Despite the recent announcement that Sony is keeping their PS3 and Vita stores open a little longer, we still see Astro Aqua Kitty as one of the last games to grace Sony’s handheld and so we were extremely eager to try it out. Here’s our review.
Although this wasn’t expanded upon, we assume Sony’s announcement means games will stay on sale but many of the processes surrounding the store will still shut down – including the QA process that gets new games onto the platform. Just speculation of course, but we expect the stream of new releases to still end when the store was originally scheduled to close. Having said that, the new change does mean we might see more releases before then, as now they’ll stay on sale. It’ll be an interesting race to the finish line.
Anyway, back to Astro Aqua Kitty, from developer Tikipod. It’s a successor to Aqua Kitty: Milk Mine Defender DX, one of the earliest games I had on my Vita, so it’s only fitting for it to be one of the last ones as well. The new sequels builds on the retro 2D shooter-like formula of the original with RPG elements, while staying true to its origins in the process.
In Astro Aqua Kitty’s new sci-fi narrative, you head towards a dwarf star to proceed with your mining duties, where the core mechanics of the game are explained to you. Picking an engineer and a pilot for your team grants you specific character-specific perks, although many skills won’t be available until you unlock them during the course of the game. This is done by leveling up your ship and receiving upgrade points that you can then apply to your team’s skillset, which consists of ten skills from which you can select four active ones. Choose wisely, because if you only level up your four initial skills you might feel stuck later on when you feel like changing but only have underpowered skills to switch over to.
When you reach docking stations, you can save your game, regain healthy and energy and switch up your ship’s loadout. Using the rewards from your mining work, you can also purchase new weapons here, so they’re safe havens that are integral to the experience. Different missions have different enemy types and they’re vulnerable to different things, so switching thing up is somewhat essential.
You’ll also run into bosses, which have their own attack patterns and weaknesses. Advance knowledge will help you on a second playthrough here because you can then adjust your loadout accordingly, but even without that benefit the boss fights are still a lot of fun and generally feel fair. The game is balanced pretty well in other regards too, as you don’t unlock certain abilities and areas until you’re ready.
The visuals for Astro Aqua Kitty remind me a bit of the indie classic Aquaria, with relatively lush underwater areas filled with colorful and detailed enemies. Combine that with an energetic soundtrack and this is one of the most audiovisually attractive 2D indie shooters to ever come out on the Vita. There could have been more visual diversity, but we would have hated for the game to miss its (now limited) Vita launch window because of that.
If you’re still enjoying your Vita, be sure to check out Astro Aqua Kitty – if you do, I’ll guarantee that you’ll probably also pick up the previous game if you haven’t already. The gameplay and control scheme are similar, although Astro Aqua Kitty builds on them with RPG-lite influences that make the game even better and more suitable for subsequent playthroughs.