Only one screenshot of it exists. Very little information is known about it. Few people have ever even heard of it. Yet, Aquario of the Clockwork, an obscure, unreleased arcade game from the early ’90s, may yet see the light of day.
But that is only the beginning of this bedtime story.
Westone Bit Entertainment was founded in 1986 by Ryuichi Nishizawa and Michishito Ishizuka, and is mainly known outside of Japan as the developer of the Wonder Boy/Monster World series. While Wonder Boy/Monster World is still a bit on the obscure side, it has gained a little more recognition in the West in recent years due to its release on digital distribution services, such as Wii Virtual Console and Xbox Live Arcade. Perhaps most notable is the recent release of Monster World IV, which is now officially available outside of Japan for the very first time, and with a fresh English translation to boot.
Nishizawa designed and directed nearly every game in the series except for one. Wonder Boy in Monster World (or Wonder Boy V: Monster World III in Japan… yes, that’s the actual title) was handled by Ishizuka while Nishizawa was busy working on an original arcade game. Unfortunately, the game was not received well during location tests, and it was never released. That game was Aquario of the Clockwork.
Fast forward about 20 years. Independent gaming website Hardcore Gaming 101 conducted an interview with Ryuichi Nishzawa as part of an excellent comprehensive piece on the Wonder Boy/Monster World series (which is worth reading), and inquired about the unreleased arcade game. This innocent question inspired Nishizawa to delve into his company’s archive where he discovered the original source code for the game. This has, so far, led to the release of never-before-seen spritework (such as of the game’s three protagonists), as well as talks with Sega about a possible release for the game if it can be presented in a playable state.
Personally, I’m very intrigued by all of this, but one may ask, “What’s so interesting about an arcade game that almost nothing is known about, and wasn’t released because it didn’t test well in the first place?” Well, I suppose there are two reasons I’m interested. First, I really enjoyed the Wonder Boy and Monster World games that I’ve played. They had a very distinct charm to them, and I’d like to see more games from this developer.
Second, I must admit that I’m attracted to the mystique of the situation. It’s like an archeological dig, unearthing a lost game from a bygone era. It’s mysterious and exciting. There has been a trend in recent years to mimic the look and feel of retro games, but this is not a mere recreation, it’s the genuine article. It’s gaming history.
There is also a sense of triumph at the thought that a developer’s rejected game could get a second chance 20 years after the fact. I imagine there is no greater gratification for a designer than to know that the game he worked so hard on is being played and enjoyed.
It is yet to be seen if Aquario of the Clockwork will actually see the light of day, but in the mean time, I encourage everyone to check out the Wonder Boy/Monster World games. It’s a terrific series, and perhaps one day there will be a new installment for it as well. But that would be a bedtime story for another night.
Fore more information on Aquario of the Clockwork, check out this article at Hardcore Gaming 101.