4 out of 5. While its story may be a case study in ludo-narrative dissonance, The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human provides a unique underwater take on metroidvania design with some great bosses.
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How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. You're a submarine, so no platforming, but otherwise it's very much a Metroidvania experience
Primary Challenge: Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~5 hours
Review Info: The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human was played on Windows PC using the Steam version.

More Info

Developer: YCJY Games
Publisher: YCJY Games
Sub-genre: Misc Metroidvania
Features: Map System, Ranged Combat, Flying/Swimming, Fast Travel/Teleporters, Environmental Storytelling, Sequence Breaking, Blood and Gore
Difficulty: High
Linearity/Openness: Open Low Gating - No Handholding
Platforms: Windows, Itch.io, Linux, MacOS, Steam, GOG, Switch, PS4
Release Date: 2016/01/19
Available Languages: English

Store Links

    Steam    Humble Bundle    GOG    Playstation    Nintendo eShop    itch.io    

Buy The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human if you like…

  • Twin-Stick Controls
  • Ambient Atmosphere
  • Piecing together Lore
  • Difficult Bosses
  • Murdering Sea Life

▼ Review continues below ▼

In the year 2973 you’re sent on a space expedition where you are trapped in a wormhole or something similar. When you finally escape, over 10,000 years have passed and you find an Earth where the ice caps have melted and the human race has been forced to survive underwater, or at least they tried. When you breach the ocean planet’s surface there isn’t a single human soul to be found, making you likely the last human in existence. This isn’t the first game to explore the concept of being completely alone in the universe, but it is always a fascinating subject to think about. What would you do if you were the last human? Apparently if I followed the example of The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human, my goal would be to murder every living thing I came across.

Don’t get me wrong, for a video game murdering fish is a fine enough goal. I just expected something a little more nuanced with the concept. To be fair, atmosphere is something that The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human does very well. Colors shift seamlessly as you move from one biome to the next, and haunting music sprinkles ponderous thoughts into your mind as you otherwise silently putter along in your now-ancient submarine. There are enough quiet moments in the game that if you allow yourself to, you have plenty of time to think about any of the philosophical ideas that Aquatic Adventure introduces, even if it doesn’t overtly explore them. It sort of invites you to explore them on your own as you’re literally exploring for other goals.

The exploration aspect of Aquatic Adventure utilizes its setting in some pretty clever ways. Since this game takes place entirely underwater, the usual platforming element that drives metroidvania ability gating is of course absent. Instead of placing platforms just out of your reach that you can later double-jump to, Aquatic Adventure restricts which directions you can attack and places door-opening switches where you can’t hit them at first. You’ll be severing the ropes on explosive buoys to open shortcuts, upgrading your engines to move through fast currents, and of course obtaining tools that simply let you cut or blow your way through obstacles. A helpful map gives high amounts detail to any sector you’re currently in. By checking between what you’re seeing and what your sonar is conveying to you, an observant player will be rewarded with some very important improvements to your ships hull, the speed of your main weapon, or other optional upgrades. Backtracking between major locations while trying to figure out how to progress also gives you ample opportunity to take in the meticulous details of every scene.

Hints of the ancient human past are painted into the game’s backgrounds and revealed to you through holo-log entries that can also be found. The world is rich with environmental storytelling. Crumbling billboards and still-functioning electric signs portray the remnants of an all too familiar corporate-driven society. As relatable as the satire is though, there isn’t a clear story to be formed. Some holo-logs speak of a rebellion against the powers that be, others talk about the global warming that led to the great Earth-wide deluge. Conclusions about what happened to mankind could be surmised from any of the entries found, making most logs feel more redundant than revealing. Eventually you do get some definitive answers to the specific question of “what happened?”, but the point I’m trying to make is that the logs do not act as bread crumbs toward some great mystery. Any existentialism Aquatic Adventure’s narrative may inherently have is overshadowed by your apparent main goal anyway; which is murdering fish.

Finding your first and most important upgrade is punctuated by the game’s first of many boss fights. Almost comically, when you defeat this giant underwater worm a large hand-written notebook is pulled out in front of the screen where your Last Human has apparently sketched a picture of the monster you just defeated. You can’t progress the game until you press a button to cross the sketch out with a big red X as killing the worm was one of your goals all along. And killing bosses is your goal. Bosses are marked nicely on the map for you with no upgrades needed once you’ve entered their sector for the first time. The pattern of you sketching pictures of your underwater quarry and then crossing them out applies to every boss in the game. Keep in mind that you have just crashed back onto the planet with no possible foreknowledge of what you’re going to find, so the last human must have only just started making these sketches. You’re like a gruesome aquatic serial killer, without even knowing why. You are the last human, returned from outer space, and your gift to the world is madness!

Some of the fish you kill are indeed clear threats to… well, I guess other humans if they actually existed. One of the sea creatures you take out is literally called “the parasite” and another is a mutant fish covered in radioactive slime. Some of the other “threats” however are clearly just trying to defend their territory from a sanctimonious killer, such as the just-chilling Octopus literally named “The Tranquil”, or the entire family of Seahorses – the parents and the children – that you skewer with your harpoon gun. It’s a bizarre case of ludo-narrative dissonance, unless the Last Human somehow blames them for the destruction of mankind.

These bosses don’t go down without considerable effort either, making this a very challenging and fun game. At many points in your exploration you’ll come across many bosses without the adequate tools you need to defeat them, which sort of makes them into gates themselves. This also means that they scale nicely with your abilities, and if you manage to somehow defeat them early you can reap the benefits of the equipment they guard. Exploration then becomes about leveling up as much as it is about progress.

Part of the challenge many of these bosses pose are based on your limitations. Your main weapon is a harpoon gun that needs to be locked in and charged up before it can be fired at its maximum range. This prevents Aquatic Adventure from being just another twin-stick shooter, and accuracy prevails over rapidly firing – although you do get upgrades that make your harpoon charge faster. At first you can’t even fire upwards, so you need to manipulate your enemy’s position to even get them in your sights for a chance to attack. Dodging enemy attacks while watching for the right opening makes Aquatic Adventure almost bullet hell-esque. Playing with a controller, you can point your harpoon instantly in any direction you choose, but I suspect this game would be slightly easier aiming with the point-and-click mouse and keyboard, though that does reduce your movement to only 8 directions.

Similar to other games that use twin-stick controls, Aquatic Adventure does sometimes trap you in seemingly unfair situations where you’re forced to take damage. Luckily taking damage – assuming you don’t die instantly – is often only a minor setback. Your submarine has the ability to automatically repair itself, and there’s no cooldown to this self-healing. If you take a hit, you can retreat and wait for your hull strength to replenish before going back in. Some bosses are aggressive enough though that this isn’t always an easy option, and later bosses like to just squish your submarine if you happen to get caught, putting Aquatic Adventure’s combat on the higher end of the difficulty spectrum.

If you can get past all of the game’s vicious and innocent bosses you’re treated with ending that ties together Aquatic Adventure’s themes. There’s a thick layer of revenge in the gameplay tempered by quiet exploration in a ponderous atmosphere. It invokes a mix of feelings that I think every player is going to react to differently. My first feeling was slight disappointment. I kind of wanted Aquatic Adventure to be about existentialism, and what I got was some great gameplay and a lot of weird narrative juxtaposition. Upon reflection though, there is still a lot to discuss about Aquatic Adventure’s story, and the game’s final event does raise up an intriguing philosophical debate. This game’s Last Human decided to behave in a specific way, but how would you behave in the same situation? Attempting to answer this question reveals that Aquatic Adventure may be deeper than it initially lets on.

The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human is not a particularly long game, but for what it is, it’s a great boss hunt and underwater adventure with a little more to think about than your average action game. I am a bit torn on its narrative features. Aquatic Adventure nails the atmosphere, and the environmental story telling is well-done, but those elements clash a bit with the game’s main activity, which is killing more bosses. Gameplay is paramount though, and Aquatic Adventure delivers. As a unique take on the Metroidvania formula with some fun and challenging bosses to murder, The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human is an easy recommendation.


Final Score

4/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 4

There are occasionally points where RNG can mess you up, but overall, there's depth to strategy and the Metroidvania upgrades change things up significantly.

Platforming
– 3

No ''platforming'' but you do occasionally have to be agile when dodging objects and traps - it's not particularly difficult though

Exploration
– 4

Eventually the game just tells you where most of its treasures are, but you have to survive until that point, and exploration is heavily rewarded to get you to that end.

Puzzle
– 2

There are no puzzles in this game

Story
– 3.5

''The Adventure of the Last Human'' invites a whole host of possibilities, but at least in the surface level story presentation, there are only a few narrative beats that invite interesting discussion. There may be more beneath the surface with the lore you find however

Graphics
– 4

Atmosphere is clearly a main draw with this game, and the graphics combine with the music quite well to give Aquatic Adventure a beautiful feel

Music
– 4

The second part of the atmosphere equation, Aquatic Adventure's sounds immerse you as much as its visual waters

Replayability
– 3

The experience is overall pretty short with few meaningful choices to vary the experience. There are some bonus modes though that can help to extend gameplay


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