30 years later, this game is finally out: discover the story of a crazy drive!

Skull & Bones, Cyberpunk… There are games that spend a lot of time in development. But not everyone you can think of comes close to this game originally planned for SEGA’s arcade machine and finally released on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC nearly 30 years later. A review of the history of this video game that should never have seen the light.

Summary

  • A spiritual brother for Wonder Boy
  • An unexpected retro resurrection
  • A release almost 30 years later

A spiritual brother for Wonder Boy

Here we are in the early 90s. Arcade terminals, despite a slight decline, continue to mark the heyday of young gamers and have allowed them to discover titles that have become legendary. This is particularly the case with Wonder Boy, a licensee from Westone. In 1992, the Japanese firm embarked on a similar project: a colorful 2D platform game with the sweet name of mechanical aquarium.

This new license is supposed to still stand out from the Westone behemoth, both in terms of gameplay and universe, as well as technical capabilities. In this sense, Clockwork Aquario is particularly ambitious. The developers want to push the limits of the Sega System 18. In addition to that, we find ourselves in the team of the big names that worked on the famous Wonder Boy license, as Ryuichi Nishizawa (father of the franchise) and Takanori Kurihara.

In short, Westone wants to hit hard for this new license. But unfortunately, things don’t go as planned… Beginning in 1993, the tide began to turn on the side of the video game industry. 2D platform games are no longer popular, now it’s the era of 3D games and versus combat. So a title like Clockwork Aquario doesn’t really have its place anymore. Initial test sessions at local arcades are inconclusive. Few players are interested, preferring to start short games on current games than spending long minutes in front of the SEGA and Westone terminal. Suffice it to say that by leaving Clockwork Aquario, the two of them risk making a furnace and that is unthinkable. In 1994, Clockwork Aquario was permanently cancelled.

30 years later, this game is finally out: discover the story of a crazy drive!

Despite these changes in the industry, we have stayed true to the platform genre, our area of ​​expertise. We thought that the trend of fighting games would fade, but it never ended and they even became more and more popular.

Ryuichi Nishizawa

For Westone, the cancellation of Clockwork Aquario marks the abandonment of arcades. Faced with a market that no longer corresponds to it, the firm decides to turn to console games. A lackluster transition that doesn’t allow Westone to establish himself as a player of choice in the industry. After years of survival, the ax fell in 2014: Westone went bankrupt. But while the studio is truly dead and buried, Clockwork Aquario is rising from the ashes. And it was on social networks that he started the most unexpected return in the history of video games.

30 years later, this game is finally out: discover the story of a crazy drive!

An unexpected retro resurrection

It all starts with a simple photo. A Japanese blogger shares with his readers a photo of an old game that he was able to play during a test session located in the game room on the ground floor of his house. This simple captures intrigue, gets people talking, and lights up all social media. The general public has just discovered Clockwork Aquario, 12 years after its cancellation. But nothing happens.

30 years later, this game is finally out: discover the story of a crazy drive!

It wasn’t until the Monster World Collection was released in 2012 that Ryuichi Nishizawa realized the surprising interest Clockwork Aquario was generating. Rediscovering the wonderful world of Wonder Boy and Monster World has made players want to finally discover the mysterious Clockwork Aquario. In addition to the attraction to the retro side, the idea of ​​​​getting your hands on a long-lost game that only a handful of players have been able to try is something that makes curious young and old dream. And it shows on social media.

Faced with this enthusiasm, Ryuichi Nishizawa decides to bring his dead baby to life. He goes through the files on his old PC and finally finds the source code for Clockwork Aquario. Just to take the temperature, he tweets the news:

It’s not a buzz with a double Z, but the announcement still requires some community of gamers. Ryuichi Nishizawa believes in this and that’s why he goes to the M2 studio, which has rightly distinguished itself in Monster World Collection and SEGA 3D Classics. But unfortunately, nothing happens… nothing. until 2018. That year, a key player entered this story: Dennis Mendel and his studio, Strictly Limited Games.

30 years later, this game is finally out: discover the story of a crazy drive!

Working hard to sign the return of another canceled game in 1994, Ultracore, the team is very interested in this story of Clockwork Aquario source code. It must be said that a large part of the developers are staunch fans of Wonder Boy. Bringing his spiritual successor back to life is therefore something of a dream for them. Building on their previous work, they had no problem getting the code for the game, so they got to work providing a demo of the game to show its creator at Tokyo Game Show 2019. Ryuichi Nishizawa is conquered and this moment marks the beginning of a great collaboration aimed at reviving this game with a tragic fate, while setting one of the most unexpected records in the world of video games.


A release almost 30 years later

After a very long hiatus, development on Clockwork Aquario resumes in 2019, with members of the original team. Programmer Takanori Kurihara takes the lead on the project which is not limited to a simple remaster/port. In fact, a real restoration work is started to sublimate the base while filling in the sections that have disappeared over time.

When we started working on the game, we thought we had all the necessary programs and data to do it. But as development progressed, we discovered that they were missing some data. {…} It was very difficult to match the additions to the pixels of the time. It was comparable to the work of a craftsman restoring a work of art.

Ryuichi Nishizawa for Gematsu

30 years later, this game is finally out: discover the story of a crazy drive!

The development of Clockwork Aquario is one of those rare and timeless moments in the world of video games. In almost 30 years the video game industry has changed a lot and the way of doing it too. With Clockwork Aquario, two diametrically opposed eras met, two ways of working, two visions, two fields of possibilities… And it’s no wonder that this moment will remain forever in the minds of the developers.

30 years later, this game is finally out: discover the story of a crazy drive!

Nearly 30 years after its genesis, Clockwork Aquario will finally see the light of day on November 30, 2021. From a critical point of view, the game is neither a failure nor a success. If the mechanics haven’t aged very well, the title’s nostalgia effect and ingenuity allow it to get a more than fair score of 69/70 on Metacritic. As for sales, we do not have precise figures. But if the launch of the title was an event for a good number of experts, it failed to become a general success. Some will be tempted to say that all this history was not worth it. What’s the point of reviving such a game and fielding a full team for such a small niche? Well, the answer is simple: for the passion and delight of finally bringing to life a fallen game that would otherwise have sunk forever into oblivion.

This game is visionary. It’s almost a miracle that a game that was canceled is now on sale after 27 years.

Ryuichi Nishizawa for Gematsu

30 years later, this game is finally out: discover the story of a crazy drive!

Clockwork Aquario is not a remake or port, but rather a game that started in 1992 before going on a long break and finally releasing in 2021. It is true that it did not take 29 years to develop, but it is still the title that records the longest time between the beginning of its creation and its launch. As such, it is registered with the Guinness Book of Recordswhich celebrates this amazing period of time that officially amounts to 28 years and 81 days.

Thanks to Strictly Limited Games and ININ Games, Ryuichi Nishizawa was able to live a true dream: to bring his baby back to life, but also the entire universe of the late Westone. In parallel, Monster World/Wonder Boy was entitled to many remakes, more or less well received but never hated. Ryuichi Nishizawa even indulged in some crazy thoughts, like a remake of the Aurail shoot’em up or even the return of Milano no Arbeit Collection, a pixel art marvel never released outside of Japan. Simple dreams or ongoing projects? The future will tell us, but the truth is that retro games always have good times ahead.

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