Hello everyone! The name's Robert Boyd. I did some forum and review work with Ken back in the day. When he told me that he was reviving the Gamebits site with a new look and new content, and I just had to get onboard. I'll be doing a little bit of everything: discussing the latest gaming news, sharing impressions of what I'm currently playing, talking about various aspects of the industry, game reviews, and even going back in the past for a bit of nostalgia. [Just like me! -Ken] Shall we begin?

For today's entry, I'd like to talk about a game called Aquaria. A week ago, I had no clue this game even existed; now I'm thinking it just might be the best surprise of this holiday season. Aquaria is an independent PC game that won the grand prize ($20,000) at this year's Independent Game Festival. It's about the mermaid-esque Najia and her quest to discover herself and explore her underwater world. Gameplay could perhaps best be described as a cross between Ecco the Dolphin and Metroid. The player guides Naijia through a massive and intricate 2D underwater world, finding new powers that allow her to explore areas that were previously unreachable.

Several things stand out about Aquaria. First is the shock that it looks and sounds as good as it does. The underwater environments that Najia explores can only be described as gorgeous. The music is equally impressive with dozens of songs that really make you feel like you're right down with her. If you have a decent video card, you can turn on some special water effects that make the whole thing look even better, but even with that option turned off, this is still one of the better presented 2D games I've seen in a long time. What makes the whole thing downright amazing is that the game looks better than many commercial game releases, despite the whole thing being created by only two people (three if you count the voice actress who does a hauntingly beautiful British voice for the heroine). One guy did the music and programming, while his partner did all the art. Truly outstanding and an inspiration for all would be indie game designers.

The other thing that really impressed me with what I've played of the game is the level of immersion that they've managed to achieve with this game. Several aspects work together to build this effect. There's the aforementioned high presentation values. There's a control system that works wonderfully that allows the player to play the entire game using only the mouse (keyboard & control pad options are also available for those who so desire). And there's the level design. Sure, there are plenty of areas that follow traditional game design rules with puzzles, enemies, bosses, treasures, and the like and these are well done, but then there are also areas where you're just meant to explore for fun and take in the experience that really make the world seem alive. Finally the story of Najia's quest for discovery is expertly told in a minimalistic fashion that leaves plenty of scope for imagination.

I highly recommend you check the game; the company's Web site has a demo that lasts about an hour or two that should give you a good idea of whether or not this game is for you. The full game costs $30, and though I was leery of paying that much for an indie game at first, if the rest of the game is as good as the demo then the game is well worth what they're asking for it. It's currently for PC only, although they are working on a Mac port. I'll be sure to give a full review after I purchase the game (I have some eBay auctions ending soon, plus there's always Christmas) to let you all know if the full version fulfills on the promises made by the demo.