Aquarium Designer Review (PC): Keep On Scapin’

Interested in aquascaping but don't want to get wet? Perhaps you have more tanks than friends but want to try a new design? Here's an Aquarium Designer review with some notes...

If you’re reluctant to experiment with your next scape at the LFS, save yourself the petrol and buy a copy of Aquarium Designer. Not only can you try out rock combinations, but experiment with some fish and plant combos without having to experience the algae problems.

This is all so terribly targeted at a particular market – LFS, a local fish shop/store, which is an acronym that fishkeepers like to use. I’m a fishkeeper – a.k.a. I have a fish tank of fish and tend to fiddle about with it (the tank) more than I should, but I’m an absolute novice. 

Aquarium Designer, from Sigur Studio, Games Operators and Playway S.A. might be worth purchasing before you attempt to get a foreign language copy of Takashi Amano’s Big Book Of Fish and learn all about golden ratios. It’s far from that level and much more user-friendly.

Aquarium Designer Review (PC)

I read about this title, then posted about it sometime last year, then forgot about it. A slight notification confirmed that it had been released as discreetly as fish poo, but then again, this isn’t a game about the fanfare, despite the large community of enthusiasts.

Aquarium Designer Review - Customary Guppies
Customary Guppies. Source: Screen capture

Aquarium Designer isn’t a simulator much as other titles we’ve all become addicted to. The goal is predominantly the design of things, and no, that doesn’t mean make it pretty, but you use design to solve a problem. A client wants a small, no-frills take that’s no maintenance, looks good, but they don’t want it to eat up their time.

With titles like Castle Flipper and what-have-you, you’ll get the modern equivalent of a noticeboard – email – and clients will approach you to update their tanks, create new ones and so on. This will consist of a primary objective and an optional one. The better you perform, the more XP you will receive, thus unlocking new gear.

I played about 15 minutes of the demo but immediately purchased the full game (it’s a steal at the price). Naturally, they differ slightly in that the demo categorises the parts on offer into sizes, whereas in the full game, you can manually adjust the height of a rock or plant by pressing W or S, A and D to rotate them. Of course, you can’t resize fish.

Mommy, I Want The Nemo One

There are two modes: Campaign and My Aquariums. Unfortunately, the Campaign mode is lacking a little for a few reasons. First off, and this is likely down to my enthusiasm, I finished all the job opportunities in less than 90 minutes. Except for three stages that were timed(!?!?), I wasn’t rushing it, but it’s pretty darn easy to achieve everything.

Aquarium Designer Review - That PH is a bit iffy
That PH is a bit iffy. Source: Screen capture

Your tasks typically will be filling the tank with several fish species (ensuring they don’t conflict with each other), plants, decorations and rocks. You’ll need to adjust the PH levels and ensure the water is heated correctly in later stages.

Most of these challenges are the same and effortless to ace. Still, a few optional tasks aren’t clear, such as hidden ones (which I completed, but it didn’t reveal how), using only dark materials for scaping, and replicating a child’s drawing.

Once you’ve finished clearing your inbox of requests, that’s it for the career mode, though you can have a look at an encyclopedia section that features everything you’ve encountered. These are also available in-game, though. The other option is custom builds in My Aquariums.

Think Tank

Now, this is where the game shines and earns its replay value as you can start crafting out your own scapes without any sort of restriction other than conflicting fish species. There’s the option for a realistic or casual approach, and while the latter might be tempting, the former offers more depth.

Aquarium Designer Review - A game of Rummy
I have these IRL! Source: Screen capture

For starters, the tank you will build will be prone to algae, the fish will need to be fed, and you’ll need to monitor parameters at the risk of losing your works of art. Note that this all happens when you’re not playing Aquarium Designer, so you might have some floaters if you don’t regularly check in. If this is too much hassle, opt for the casual mode.

The incentive here is essentially creative mode, and you can create hills within the tank, which you can do in Campaign as well, plot out your hardscape however you like and go for a deep tank, lengthy one, or a mixture. Regardless of the size, there are some restrictions with placement.

Remember, it’s Aquarium Designer, not simulator, so don’t treat this as entirely realistic, irrespective of the many features like fish facts and temperament. My biggest issue with the game is that you can’t stack, or combine objects. Also, unlike the demo, you the catalogue isn’t filtered, so you have to manually scroll through items out of sequence of price, care level, temperament, et al.


Anyone who has built an aquascape knows that it takes an age to perfect, and you may rearrange the rocks many times before committing to it. Whether you’re going for an iwagumi or not, you can’t balance rocks on one another; therefore, if you go for a deep tank, there’s a lot of wasted space. The only areas where you can place rocks, plants, and decorations are on the base only – no planting, like moss, on roots or similar.

Opting to carpet my scape with hemianthus micranthemoides, a.k.a. dwarf baby tears, I found that I couldn’t plant anything between sections as this plant had already taken up free space. There will also be plenty of times where you can’t place a plant down for unknown reasons, that eventually, it doesn’t resemble your initial design. And before we move on, I was a bit disappointed with the filters too – nothing to do with licensing, but they didn’t serve a purpose – the first model can be used for every single tank like the heater.

Aquarium Designer Review - A tall order
A tall order. Source: Screen capture

Ignoring the elevator music, the overall presentation – that is, graphics, UI and actual way of creating your tank – is excellent, and I can see me coming back and forth to this for the foreseeable future. You can’t return to the career mode once you’ve finished it – only the jobs where you didn’t 100% it.

The fish and plant options are not exhaustive, but there’s an excellent selection there. I would have liked to have seen shrimp and perhaps some more carpeting plants, but that’s just being picky. The most significant improvement would be the ability to stack – whether for scaping a deep tank, or perhaps you wanted to create a scene for some cichlids – raising the sand won’t help.

The Verdict?

Overall, I enjoyed Aquarium Designer but have seen all it offers in less than a couple of hours. Would I still recommend it on that basis? Absolutely. Even if the base game was just custom aquariums for yourself, it’s worth the entry price, but deep down (no wordplay there), I hope we get to see some updates that include stacking rocks, planting plants on top of carpets, and maybe, just maybe, some shrimp.

If you share this, I'll love you forever (ish)