish to complete the customer’s desired aquarium.
It really is just a lot of slow-paced relaxed clicking and dragging, but it is rewarding nonetheless.
Each campaign contract is “graded” out of 1000 points, which then helps you to level up. With every level unlocked, new fish species, plants, rocks and other fun accessories for your tanks become available. The closer to the contract you complete your aquarium, the more points you’ll earn and the faster you’ll level up.
You can even return to your completed contract tanks later down the line to tweak your designs to fully max out your points.
It took around 2 hours of playtime to casually complete the campaign mode as well as reach level 10 and pick up any achievements along the way. The quirky emails from your uncle and the fun facts that come through along with your commissions are a fun little addition that definitely kept up my enthusiasm.
Moving onto the creative mode, this is where things get interesting. You can choose between a casual sandbox mode or a realistic mode here.
The casual is exactly as it is described—you are given free rein over a tank of your choosing, you don’t need to worry about water pH, temperature regulation nor do you need to keep an eye on your fish at all times. Here, you are the design master, and you can swap between any of your own tanks to tweak at any time.
The realistic mode has all of the benefits of casual, only with the added difficulty factor of pH balancing, temperature and water checks as well as monitoring your fish and plants to keep them alive—all of this happens when the game isn’t active too, to make the challenge a little harder like in real life.
These modes are arguably Aquarium Designer’s magnum opus. With complete creative freedom, you’re given a blank slate to build your dream tank without the pressure of your uncle’s emails or worrying about whether your design is up to the customer’s standard.
Add in the relaxing lo-fi background music and the easy to navigate menus and we’re onto a winner.
Aquarium Designer is without a doubt a relaxing game to sit down for a few hours and let your creativity out, but it isn’t without its small flaws and opportunities.
As you inevitably unlock more fish species, you’ll begin to notice patterns in their behaviours. They all act the same. From your usually more solitary betta fish to your schooling tetras, each fish species is unique and this isn’t always reflected in Aquarium Designer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s realistic enough to keep the immersion, (aside from the odd time one of your fish will clip through a rock) but differentiating behaviours would be an excellent addition to an already fun simulator.
With more content already confirmed by the developers, it’s only a matter of time before brand new features, fish and interactions are added.
Aquarium Designer definitely has the scope for a bright future, but as it stands, it is an enjoyable designer sandbox that you should definitely give a chance, whether you are a novice or a pro with aquascaping and fish-keeping.