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

Skull & Bones, Cyberpunk … There are games that take a hell of a lot of time to develop. But not everyone you can think of comes close to this game, which was originally planned for the SEGA arcade machine and was finally released on the Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC almost 30 years later. A look back at the history of this video game that should never have seen the light of day.

Summary

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

A spiritual brother of Wonder Boy

Here we are in the early 90s. Arcade terminals, despite a slight decline, continue to make the heyday of young players and have allowed them to discover titles that have become legendary. This is especially true of Wonder Boy, a license from Westone. In 1992, the Japanese company embarked on a similar project: a colorful 2D platform game by the sweet name Clockwork Aquario.

This new license is still supposed to stand out from Westone’s giant, both in terms of gameplay and the universe, as well as technical capabilities. In this respect, Clockwork Aquario is particularly ambitious. Developers want to push the boundaries of Sega System 18. In addition, we find in the team of the big names who worked on the famous license Wonder Boy, like Ryuichi Nishizawa (the father of the franchise) and Takanori Kurihara.

In short, Westone wants to hit hard for this new license. But unfortunately it does not go as planned … From 1993, the tide began to turn on the side of the video game industry. 2D platform players are no longer popular, it is now the era of 3D gaming and versus combat. Thus, a title like Clockwork Aquario no longer has its place. The first test sessions in local arcades are not crucial. Few players are interested in it, preferring to start short games on the games of the moment rather than spending long minutes in front of the SEGA and Westone terminal. Suffice it to say that by leaving Clockwork Aquario, the two are taking the risk of making an oven, and that is unthinkable. In 1994, Clockwork Aquario was definitely canceled.

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

Despite these changes in the industry, we have remained true to the platform genre, our area of ​​expertise. We thought the trend of fighting games would disappear, but it never stopped and they became even 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 company decides to turn to console games. A glossy transition that does not allow Westone to establish itself as the preferred player in the industry. After several years of survival, the ax fell in 2014: Westone went bankrupt. But while the studio is truly dead and buried, Clockwork Aquario rises from the ashes. And it was on social networks that it began the most unexpected comeback in the history of video games.

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

An unexpected retro resurrection

It all starts with a simple photo. A Japanese blogger shares with his readers a picture of an old game that he had been able to test during a local test session in the arcade room below his house. This simple recording intrigues, gets people talking and turns on all social networks. The general public has just discovered Clockwork Aquario, 12 years after its cancellation. But nothing happens.

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

It was not until the Monster World Collection was released in 2012 that Ryuichi Nishizawa realized the surprising interest Clockwork Aquario was creating. The rediscovery of Wonder Boys and Monster World’s wonderful world has made players want to finally discover the mysterious Clockwork Aquario. In addition to the attraction of the retro side, the idea of ​​getting your hands on a long-lost game that only a handful of players have been able to test is enough to make curious young and old dream. And it appears on social media.

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

It’s not a buzz with a double Z, but the message still takes some community of players. Ryuichi Nishizawa believes in it and therefore goes to see the M2 studio, which has rightly marked itself on the Monster World Collection and SEGA 3D Classics. But unfortunately nothing happens … nothing until 2018. That year, a key player came into this story: Dennis Mendel and his studio, Strictly Limited Games.

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

Hard at work to sign the return of another game canceled in 1994, Ultracore, the team is very interested in this source code history for Clockwork Aquario. It has to be said that a lot of the developers are avid Wonder Boy fans. Bringing his spiritual successor back to life is therefore a kind of dream for them. Based on their previous work, they had no trouble getting their fingers in the game’s code, so they set about delivering a demo of the game, which they could show to its creator at the Tokyo Game Show 2019. Ryuichi Nishizawa has been conquered, and this moment marks the beginning of a fantastic collaboration aimed at bringing this game back to life with a tragic fate, while signing one of the most unexpected records in the world of video games.


A release almost 30 years later

After a very long break, the development of Clockwork Aquario will therefore resume in 2019 with members of the original team. Programmer Takanori Kurihara takes charge of the project, which is not limited to a simple remaster / port. Indeed, real restoration work has been undertaken 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 programs and data needed to do so. But as the development progressed, we discovered that they were missing some data. {…} It was very difficult to make the additions coincide with the pixels of the time. It could be compared to the work of a craftsman who restored a work of art.

Ryuichi Nishizawa for Gematsu

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

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

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

Nearly 30 years after its creation, Clockwork Aquario finally sees the light of day on November 30, 2021. From a critical point of view, the game is neither a failure nor a hit. If the mechanics are not really aged well, the nostalgia effect and the ingenuity of the title make it possible to achieve a more than correct score of 69/70 on Metacritic. As for sales, we do not have exact figures. But if the release of the title was an event for a large number of insiders, it failed to become a mainstream success. Some will be tempted to say that this whole story was not worth the light. What is the point of reviving such a game and deploying an entire team to such a small niche? Well the answer is simple: for the passion and pleasure 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 finally came out: discover the story of a crazy record!

Clockwork Aquario is neither a remake nor a gate, but a game that started in 1992 before it experienced a long hiatus and finally came out in 2021. It certainly did not take 29 years to be developed, but it is still the title that records the longest time between the beginning of its creation and its release. As such, he is registered with Guinness Book of Recordsin which this surprising lapse of time is officially celebrated 28 years and 81 days.

Thanks to Strictly Limited Games and ININ Games, Ryuichi Nishizawa was able to live out a real dream: to bring his baby back to life, but also to the entire universe of the late Westone. At the same time, 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 a return of the Milano no Arbeit Collection, a pixel art marvel that was never released outside of Japan. Simple dreams or ongoing projects? The future will tell us, but what is certain is that retro games always have good times ahead of them.

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