The Return of Clockwork Aquario

When it came to unreleased video games, Clockwork Aquario was a relentless, blatant, and downright sadistic tease. It went through arcade location tests back in 1993, but developer Westone deemed it unsuitable for the market. So it drifted into the same ether that absorbs most canceled games.

Yet Clockwork Aquario survived. Composer Shinichi Sakamoto and EGG released the soundtrack in 2006, and stories from those who played the game tantalized like UFO sightings. Then company co-founder Ryuichi Nishizawa uncovered the source code, sprites, and design documents, hinting that it might well be possible to restore the entire thing. Clockwork Aquario seemed just on the edge of coming back to life.  

That’s exactly what happened, according to Strictly Limited Games. After a year or two of hints, the German publisher announced Switch and PlayStation 4 releases of a fully restored Clockwork Aquario. It’s due out  next year, and they have screenshots, a website, and some gameplay footage to prove it. I usually don’t embed videos that aren’t mine, but I’m breaking that rule for Clockwork Aquario.  



What’s that? It’s just twenty seconds of standard side-scroller gameplay? Yes, it is. But there’s more to the game than that. And there’s more to its appeal than a long shadow of makeshift nostalgia.  


Clockwork Aquario is the last arcade project from Westone, creators of the immensely charming Wonder Boy and Monster series (which I refuse to even attempt to explain here). Aquario theoretically found the company at its height, landing in between the excellent Wonder Boy in Monster World and Westone’s crowning achievement, Monster World IV.  


Even our limited peek at Clockwork Aquario reveals many familiar hooks. It offers three adventurers: Huck Londo, Elle Moon, and a rotund robot named Gush. Their standard hop-and-hit attacks are enhanced when they throw around stunned enemies—and even each other in the two-player mode. It wasn’t the first game to try out such a concept even in 1993, but it opens up all sorts of techniques. And it possibly led to the pet-tossing play mechanics of Monster World IV.  

The little details have already won me over. I like the way the characters take damage by subtly changing appearance (as Elle does in the video) and the way they turn into strangely calm angels upon defeat. I even like the little character portraits in the background of the player-select screen. Just look at them.