From the PopCap Vault: Insaniquarium!

Greetings, earthlings! With this blog post, we here at ye olde Blogge Ride are beginning a series in which we look back at some of the older, “forgotten” games in the PopCap catalog, both as a way for us to reminisce about them, but also in a rather sneaky attempt to get you to buy them. Actually, we’re just kidding about that last part. Sort of. Some of them might not be available, actually. And some might not be available on the system you’d like to play them on. We’ll let you know all that stuff in each post, just in case. But, really, what we want to do is remind everyone — including ourselves here at PopCap — that beyond the super big hits like PvZ and Bejeweled and the rest, there is a rather extensive catalog of other great games bearing our name. So join us as we enter the Wayback Machine this week, as we take a look at… Insaniquarium!

If it’s remembered for nothing else, Insaniquarium (how great a name is that?), first made in 2002, will be known as the game that dared ask the question: What would happen if aliens invaded your fish tank? It may also be the game that, in retrospect, paved the way for Plants vs. Zombies, as this was the game designed by George Fan (then of Flying Bear Entertainment) before he went on to make PvZ.

As in PvZ, Insaniquarium starts off deceptively easy. It’s just a couple of fish in a bowl, and all you have to do is feed them. It seems so easy at first that it hardly feels like a game. But things ramp up soon enough, as, um, aliens begin to periodically burst through some kind of extra-dimensional portal into your fish tank and proceed to eat your fish. Based on decades of science fiction, you might think that aliens might aim a little higher, in terms of galactic conquest, than eating a bunch of guppies, but, no matter. These are apparently tiny aliens without much ambition. All you know is, if you don’t want to see the Game Over screen, you need to kill the aliens and protect the fish. Once your last fish has been eaten, you’re done.

Insaniquarium starts easily enough. But just you wait.

So here’s where the game gets interesting: As you keep the fish alive, they begin to drop coins. You need to collect the coins to buy fish food and a host of upgrades, including weapons, other creatures, and various other power-ups to stave off the aliens, as well as to purchase the three egg pieces you need to complete the level. Beating a level unlocks yet another new aquatic creature with all new powers (just like the plants in PvZ) which you can then use in subsequent levels. And, again as in PvZ, you’re only allowed to bring in a certain number of creatures each level, so you must pick and choose wisely before starting a level. By the time you get to the game’s final levels, what at first felt like a rather mellow little aquarium simulation has now become a full-on, frantic, super-challenging game of time and resource management, in which you are constantly trying to balance the feeding of fish, collecting of coins, and killing of aliens, with a million things happening all at once on screen. It is gloriously frenetic.

It doesn't take long in each level before things start getting crazy.

What’s most interesting about Insaniquarium, looking back on it nine years later, and in light of current game design, including our own, is how much it forces players to experiment and discover on their own, rather than having everything spelled out. New upgrades will appear in a level with zero explanation of what they do or why you should use them — it’s up to you to buy them and figure it out. Nor does the game explicitly spell out how to kill each new alien type as it appears. In those “old days,” even casual games demanded a bit more “work” and thinking by the player, but the satisfaction of figuring it out, of course, only adds to the sense of reward when you beat it.

As in Plants vs. Zombies, you earn new, cooler items as you go along. But you can only bring a few into each level, so choosing which to take is key to the game's strategy.

If you’re a Plants vs. Zombies fan and have been anxiously awaiting whatever comes next from us for that franchise, give Insaniquarium a shot. We actually still sell the game for PC (not Mac, sadly!), and you can play for free on the Web, too!

And if you’re an old fan of this game and want to chat about it with us, or ask us questions, or even learn about the game’s fun Easter Eggs, come join us in the discussion on the game over at our new PopCap Forums right here!

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