Despite only releasing a handful of games for the system, Tikipod have been one of the Vita’s strongest supporters. Their debut game Aqua Kitty: Milk Mine Defender made a splash on PlayStation Mobile and was one of the best games for the format. Releasing two games for PSM, updated native Vita ports we wondered if they could do better. Now, with their final Vita game Astro Aqua Kitty they set out to show us if they can…
Astro Aqua Kitty – A New Twist
This all new game in the series is a departure from the Defender inspired arcade shooter. Last seen in Aqua Kitty UDX on the Nintendo Switch, this game takes the saga into space as the title suggests. The heroic felines have moved their operations from Earth and instead of searching for milk are now mining asteroids in space. Laced with valuable jewels, it seemed to be a simple enough plan… but these cavernous asteroids were flooded with water and all manner of hazards and creatures out to stop our hapless felines.
It’s up to you and your brave crew to take a heavily armed space submarine to the asteroids, protect the scientists and miners… and maybe collect a few jewels along the way. Doing this, Astro Aqua Kitty expands upon the previous games considerably, turning it into a hybrid of arcade shooter and blending in RPG style character progression.
So how has the gameplay changed? Right from the start, Astro Aqua Kitty takes a different approach to its gameplay. Instead of being a straight-up shooter, a more strategic element has been added. Your craft now has a two person crew behind it and the game opens up with your crew selection screen. Each has their own specialist skills and abilities that will affect how your craft performs during the rest of the game so you need to choose wisely right from the start.
From there, you move onto the game proper and set off onto the first asteroid. As you explore you encounter various scientists around the space rock. They’ll instruct you on gameplay mechanics and – most importantly – ask for help with different tasks. These tasks will send you off exploring the asteroid, defeating more enemies, hunting for lost items and performing all manner of heroic duties. Not everything is essential to complete each asteroid but they all help…
But Astro Aqua Kitty is different. As you defeat creatures, some will randomly drop gems. These can be used in the shops you find around the asteroids to buy new weapons or upgrade your craft’s abilities. Other gems can be picked up from mining when you destroy rocks scattered around the scenery. Additional weapons can be found in destructible cargo containers or are dropped randomly.
However, it’s not just a case of buying a weapon and using it. You have a limited number of slots to add a primary and secondary weapon, and four enhancement slots to your craft. Each weapon or add-on also has a level rating. You need to reach a set ability level to be able to add them (hence the RPG element). Experience is gained as you destroy creatures and when you earn enough you increase a level. This also allows your characters to use new skills as well. So there’s a lot more hidden depth than just fly and shoot.
The last Aqua Kitty games were incredibly addictive, taking all the best qualities from Defender but adding enough of a modern twist to keep them fresh. These new strategic elements that have been introduced to Astro Aqua Kitty lift it head and shoulders above your average shooter, and you’ve really got to think more about how you use your resources. It’s no longer a case of go exploring guns blazing. That might work for typical bullet hell shooters (even though there’s plenty of that here), but now you’ve got to manage your weapons, ship’s energy systems and a myriad of upgrades to get the most out of your craft.
Fortunately everything can be swapped in and out as you need to. And it’s a good job too as some weapons will be better suited than others for different sections of the huge levels. The same approach applies for dealing with the bosses at the end of each asteroid. Some need an all out assault with everything you’ve got, whereas others need to be dealt with using a more targeted approach where something like homing missiles will be your best bet. Fortunately, with save points scattered around the asteroids (and just before each boss) you don’t have to worry about a few deaths here and there as you progress.
How Does It Play?
Even though it takes a different approach to the game, with a more exploratory story-based game mechanic, it makes for a refreshing change. The action is just as frantic and will get your blood pumping as you try to keep your feline heroes alive against the odds, keeping it just as addictive as Aqua Kitty DX. But this time, with multiple challenges and side missions spread throughout each level, that can be tackled in any order you wish, the game just feels much more satisfying.
Instead of endlessly playing from one end of a level to another as you would in a traditional arcade shooter, each mission feels like a win in its own right. With some of these being optional, and the others being able to be tackled in a non-linear manner, it makes you feel as if you’re in total control of the game. It all adds up to create an engaging gaming experience that you’ll find almost impossible to put down.
For games of this nature, the big concern is its long-term appeal. That’s not really a problem with Astro Aqua Kitty though. Even if you complete the game after exploring the eight vast levels and taking out all of the bosses, with the random distribution of weapon pickups and item availability in the store it ensures that no two runs of the game ever play the same.
So in essence, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve memorised the layout of all of the levels, or mastered ways to avoid the attack patterns of everything you face, having access to different weapon loadouts each time will keep the game fresh every time you start anew.
Just as with previous entries in the series, Astro Aqua Kitty looks and sounds fantastic. The 16-bit retro styling has continued from the earlier games, and the pixel art visuals from Dugan Jackson are just as striking as ever. And as before, the graphics are backed up by another fantastic chip soundtrack by Electric Cafe. I’m a huge fan of game soundtracks in general, especially from the 8-bit and 16-bit era, and as with their previous releases Electric Cafe have made this soundtrack available from Bandcamp. And as with the game itself, it’s worth every penny.
One of my only real criticisms about Aqua Kitty DX was the occasional slowdown I experienced. Even though the game deserved it’s spot in our list of the Vita’s Top 10 Arcade Shooters, there were times when the game stuttered when it was busy on screen. Fortunately this sequel has no such problems in that department. It’s silky smooth throughout, no matter what’s on screen or how many creatures are around trying to blow you to kitty heaven.
In fact putting this side-by-side up against the Nintendo Switch version and apart from the obvious difference in screen resolution the two are practically identical. I’ve swapped between both versions of the game regularly since each was released and despite being the older platform, the Vita holds its own admirably.
If this truly is the last PS Vita game from Tikipod then they’re bowing out in style. It’s an absolutely stunning game and a fitting way to close the series. The story elements blend in perfectly and don’t detract at all from the arcade action and each of the levels is packed with plenty of diversity in their missions to keep you engaged throughout. It’s incredibly addictive, plays like a dream and is easily one of the best shooters to grace the Vita. It’s a game that no self-respecting Vita owner should be without.
At A Glance
- Title: Astro Aqua Kitty
- Publisher: Tikipod
- System: PS Vita
- Format: PSN Download
- Memory Card Spare Required: Mb
- Cross Buy: N
- Cross Play: N/A
- Online Multiplayer: N/A
- Local Multiplayer: N/A
- PlayStation TV Compatible: TBC
Screenshots featured in this review are taken from various versions of the game.