Game Review: Aqua Kitty – Milk Mine Defender (PlayStation Mobile)

I’ve said before that a large number of the smaller, low-cost games that are available for the PS Vita – either as PSP Minis or through the PlayStation Mobile platform – are potentially going to be remakes of existing games, simplistic puzzle games, or “tributes” to games that we are all familiar with that have been around since the dawn of video games. I certainly don’t want to be derogatory of publishers working hard to bring us all of these games, but at times it does feel as if there are some developers who go to great lengths to disguise what their games really are.

Aqua Kitty comes out guns blazing and makes no false pretenses about being a deep, thought-provoking game that will engage your mind and involve puzzles that will require a genius worthy of MENSA to be able to solve. Instead, it’s a full-on, side-scrolling arcade shooter with its roots planted firmly and proudly in the past. The story behind the game is a little different and has a rather feline angle to it (if the game’s title hadn’t already given you a hint there!). It’s the future and the world is in turmoil – there’s a disasterous global shortage of milk (don’t ask what has happened to all of the cows, that’s not explained) so all of the worlds cats are left with a desperate hunt for their favourite drink…

Miraculously, a naturally-occurring source of milk has been found under the sea bed (I did say this was different) so a team of underwater specialist mining kittens have been sent to drill for this milk and collect it for all the cats of the world to enjoy. A tough enough job in itself, let alone having to overcome their inherent fear of water. But it gets worse… our brave miners are under attack from countless mechanical creatures trying to stop the mining operation so it’s your job to take to the waters in a heavily armed submarine to protect them and the future of cat-kind…

So forgetting the somewhat surreal story, the game itself will be familiar to any gamer who grew up in the 80s or 90s. Basically, this is a modern interpretation of the Williams arcade classic Defender. Your submarine can move in pretty much any direction firing at will, some of the creatures will try to capture your miners (who will meow asking for help) so you need to rescue them before it is too late, and the playing area, as you would expect wraps around so if you keep moving to the left far enough, you’ll end up back where you started. The warp and bombs from Defender aren’t present, but they have been replaced by a more powerful laser you can activate for limited periods of time during the game (and the power of this varies depending on how deep you are underwater), and additional powerups can be collected in later levels by destroying containers. These can include smart-bomb type weapons akin to the original Defender, additional weapon pods granting you temporary triple firepower and more besides.

To progress from one level to the next, simply destroy all of the attacking creatures while protecting your kittens. Destroy them all and you can move on. Each level forms part of an area of the sea that you are trying to mine and you can select which specific area you patrol from your map at the start of each level. Once you have cleared enough areas, you can use the map to move onto the next, choosing your route along the way. A nice touch and stops the game from becoming too linear with what is effectively a linear and limited game style.

One thing that impressed me straight away were the controls. The PlayStation Mobile range has been developed to be used by a range of PlayStation-Certified mobile devices including Android powered phones, devices and tablets including the Sony Xperia series. Since October 2012 the PS Vita was added to this but so far, with the exception of Aqua Kitty, every game I have seen uses touch-screen controls for absolutely everything. Before playing this, I was concerned how a shooter was going to work using touch screen controls. I’ve tried playing vertically-scrolling shooters on my Android phone before and uninstalled them within minutes because I’ve found them to be frustratingly difficult to control. I needn’t have worried though. Aqua Kitty detects what hardware it is running on and offers PS Vita owners the chance to play the game using all of the action buttons plus the D-Pad or left analogue stick for movement making it a real joy to play and control.

If you ever loved Defender, whether it was in the arcades or any of the home conversions, then you’ll love this. Aqua Kitty has managed to faithfully capture all that was good about the original – all the frantic action, the addictive gameplay, and the heart-pumping adrenaline rush as you struggle to squeeze your submarine past all the bullets being hurled in your direction as you’re trying to save that last miner make the game an absolute joy to play. You’ll scream in frustration when you lose all your miners or your sub is destroyed but almost as soon as that has happened you’ll be ready to start your next game to try to beat that stage, it’s that addictive.

In terms of the graphics and sound, the developers have all admitted that their gaming influences have come from the 8 and 16-bit era and that shaped the overall style of the game. All of the in-game graphics have been created using traditional 2D art software to create an old-school retro look reminiscent of the 16-bit era of the Amiga, Sega Megadrive and SNES and the sound is equally retro with some great chiptunes playing throughout.

The game simply oozes retro gaming quality from the visuals and sounds, to the classic 80s gameplay and has managed to capture everything that made all those old arcade games great without the need to find an endless supply of loose change! If you wanted to find a perfect way to described everything that was good about the 8-bit and 16-bit era for gaming, just look at this game and you’ll understand why it’s looked back on so fondly. This is a must-have purchase for every PS Vita owner, and is a strong contender to be the best available for the PlayStation Mobile format.

Simon Plumbe

At A Glance

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