The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human begins in a way unlike what you would expect from the title alone. The game opens with a scene in outer space, a black void littered with little pixel stars. A spaceship leaves the little planet that resembles Earth, and heads into what appears to be a large black hole. After a few moments of a yearly calendar ticking by, ultimately stopping on “Year Unknown”, the spaceship reemerges and makes its way back to the little planet. There the ship crashes into an ocean, where it opens up to release a small submarine that players can now control.
The Earth our space exploring protagonist finds themself upon is dramatically different than the one they left behind. Climate change has resulted in a world where the polar ice caps have completed melted, effectively washing away all terrestrial life. In the depths of the water that now floods the planet there are remains of what was once a human civilization, and our player controlled submarine can interact with some of these pods to gather information about what happened in their absence.
In addition to the remnants and memories of a bygone civilization, our protagonist can also come across upgrades for the submarine in which they are contained. The beginning of The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human starts players with absolutely nothing on their submarine, but finding these upgrades allows them to eventually equip useful items like hull upgrades (for bonus health), a lamp, or a harpoon. As useful as these upgrades are, some of them do come with limitations. The aforementioned harpoon, for example, is mounted onto the bottom of the submarine and can only aimed in the 180 degree area immediately below the submersible. If one of the giant, sea monster bosses lurking in the shadows attacks the submarine from above (and they most certainly will) the player can rest assured they’ll be starting over from a nearby checkpoint. Because it is a metroidvania style game, The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human allows for players to take on the world at their own pace as well as revisiting areas after tracking down more upgrades.
The majority of the player’s time exploring the seascape is relatively safe, as most of the marine life is content to leave the submarine alone. There are the occasional environmental hazards, like pipes spewing noxious gas, but even those are few and far between. Still yet, our protagonist can use their weapons to literally obliterate the peaceful wildlife around them. This aspect of the game does evoke some inner turmoil – intentional or not. Our lone survivor has no hopes of repopulating humankind, and they’re little more than casually drifting in this giant oceanscape while just living out whatever remains of their life. Why upset the ecosystem that has evolved to survive this flooded over world by just randomly harpooning the wildlife? At least taking on the boss battles speaks to the will of a human to survive despite the odds.
Existential crisis aside, The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human does create a hauntingly detailed underwater environment that is varied and interesting. Unfortunately, the player’s tiny little gray submarine rarely stands out from the often dark and gray backgrounds. Its very easy to lose yourself among the scene, which is manageable at best during the more serene exploration but can result in a multitude of seemingly unfair deaths during the game’s eleven boss battles. The minimalist map design in the top right corner fits the rest of the aesthetic but is decidedly unhelpful for actual navigation. It is entirely devoid of any indicators for upgrades, enemies, or even boss locations. The map merely outlines the walls of the area with a simple one pixel wide white line, marking the player’s position with a one pixel wide blue dot.