Aquarist Switch Review

Alright fish-face? Want to make a living making aquariums from the comfort of your Nintendo Switch? Here's an Aquarist review.

Aquarist takes it up a notch with its ‘family-influenced simulation’, a.k.a. grandpa has snuffed it and left you a ranch, the family want you to keep the circus running, or your folks have banded together, given you $200 and the garage and told you to go forth and be an electrician. We get to see your dad in this game. Unfortunately.

Yes, it was quite a fright having this Brass Eye poster-boy walk into the bedroom with a glass cube. “Here, Son. I got you your first aquarium”. Don’t ask how you’ve been a good boy. Pa even plays down this 150-litre tank as a starter aquarium. What the hell; my main tank is 120l, which induced hair loss through all the fish dramas. I digress…

As an IRL fishkeeper, Aquarist got me interested after sticking out the trailer. The introduction of a shark followed by some stills of a mass public aquarium wasn’t what sold it, but the fact that you can craft your own biomes with fish, substrate, decorations and the necessary tools to tinker with it. Think Aquarium Designer, only on the Switch and with story progression.

Oh, and dreadful controls/mechanics.

Aquarist Switch Review - Tough crowd
Tough crowd. Source: Nintendo

Aquarist Switch Review

So far, playing a first-person simulator on the Switch hasn’t been a good experience. My first experience began with House Flipper, and since playing that, I can’t recall a game that’s worked well. In my opinion. So, the benefit of the doubt, a sleepy (a good thing) setup of designing and maintaining a fish tank appealed, and for the most part, it works. However, the shop menu and fundamental placement of decorations within the aquarium are as welcome as fin rot.

Like most simulators, you’ll have an inventory at the foot of the screen, indicating what you have to hand – tool or decoration. The tank is the focal point, but there’s free movement around it from a first-person perspective, and you can interact with it by dropping items in or mounting equipment such as filters and heaters to the side. A zoom option with L and R helps with the placement, but getting things exactly where you want them can be tricky.

Once you’ve laid the substrate, you’re free to decorate – based on the objective – and a highlighted area will be shown on the screen where the rock, plant or driftwood will go. Fish, on the other hand, plop into place and swim for as long as you feed them, getting the right chemical balance, temperature, and substantial amount of oxygen for them to thrive. Like real life, really. 

Portable Fish Keeping

Unfortunately, I just could not get on with the controls whatsoever, and Aquarist would frequently get trapped in menu systems that couldn’t be escaped. The only way to return to a scene was to exit the game completed and restart (no auto-save). This was too much for me, and I bailed. In terms of game design, Aquarist is right up my street, and I genuinely want to be saying nice things, but I can’t about this Switch version and would instead give the PC version a go, consequently adding to my wishlist and playing the demo on Steam.

But like House Flipper, this plays better on the PC. Interestingly, Aquarist is still in the Early Access stage on the PC, so I’m not entirely sure how it’s been released on the Nintendo Switch now. In my opinion, it needs work, but it has potential. Switch games aren’t renowned for their superb visuals, but Aquarist does look pretty good – much better than its contemporaries. Alas, the core gameplay was the spanner in the works. By all means, check out the other reviews, but my advice would be to download the PC demo and get a feel for it.