Aquaria: The Jumping Druid

I’m generally pretty loose with spoilers on this blog. My goal in writing is to examine games in depth and detail, and tiptoeing around the plot just gets in the way of that. And I generally trust my readers to understand that a post with the word “Aquaria” in its title will contain information about Aquaria, and leave it at that. But today, I’m going to strongly recommend that anyone who’s playing Aquaria, or who thinks they might play Aquaria in the future, stop reading now, if you derive any satisfaction from solving puzzles on your own.

I said before that the one way that Aquaria fails to fit the Metroidvania model is that it isn’t a platformer: instead of jumping on platforms, you swim freely in a water-filled vertical 2D space. This isn’t quite true. There are places where you can breach the surface, jump high into the air like a playful porpoise, and come kersplashing down again. And, this being the sort of game it is, there are places you can’t reach any other way — the simplest being sections of water that are cut off from the mainstream by a chunk of island that you can vault over. But there are also things far less accessible than that, such as completely dry vertical shafts. The in-game map shows you the entire shape of each zone you visit, including the shape of the bits you haven’t visited yet, so it’s clear that there’s stuff to be found up above, but getting there is a problem.

Naija can survive on dry land, but, despite being humanoid, cannot walk on it. She’s accustomed to letting the water support her. Without it, she can only manage crouching and salmon-leaps. And there are places where this is sufficient to navigate the land, where the ascent is either gentle enough or irregular enough to leap up in steps. It’s tricky, though, because, just as underwater, you don’t have precise control over where you’ll wind up — the direction you jump in is affected by the angle of the surface you’re clinging to. I spent a considerable amount of time today repeatedly trying to get a sequence of jumps just right. Here, the game takes on all the frustrations of a conventional platformer, such as falling all the way to the bottom and having to start over. It’s sort of an inversion of the usual platformer, where the possibility of drowning means that the underwater sections are the annoying part.

But even that doesn’t really apply to those sheer vertical shafts. It seemed like the only way to ascend those was to take them in a single superhuman leap. There are ways to extend one’s initial jump out of the water: using the Beast form (the only song-form capable of swimming against a strong current), eating soup for a temporary speed boost. But such techniques only take one so far. And so I was left with a puzzle.

And it’s a pretty good puzzle, it turns out. The solution involves a bit of lateral thinking, in that it applies old tools in new ways. I mentioned before the Nature form, the fantasy-druid version of Naija with the power to make phallic-looking thorny plants burst out of the walls, damaging any enemies too slow or stupid to dodge a plant. The Nature form isn’t a very useful one generally, but it does have a few virtues, such as immunity to damage from sea anemones and spiky things — including those thorn plants I just mentioned. And again, this isn’t usually a very useful skill. Why would you want to create a dangerous plant and then touch it?

Because you don’t want to just touch it. You want to land on it. You want to use a series of thorn plants as platforms to let you climb up the shaft. I had been focusing on the problem of how to extend the height of my leap, but what I really needed to do was divide the distance up so that I didn’t need to clear it in a single bound after all. It’s still tricky to do, and I did still sometimes wind up falling clear to the bottom and starting over, but at least it works.

And once you have the insight of using thorn plants on dry land, there are other things you can do with them. Create one right under you, and the force of it springing out of the ground will propel you upward like a rocket. So, in the end, I did discover a new way to jump higher after all, but it’s a way that isn’t much use for ascending those vertical shafts.

1 Comment so far

  1. Lucian on 16 May 2011

    I will say (trying to avoid egregious spoilers) that in my playthrough I managed to make it up the vertical shafts without using the thorn plant trick. (Although I think I got it from a walkthrough instead of managing to figure it out on my own).

    Also, just wanted to say I’ve been enjoying these Aquaria posts a lot–I greatly enjoyed the game.

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