Originally called “Deep Sea Diver”, this little game is a horizontal-scrolling shooter created by Brian Goble and copyrighted by Softdisk Publishing, famous for their monthly disks with small games, programs, reviews, and similar materials. Although the game's graphics are simply too poor for its time, it does manage to convey a 'cute' feeling and atmosphere. The game also provides variety and its simple gameplay provides some short-term fun.
You control a diver who shoots other divers and sea-monsters while finding treasures. You are armed with a quick-action harpoon that comes in handy as you need more than one shot to deal with enemies, which include sea-snakes, various sized sharks, a giant octopus, and armed divers that sneak up from behind. There are also mines at the bottom of the sea that start rising as you approach them. The game has ten levels and at the end of each level there will be a boss waiting for you.
There is other stuff in the game that looks nice: seashells that let air bubbles out, small, harmless fish that can be shot for extra points, and treasure chests that can give you points but can also be a trap, wired with explosives. Points can also be obtained by killing enemies and 10,000 points are needed to earn an extra life. Any contact with a sea-monster is fatal. After killing the boss, you continue above a rock with a level number on it that serves as a checkpoint. Losing a life puts you back to the beginning of the level.
Still, all that is mentioned above is not enough to give this game a positive mark due to a number of drawbacks. The most important one is air. Your diver has a limited amount of air and has to continuously pick up extra air. There is a sort of time limit that makes you keep moving forward as opposed to simply waiting and killing for points. Extra air appears in a little box falling down from above and you must pick it up. It will always appear after the level boss and sometimes during the level. Since the levels become longer, you don't have enough air to reach the boss without extra air which most of the time appears at the most distant point your diver can reach with one air supply. This turns the gameplay into a tight race that leaves almost no time for stopping and killing, except perhaps in the first two levels. Sometimes you'll be hurrying forward losing a second only and lose a life because air hasn't appeared. The monsters along the way present almost no challenge, but if they stop you for a second or two, you will probably end up dead. This happens far too often in later levels and becomes irritating. Instead of fighting monsters, you are chasing air.
The big bosses at the end of each level are always different, which is a plus, but they all behave the same. After they appear, they rush towards you, and then stop to fire. No matter which boss you are facing, their firing pattern is the same: shiny circles moving by the curve line. The only difference between the bosses and regular monsters is that they fire more bullets and require more shots to be killed. The best way to deal with them is to simply take distance right away and start shooting at them as fast as you can.
Another feature is that levels are almost completely random. The only thing that is not random is the length of the level (which increases as you progress) and the level boss. Everything else occurs randomly so you never know what to expect, regardless of the level number. This means that in the first level you can be attacked by an army of divers and sharks, while in the second level there may only be a few snakes and an octopus. This may be good or bad as sometimes you'll finish an entire level by killing a few sharks or by avoiding a few mines. However, sometimes, avoiding those mines will take you awhile and you will run out of air without any battles along the way. Most of the time you will keep avoiding enemies since you don't have time to fight them. This does make levels different each time you play. If only you had a larger air supply...
You use Space for fire and the number pad for movement. You can use the arrow keys too, but you can't press two buttons like up and right at the same time, hence the need for eight buttons on the numpad for the eight directions in the game. Mostly you will press right, right-upwards and right-downwards since you must hurry. One good thing is that the speed of moving to the right is the same as that of not moving straight to the right.
The game has to receive the lowest mark due to its drawbacks: almost no sound (just a few beeps) and poor graphics. Aquaphobia still has something to offer, since it will probably be fun for a little while. With just a few small changes, like less stressful air issues and more challenging monsters, as well as some pre-ordered difficulty in the level, the game would be more balanced and so much better despite the technical flaws. Currently, the main focus of the gameplay is moving instead of fighting and that only shortens the time you’ll spend playing the game.
The game is in French, but you don't need a translation to play it.
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