Gematsu recently spoke to Ryuichi Nishizawa, creator of the Wonder Boy series and co-founder of Westone Bit Entertainment, to discuss his upcoming arcade game revival Clockwork Aquario, which was originally planned for release in 1994 before the fighting game-dominated arcade game market caused its cancellation. Now, with ININ Games and Strictly Limited Games, the side-scrolling action game is being completed and released for modern consoles.
In the email interview, Nishizawa discussed how the revival came to be, how it feels to revisit and complete the project, how it differs from the 1994 version, the game concept, its staff, and even shares what game he hopes to bring back next—albeit not one that was cancelled.
Get the full interview below.
Gematsu: Before its cancellation, Clockwork Aquario was originally planned to be released as Westone’s final arcade game. What was the ultimate nail in the coffin?
Ryuichi Nishizawa, Game Creator: “After we decided to cancel the release of Aquario, we discussed the plan for the next arcade game. At that time, we had not yet decided to withdraw from arcade games. We spent several months considering our plans, but the arcade game market at that time was split between fighting games and casual games such as puzzles and mahjong, neither of which were games we wanted to make. Arcade games were the star of the game industry, but we decided to withdraw from arcade games and concentrate on console games.”
So what led to its revival?
Nishizawa: “With the spread of social networking sites, the existence of Aquario became widely known to overseas enthusiasts, and the number of requests from fans who wanted to see it increased. And fortunately, we were able to restore the source code of Aquario because it was still in our company.”
Now that you’re back at it, how does it feel to revisit the project?
Nishizawa: “It’s a strange feeling. Experiences like this are hard to come by, so I am grateful for the twist of fate. During the development process, as the restoration of the game progressed, I was reminded of many things from the development days 27 years ago. I wanted to reward myself for not giving up and completing the game until the end.”
Clockwork Aquario was mostly complete back in 1993. How much of that has been salvaged for its revival, and how much of it is all-new?
Nishizawa: “When we started restoring the game, we thought we had all the programs and data needed to do so, but while the development proceeded, we found out that there were several pieces of missing image data. The title screen and part of the ending background were missing. We had no choice but to make new ones for those parts. It was a very difficult task to make them fit the pixel design of the time. It was similar to the work of a craftsman restoring a work of art.”
Clockwork Aquario wasn’t very well received during its initial location tests. What were the main issues and how are they being addressed this time around?
Nishizawa: “At that time, fighting games were booming at the video game arcades. This was a time when games in genres other than fighting games were all struggling. The management of video game arcades focuses on sales per unit area. The sales of fighting games were very high because they had a short playing time. They earned three to five times more than other games. Aquario was a traditional type of game where the better you play, the longer you can play, so it was not comparable to fighting games.”
Have any quality-of-life or accessibility features been implemented, such as a rewind option? Or is the game being kept as close to the original vision as possible?
Nishizawa: “Since this is a game that no one has ever seen before, we are focusing on recreating the original. However, since the platforms on which the game is running are different, we have optimized the controller and screen display for today’s consoles.”
Who are the main characters of Clockwork Aquario, and what are they setting out to do?
Nishizawa: “The player can choose one of the three main characters to play as. They are Huck, a boy; Elle, a girl; and Gush, a robot. They fight to destroy the ambitions of Dr. Hangyo, who plans to take over the world. And they only use their bare hands.”
Each character has their own moveset. Can you tell us a little bit about their actions?
Nishizawa: “Each character has slightly different controls and animations. I’d like to properly explain the differences, but since there are no remaining written specifications, I don’t know exactly how it works either. (Laughs.)”
OK, so what would you say are the defining gameplay traits of Clockwork Aquario? What separates it from other side-scrolling action games?
Nishizawa: “The concept of the game is simultaneous dual-player action. It is characterized by the feature of holding and throwing enemies. You can also throw allied characters. On the other hand, it also means that you can also be thrown.”
Which Westone Bit Entertainment game would you say Clockwork Aquario most resembles?
Nishizawa: “I think Monster Lair is the closest in terms of side-scrolling two-player simultaneous play. It’s also similar in that the boss battles are flashy.”
How much of the original staff is working on the revival?
Nishizawa: “There were four original members who participated in this work. Mr. Kurihara, who was the main programmer for Aquario, took the lead in supporting the project. United Games Entertainment was in charge of the actual development of the restoration, but whenever we encountered something we didn’t understand during the development, we contacted the development staff and solved the problem through consultations.”
Dennis Mendel, Co-Founder of ININ Games and Strictly Limited Games: “As we have more projects to be announced later this year, we need to be careful with our resources—this is why we decided to focus on Switch and PlayStation 4. If we see demand from the Xbox and PC community, then we will definitely look into porting the game to other platforms as well.”
Do you expect we’ll see more of Clockwork Aquario‘s world and characters in the future—be it in additional games or media?
Nishizawa: “The main game is 27 years old, so it is indeed old-fashioned, but I have the impression that the enemy characters and the world are still suitable for today. The boss characters in particular have great designs, and I would love to see them modeled and animated in 3D. I’m waiting for fan art. (Laughs.)”
Are there any other Westone Bit Entertainment games you hope to bring back in the future?
Nishizawa: “I would love to remake the arcade version of the robot shoot ’em up AURAIL. It’s a personal favorite of mine, as I took hard work to create this title. The world was created with a lot of effort, but it’s not fully expressed on the game screen, so I’d like to use modern technology to express it to the fullest.
“Also, the other day I was watching a gameplay video and I thought it would be interesting to remake it. The first game that was released only in Japan was Milano no Arbeit Collection. It’s a game for the original PlayStation that was only released in Japan. It is the ultimate 2D game for pixel-art lovers, and the quality of the animation is outstanding. I’d like to remake this game with the original pixel art, but I’d have to find about five professional pixel artists to do it. It’s quite difficult.”
Clockwork Aquario is still without a concrete release date. Is there a narrower release window you can share other than simply “2021”?
Mendel: “As development on the game itself is basically finished, I think it is safe to say that the game will see a release in the fall. All missing graphics and sounds have already been implemented and some extra features have been added, so if we don’t encounter unforeseen problems during testing, the game should reach gold status soon.”
Is there anything else you would like readers to know about Clockwork Aquario?
Nishizawa: “This game is truly a ‘discovered’ visionary game. It is something close to a miracle that a game that was cancelled is now being released after 27 years. I would like to thank Dennis and everyone involved for their hard work in making this project happen. Thank you so much. I look forward to sharing this miracle with you, all readers.”
Thank you for your time, Nishizawa-san and Dennis!
Clockwork Aquario is due out for PlayStation 4 and Switch this fall. Limited print physical editions are currently available for pre-order.
View a new set of screenshots at the gallery.