If you've been feline like some cat-based shooting shenanigans, Aqua Kitty: Milk Mine Defender DX may be the purr-fect solution. This retro-inspired shoot-'em-up takes a fur-miliar core gameplay mechanic, and wraps a gleefully absurd premise around it – but should you pick up this shooter right meow, or is it totally paw-ful?
Right, now that we have those litter-ally cat-astrophic puns out of our system, it's time to actually talk about the title itself. Indeed, sometimes the concept of a video game is so brilliantly nonsensical that the only way to truly appreciate it is to simply write it out in plain English. With that in mind, the central conceit of this charming indie is as follows: due to a global shortage of milk, a group of cats are forced to mine the delectable substance from the bottom of the ocean. However, their efforts are being thwarted by swarms of furious robotic alien fish-things. You play as a submarine-bound feline, who must defend the miners, allowing them to continue their work in peace.
However, despite this deliciously outlandish premise, the title’s gameplay is remarkably standard. If you’ve played the arcade classic Defender, you’ll know exactly what you’re in for. You’ll fly about on a looping 2D plane, shooting at waves of enemies, while also defending a handful of bases in order to stop them from having their miners stolen. As you take out more enemies, your multiplier will increase, with high scores being the ultimate aim.
There are two main modes: normal and arcade. The former sees you playing through a series of levels spread across a large map. Impressively, the game does a very good job of slowly introducing more and more diverse enemies as it progresses. What's more, each set of stages concludes with an always dastardly and difficult boss to topple. These battles often require a staggering amount of firing finesse, but are easily the title’s most satisfying encounters. Make no mistake: this is a game which necessitates pinpoint precision, even on its easiest difficulty setting.
Arcade mode is slightly different in that you’re attempting to make a single continuous run across the entire map, instead of slowly working your way through. Rather than the standard power-ups, though, you’ll collect gems which can be used to purchase any upgrades that you desire. While this mode provides a novel twist on the formula – and certainly ramps up the tension – it’s not so unique as to be compelling in its own right.
Therein lies the biggest problem with the game. As a love letter to a popular genre from a bygone era, it succeeds on almost every front. However, this historical obedience means that it doesn’t bring anything particularly new or interesting to the table. In truth, you’ll almost certainly enjoy the time that you spend shooting your way through flocks of futuristic fish – it’s just very unlikely to leave a lasting impression.
Thankfully, the title’s presentation succeeds at doing a lot of heavy lifting in this department. The crisp, clean pixel art style is gorgeous, and gives the game a much needed boost of personality. Similarly, the chirpy chiptune soundtrack bubbles with life, and does an admirable job of keeping up with the furiously paced action.
Aqua Kitty: Milk Mine Defender DX is a perfectly competent retro shoot-‘em-up. With tight controls, fun gameplay, and charming presentation, it's a strong example of the genre. Unfortunately, it never dares to be anything more than a heavily retro-inspired romp, and this strict adherence to the tried and true means that it fails to carve out its own identity. Just a whisker away from the cat’s pyjamas, then.