There’s a disturbing calm one feels when playing The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human (heck, there’s even a disturbing calm to reading its quirky-yet-ominous title). On the one hand, the game is presented with a muted ambiance: every little sound is dulled by cubic miles of digital water, the content of which is for the most part either meditatively still or simply ignorant of the player’s almost microscopic presence. On the other, I know that this is only the case because there are no more humans around to create the kind of frenetic distractions that only humans can create - see, we’re all dead, apart from the guy in the submarine. Even during the infrequent Shadow-of-the-Colossus-esque boss battles, it wasn’t urgency I was feeling - it was a calm that almost drowned out the fear of my death representing the extinction of the entire human race. “Almost” being the operative word here.
Neko Atsume is a game about collecting cats.
In TAAotLH you are the titular last human, exploring a flooded Earth some time in the distant future. There’s beauty and danger alike in these waters, from crumbling grey towers to giant, mutated clams who clearly have a taste for tiny submarines, to disused pipelines overgrown with new life - all of it rendered by some of the most beautiful pixel art this non-pixel-art-enthusiast has ever seen (so maybe don’t take my word for that bit). Everything provides hints as to what befell humanity, and it isn’t long before all the odd audio recordings scattered and hidden along the seabed begin to form a narrative about the horrors of a civilization edging toward inevitable demise. The aesthetics and fractured narrative form a core part of the underwater exploration, so anyone with a love for neato pixel graphics and dark storytelling is in for a treat here.
In Neko Atsume, you buy toys and scatter them around your house and garden in order to attract cats.
TAAotLH can be described pretty accurately as a cross between Zelda (take your pick), Shadow of the Colossus, and a few trillion gallons of water. The game takes place on a single map broken up into smaller areas, each of which has its own particular theme, such as the bright, colourful, though-not-entirely-harmless “Seaweed Forest” to the decrepit, interlaced pipework of “The Facility”. Each of these, too, features a never-quite-unchallenging boss fight which typically rewards the player with the requisite sub upgrade to gain access to the next area - which, unfortunately, is generally in the direction one just came from. There isn’t a great deal of guidance and so I found myself backtracking quite often to figure out where I was “supposed” to be going, but never did I feel frustrated or bored during all of this - there are plenty of nooks and crannies to be explored, each of which features hidden upgrades and audio tapes, so most of the water re-treading is rarely in vain. (And it still looks damn beautiful.)
In Neko Atsume, feline visitors gift the player dead fish (the game’s currency) which can be traded in for bigger and better toys, cushions, and scratching posts.
TAAotLH’s boss fights are both challenging and varied. One pits the player against “The Lost One”, a rotting, skeletal fish which bursts from its skin in its attempts to eat the sub. Another features “The Fathers”, two giant seahorses who fire their young at the player in disturbing, machine-gun-like bursts. Average players (ie non-Dark-Soul-ers) will need to take a couple of cracks to grok them - but not quite so many cracks that frustration begins to set in. The fights are difficult enough to be difficult, but not so much that the sense of achievement is superseded by a sense of relief.
No bosses in Neko Atsume. Just cats.
Although I personally enjoyed TAAotLH, it’s certainly not a game for everyone. If beautiful visuals and a gorgeous soundtrack aren’t enough to keep you entertained while exploring and backtracking (sometimes in vain), the thrilling boss fights probably won’t feel like they’re worth your time. And in a similar vein, those who want a relaxed, aesthetic experience may even find the bosses too difficult, and liken them to interruptions in what is an otherwise serene experience. But I know you know what you like so if you like chilled-out underwater experiences punctuated with pulse-accelerating moments of frenetic action then you’ll like this. I mean, I certainly did.
Like cats? Then you’ll love Neko Atsume.
I suppose I should appendix this thing by saying that I’m not trying to say that games with lofty, philosophical interests are somehow intrinsically or objectively ‘better’ than intellectually-devoid cat-lady sims (or any other casual game for that matter), because of course they aren’t. I’m not here to make fun of Neko Atsume for being simple, or to lionise TAAotLH for being (or trying to be) smart, or to even compare the two - because they have almost nothing in common with one another (and I hope that’s been made abundantly clear by now). But what the two have in common is that they make clear from the get go exactly what they are, and exactly what they’ve set out to do - and they do just that. In TAAotLH, you’re on a journey of serenity, foreboding, emptiness, discovery, and pure fear, and in Neko Atsume, you collect cats.
And that’s just dandy.
I’m Scott. Like my things? Here is a Twitter.