By: Roberto Nieves
Publisher: TikiPod Ltd
Developer: TikiPod Ltd
Available on: Steam, Xbox, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch
A few years ago, a small but wonderful game arrived on digital storefronts. It was cute. It was fuzzy. It had a heck of a soundtrack, and it played like a new take on the arcade classic, Defender. I played it during my final year in college. I played it in the evening when I was the closing docent at the local children’s museum. That game was Aqua Kitty: Extended Play Deluxe DX. It was one of the very first games I ever wrote about for Stack Up. Now, in 2021, Tikipod LTD gets fast and furrious with its latest new game, Astro Aqua Kitty. This remarkable side-scrolling shooter is an incredible follow-up to the original Aqua Kitty. The milk must flow, even in the depths of space. New advances in technology and science have allowed the cats of Earth to move into the stars, mining for precious resources in the asteroid belt. Their newest mission is one of science, discovery, milk, and catnip. As an expeditionary force, the cats take into each asteroid, searching for resources and defeating various enemies. During a long campaign, the Cats will encounter strange machines and an assortment of evil bunnies, destined to thwart them at every turn possible.
Compared to its predecessor, Astro Aqua Kitty is more of an exploration and spaceship shooting RPG, allowing players freedom to roam about entire levels, fighting enemies, searching for treasure, and partaking in a large variety of missions. As the mining operation is ongoing, players search for those in need of assistance, searching for parts to a machine or drilling through solid rock. The goal of each level is to complete all objectives, fight every possible enemy, and inevitably, have a showdown with a screen-filling bossiness.
A significant departure from Aqua Kitty: Extended Play Deluxe DX is the focus on RPG mechanics. In Astro Aqua Kitty, the mechanics are simple. The more enemies that are destroyed, the more XP that is made to level up. Each level up unlocks more abilities, including special attacks and the option to add more armor and energy reserves. Additionally, enemies drop gems for currency and new weapons to add. Players can add new weapons and items to their ship and sell ones that are no longer needed. The items that players collect include enhanced batteries for energy and engines for faster propulsion.
Astro Aqua Kitty is a great example of finding balance for all players, whether you are a newcomer or a die-hard player. At the beginning of the game, players may select one of several kitty pilots, each with their own perks. One pilot is slow but absorbs damage like a tank. Another can move swiftly through water and space but is more vulnerable to damage. Players also choose a copilot to assist them in combat and further enhance their attributes. An important gameplay function to Astro Aqua Kitty is the difficulty. Players can choose to play Astro Aqua Kitty with perma-death, like an old-school arcade game, forcing players to start from the very beginning, should they be destroyed. Alternatively, Astro Aqua Kitty allows for checkpoints for players that need it. This flexibility creates an excellent balance and wide plane of accessibility for all players and their skill levels. Astro Aqua Kitty is as hard as players want it to be or as easy as they would want it to be. The choice is entirely up to the player.
Gameplay-wise, the combat of Gameplay-wise is enjoyable, especially with the various weapons and abilities available to use. Players begin with a basic shot and heavy shot but can soon acquire mine cannon, torpedoes, and even an auto-targeting laser cannon that reminds me of the Smart Gun from Aliens.
Some robotic enemies are tougher than others, but through timing, patience, and using the save points scattered through each level, players can overcome these challenges. Where Astro Aqua Kitty really takes off is in the boss fights. The challenging boss fight fill the screen with enemies and challenges. One boss features a central core that could only be damaged at a certain point, while another featured a worm making surprise attacks from rock and debris. Each boss has their own phases and will change attack patterns and their own attack to eliminate the player. The bosses aren’t impossible but are certainly far more difficult than the enemies in the game. Fortunately, the large assortment of weapons and abilities allows players to tailor their ship to meet the challenge. It’s a solid gameplay experience that works extremely well. As for controls, the input for Astro Aqua Kitty works like turning on a dime. Movement, maneuvering, shooting, and the feedback of explosions and interactions feel just right.
On a technical level, Astro Aqua Kitty is memorable and incredibly immersive. Astro Aqua Kitty features 10 missions with extremely distinctive areas, despite the repetition of seeing a lot of blue, since the game takes place in an underwater setting in outer space. Each zone has a very particular feel that varies as the player explores. Astro Aqua Kitty scrolls and moves very well, with illustrations, color, and pixels bursting out of the screen. No matter which platform you play on, Astro Aqua Kitty looks and plays remarkably well, especially on the PlayStation Vita handheld. Even the soundtrack, composed by MarkDay and Cody Carpenter of Electric Cafe, does a wonderful job in creating an engaging specific adventure filled with cats.
Perhaps the only grievance I have with Astro Aqua Kitty is its length. Granted, Astro Aqua Kitty has plenty of replay value. A single playthrough of the ten missions can last up to ten hours, and going through the game with different characters and settings can take some time to complete. However, with the world that has been built, I cannot help but feel there is so much more to see in Astro Aqua Kitty. The only other cat-themed gamed action game that comes to mind is Cat Quest, another excellent game, but Cat Quest does not have spaceships and lasers. Astro Aqua Kitty has a unique gameplay style and a world that I hope can be explored in the future. I can easily envision another Aqua Kitty shaped to naval tactical strategy, like Hasbro’s Battleship. Nitpicks aside, Astro Aqua Kitty is excellent.
Astro Aqua Kitty is sharp, polished, and enjoyable, with controls that turn on a dime. Astro Aqua Kitty perfectly personifies the behaviors of a cat. On the surface, it looks warm, fuzzy, cuddly, fun, and cute, and at times, it is, breezing through and eliminating hordes of robotic enemies. But, also like a cat, it can turn into a jerk and become the most devilish thing creature in your hours, with challenging boss fights that test skill, patience, and reflexes.
Ultimately though, we love cats, even when they become chaos gremlins, because their love, affection, and genuine silliness heal us when we need it most. Astro Aqua Kitty is in that same vein. It’s solid, enjoyable, and when we need something entertaining and rewarding to play, it’s there. Astro Aqua Kitty is a great follow-up to Aqua Kitty: Extended Play Deluxe DX and an excellent game to play, regardless of your skill level. Anytime is a purrfect time for Astro Aqua Kitty.