Aquaria: Sing Mode

I sing the body aquaticNaija’s powers, as noted before, are activated by song — sort of like in Ocarina of Time, but instead of pairing notes with buttons on the gamepad, they’re arranged around her in a circle when you hold the sing button. If you’re using the mouse, that means the right mouse button. While in sing mode, you hit notes by rolling the cursor over them. Presumably the analog joystick on a gamepad picks them as well, because their layout looks exactly like the pie menus seen in Ratchet & Clank and Psychonauts. (Luckily, the eight slots are exactly enough to hold a major scale.) The one big difference from those menus is that you’re not simply picking one item. You’re picking a sequence, which means tracing out a path within the circle on the screen.

Now, the touted advantage of pie menus is that they’re gestural — that, unlike drop-down menus and the like, you don’t really need visual feedback to use them: once you know which option lies in which direction, you can sweep the mouse in that direction without looking. The sing interface in Aquaria delves deeper into the “mouse gestures” concept, making you trace out simple shapes in the process of moving from note to note, albeit with on-screen icons to guide you. At that modest level of complexity, if you can do it without visual feedback, it’s because you’re getting aural feedback from the song itself.

So far, I only know three songs — this is turning out to be a large game, so I’m still only in the second chapter. (A fourth, without an associated power, was used as a passcode to open a door at one point.) The first one you get is a temporary protective shield, activated by the gesture left-right-left-right, which produces an approximation to the “dee-doo-dee-doo” of an old-fashioned British police car siren. The second is a simple “do-re-mi” done by sweeping a counterclockwise arc upward from the bottom. This is the song for lifting large rocks, so an upward gesture of both motion and pitch is appropriate.

The third is sort of a mirror of the second, a “do-ti-la” starting at the other end of the scale, going in the opposite direction, and sounding less resolved. This song triggers a mode transition, turning Naija into Battle Goth Naija, who throws fireballs around. (The game calls them “energy bolts” or somesuch, to excuse their presence underwater, but they look like fireballs, so that’s how I think of them.) Significantly, in this mode, Naija cannot sing. The sing button is repurposed as the fireball button. You have to go back to normal, vulnerable Naija to sing (although, since that’s is the form that can do the protective shield, perhaps “vulnerable” isn’t the right word). You do this by clicking on her with the left and right mouse buttons at once, which is a little clumsy, but it works. I suppose that some similar compromise could have been made to allow shooting and singing at the same time, so the repurposing of the button is effect, not cause, of the design decision to not allow that.

2 Comments so far

  1. McMartin on 6 May 2011

    I like Aquaria a lot, but one of the places it kind of falls down is that there are many ways to do the basic maneuvers, but picking some ways gives you options you don’t otherwise have.

    For example, those energy bolts home, as you likely noticed, but they also start out moving at the mouse cursor. So shooting at something you’re swimming towards lets you attack more effectively, and attacking while retreating is almost impossible against an even moderately agile enemy…

    … unless you’re using WASD to move with, in which case you can now free-aim with the mouse and still keep the homing capabilities.

    Similarly, I don’t remember where I learned it (offline manual? bit-blot’s forums?) but most of the commonly deployed songs are actually mapped to the top-row numbers; 9 is shield, 0 is bind, and then 1 through are all various forms you can take (with 1 being the equivalent of the twin-click to revert to Singer form). If you’re hunting and are suddenly under a barrage, being able to hit 1-9 in sequence to get a nearly instant shield can be a lifesaver.

    (Not all songs are abbreviated, so they aren’t a complete replacement the way WASD is for motion, but they make the game so much more tactically friendly that I would consider playing the game without using them a conduct challenge.)

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 7 May 2011

    I wish I had known about the number keys before my last boss fight. It would have made things easier. The fight involved repeatedly switching between forms, and sometimes I missed an opportunity to do some damage because I messed up the song.

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