Aqua Kitty – Milk Mine Defender

A game by Tikipod for PC, PS4, Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Switch, originally released in 2012, with the UDX version released in 2017.
Aqua Kitty – Milk Mine Defender is a shooter that mixes Defender, In the Hunt, and a fresh bag of cats in a game that has you defending underwater feline milk miners from an army of robotic fish and other mechanical monsters. This is a game that pads its litter box with ripped up pages from the dictionary carrying the definition of the word “serious”.

In the future, a sudden milk shortage forces the cats of the world to seek out a new source of their favorite lactose-infused beverage. Strangely, huge untapped reserves of milk were discovered deep beneath the surface of the ocean, requiring that the cats overcome their natural fear of water to begin a drilling operation.

A pipe-smoking kitty captain mans the ship that acts as your base of operations, and he briefs you before each mission about the dangers ahead, often providing information about the types of enemies you’ll be facing. You play the part of an eye patch-wearing submarine pilot who must go it alone, or team up with a pussy pal in offline co-op, to keep the milky operation in the white.

The core gameplay is reminiscent of Williams’ classic arcade hit Defender in that there are numerous mining stations at the base of the ocean floor, and certain enemy types – red submarines in this case – descend slowly to abduct the adorable milk miners and carry them away. Shooting down the submarines before they breach the water’s surface allows the kitties (who are fortunately immune to your bullets) to fall safely back to the ground.

You are free to move to the left or right across an infinitely scrolling looped environment, and a radar screen shows the position of enemy vessels, highlighting the tabby-napping submarines by displaying them as red dots. Most of the early levels only have two mining stations to defend, with later levels having three or more, forcing you to balance enemy destruction and bullet dodging with speed and protection.

Lose all of your miners, and you must restart the level from the beginning, although you have an infinite number of lives. Saved miners offer a point bonus at the end of the level, while those lost appear on the sides of milk cartons. In addition to monitoring the radar, each kitty meows when being abducted, giving you an audio cue to let you know when it’s time to fire up the thrusters and dash to their rescue.

Enemies appear in waves of generally escalating difficulty, and a wave counter at the top of the screen indicates the total number of waves, as well as the number of enemies currently in play. Levels tend to begin with a handful of easy enemies, with more dangerous adversaries spawned in during the later waves. With a full complement of enemies and bullets, staying alive becomes ever more difficult, particularly when attempting to rush through a slew of baddies to rescue a miner during an abduction attempt.

The most common and easiest enemy is the Robo Fish, which requires only a single hit to destroy. Within the first few levels, you’ll begin to face off against exploding Puffabooms that destroy nearby enemies (your sub is fortunately immune to explosions) and can cause chain reactions, and the Nautilus that takes three hits to destroy and can shoot in several directions, making them dangerous in large numbers. Later levels offer enemies that can dodge your bullets, missile launching subs, and shielded Angelfishy enemies that take a ton of hits to destroy.

Most enemies can be exploited in some way to take advantage of their movement patterns and abilities. For instance, dodging enemies can be herded to the top or bottom of the screen, leaving them nowhere to go to avoid a face full of bullet pudding. Submarines move forward slowly and can’t turn around, allowing you to dart past and fillet them from behind.

As in Defender, a separate set of buttons is used to change your ship’s heading to the left and right, allowing you to change directions at will and take advantage of enemies. You move more quickly forward than you do backward, which allows you to retreat while unleashing precision shots, or to dash forward and dodge enemy fire as needed.

At your disposal is a rapid fire bullet chucker with infinite ammo, and a narrow 3-way shot as a secondary weapon. The 3-way shot offers triple the power, but using it depletes a meter at the top of the screen, which refills slowly over time. Early in the going, it’s best used to get yourself out of a tight spot – or to take down a red sub with a single hit before it reaches the surface – but the meter is extended slightly at the end of each set of levels.

There are also 3 types of pickups that may be dropped by shooting down a goldfish enemy that zigzags through the environment. As it swims, its eye cycles between red, blue, and green, which determines what kind of pickup will appear when it is shot down. You have the option to turn on auto-fire in the menu, which will keep your ship churning out a steady spray of normal bullets without the need to hold down the button, but this can make things more difficult if you’re trying to grab a particular powerup.

The heart pickup (red) is the only way to restore health. You begin each level with three hearts, but you can reach a maximum of five. A support pickup (blue) causes two additional ships to descend from the top of the screen and fly in formation with your ship, with one sitting above and one below. These ships will fire along with you, effectively tripling your damage output, and allowing you to cut a swath through large numbers of enemies when using your 3-way shot. Lastly, the bomb (green) explodes outward in an oval when picked up, destroying or heavily damaging nearby enemies.

Additional challenges await in later levels, including some levels where the water level is lower, resulting in more confined environments. Also, you will eventually encounter International Milky Tankers, which are pods that ferry milk between the drills and the surface. These pods are invincible and you can fly straight through them, but they also block your bullets, making it more difficult to take down enemies and rescue abductees.

Level progression is done via a world map which is divided into four adorably named sections: Buttermilk Bay, Creamy Cove, Mouldy Depths, and The Curdling Gulf. Each section has a set of levels, and beating a level opens up those adjacent to it orthogonally, giving you some freedom to play them in a different order or to skip a particularly challenging one. However, the last level in each section – and also the toughest – must be completed in order to proceed to the next area.

Completing the first section also opens up an area called Infinite Espresso. In this area, you can challenge your shooting skills by taking on wave after wave of enemies that continue to escalate in difficulty, without the need to rescue miners. As the name suggests, there is no end to the challenge; it’s all about survival and racking up as big a score as possible.

Each level has a goal score that you may attempt to reach, and the world map shows the levels in which you have exceeded this top score, as well as the levels where you managed to protect all of the miners. Getting the top score requires more than simply destroying every enemy in the environment; rather you’ll also need to make maximum use of the chain bonus system.

The chain bonus counts up with each enemy destroyed and slowly counts down between hits. Each point on the counter is an additional point gained when an enemy is destroyed. For maximum points, you will need to kill enemies quickly and in close succession, while also rescuing the kitties. Getting the top score may prove difficult during your first run, but each level may be replayed, and your secondary weapon meter increases with each level completed, giving you steadily more power as you progress.

The game is presented in chunky retro sprite art with a cutesy style, and backed by a chiptune soundtrack created by Electric Café.

Aqua Kitty – Milk Mine Defender was developed by London based studio Tikipod Ltd. The studio was founded in 2009 by artist Dugan Jackson, who previously provided development support for games such as Gravity Crash, Eufloria, and Stealth Bastard Deluxe.

Aqua Kitty was originally released as a Playstation Mobile title in 2012 and was available on the Playstation Vita and other mobile devices. The studio released an enhanced HD version of the game for Xbox Live Indie Games in the following year, officially titled Aqua Kitty, although the full title still appears on the title screen.