Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis is the kind of game that happens when a developer has a license and not much else. The game itself has only the bare minimum requirements necessary to technically be called a game, and even these components are an ugly mess. Even the most hard-core Aquaman devotees will likely find little use for this short, shallow, problematic ramshackle game.
Though the majority of the non-comic-book-reading populace probably recalls Aquaman as the clean-cut, orange-shirt-wearing Super Friend who could talk to fish, times have changed. In the early '90s, a quick and brutal series of events left Aquaman short one hand, which he replaced with a crazy trident/hook hand. He's also since grown out a majestic mane of hair and a full beard and rarely wears a shirt at all. The story of Battle for Atlantis pits Aquaman against the usual Aquaman-exclusive nemeses, including Black Manta and Lava Lord. The game uses comic-book-style panels in between levels to move the story along, but these story sequences are too boring on their own to draw in your attention, and the gameplay is so achingly repetitive and on the verge of being broken, that any kind of narrative seems like a moot point.
The action in Aquaman goes something like this. Using the onscreen radar, you guide Aquaman through the waters of Atlantis, looking for small, isolated clusters of bad guys. Upon locating and beating up said bad guys, you begin looking for another small, isolated cluster of bad guys, who are also in need of some corporal discipline. That's about it. Sometimes you'll have to locate some kind of item, and sometimes the number of bad guys in the cluster will vary, but the action and the surroundings remain largely unchanged through the length of the game. Perhaps if Aquaman had some really sweet, Devil May Cry-style fighting system, this repetition might be a shade less offensive, but this is not the case. Upon approaching one of the bad-guy clusters, Aquaman will automatically lock on to one of the enemies--sometimes the one closest to you, sometimes not. Aquaman has basic punch, kick, and grab attacks, a half dozen or so combo attacks, and a couple of special moves, including the ability to call in the help of some nearby sea life, but simply mashing on the A button for the duration of the game works sufficiently.
At first, the fighting just seems easy and stupid, but eventually the gameplay reveals itself to be stupid and frustrating, for two key reasons. First, there's the camera, which operates on its own free will during combat and will often position itself in a way that gives you virtually no perspective on the action, and it has a tendency to move violently and randomly. The erratic camera makes the combat even more unbearable by virtue of the control scheme being relative to the position of the camera, which means that whenever the camera moves, the directional control changes, giving you the challenge of constantly rediscovering the control scheme, most often right in the middle of a fight. And it isn't limited to Bizarro-style 'down is up and up is down' kind of crazy--it can also cause down to move left and right to move up. Secondly, while you're engaging a single opponent, his buddies will take the opportunity to shoot at you or sneak up from behind and hold you down while someone else pummels you. You can cycle your focus from one enemy to another using the directional pad, but with no way to expediently target a specific enemy, and without any multitarget attacks, Aquaman just has to tough it out. Out of the 21 levels that make up Battle for Atlantis, there are four where you'll pilot a small attack submarine, usually using it to shoot at other submarines. It's a change of pace and a slightly less agonizing experience than the rest of the game, but it's still rather basic, and ultimately, it's just not enough.
The city of Atlantis, and the few other locations you'll travel to in Battle for Atlantis, is understandably dark and murky, what with it being at the bottom of the sea. But apparently there aren't actually any people living in the towering, futuristic-looking seascrapers that make up the sunken city, as Aquaman and his foes are the only people you'll see around. You'll see some fish, and in the Xbox version there are some sleek-looking underwater craft that cruise along thoroughfares, but that's it. Yet, despite these relatively simple rendering duties, Battle for Atlantis is rife with graphical hitches. The draw distance, which the game tries to mask with blurry underwater effects, is still noticeably short, especially in the GameCube version. The environments are light on polygonal complexity and feature bland, fuzzy textures, though to its credit, the Xbox version sports slightly cleaner textures, and a little bit more visual flair. Aquaman himself is the best-conceived graphical element of the game and looks and moves reasonably well, but the enemies are brutally repetitive, alternating between robot-crab guy and hot-lava guy, and all of them share the exact same animation routines. Most of the time the game moves at a reasonable frame rate, though there's some truly showstopping choppiness during the submarine sequences. The sound is even more amazingly bad and consists solely of an adventure-toned score and some banal punch-and-kick sounds. Aquaman isn't even given any glib one-liners to spout off, though considering how poorly the rest of the game is executed, this is probably a blessing in disguise.
Despite the fact that Aquaman has always sort of been a B-team DC superhero, the character still feels incredibly short-changed by Battle for Atlantis. TDK is peddling Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis at bargain-basement prices right out of the gate, but with the only redeeming quality of the game being its relative brevity, any price is really too much.