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CONSOLE: Atari 2600 DEVELOPER: Activision PUBLISHER: Activision
RELEASE DATE (NA): 1983 GENRE: Shooter
// review by Jeff

Not approved by Roy Scheider.

If you were a kid growing up in the 1990s, you may very well remember a TV show called "seaQuest DSV". Aside from being that one show that totally blew your mind on how capital letters work, it was also a primetime science fiction program that put you inside a submarine searching for a solution to the issue of severely dwindling natural resources everywhere except on the ocean floor. It was set in the far distant future... of the year 2018, which is... yeah, coming up soon. The first season tackled a number of political and environmental issues while still providing just enough interpersonal drama to make the show not sound like the ramblings of a high school textbook. Subsequent seasons drifted away from this premise once they apparently found a million-year-old submarine, and storylines tended to soon include weekly weird monsters, time travel, and genetically modified everything. The show lasted three years before being cancelled, but it was one of the few subaquatic shows that found a mainstream audience, alongside JAG and the puppeted oddity that is Germany's own "Blaubär & Blöd".

All this is far more interesting than Seaquest for the Atari 2600, an unrelated game released in 1982 that takes all the science and technology out of submarine adventuring and leaves behind a hollow shell where mindless carp become a major threat to civilization.

The entire game is set right below the surface of an ocean, though the epipelagic zone is still easily visible. You pilot a rather large and bulky submarine that somehow can still zip around like a plastic bag in a high gale. On but a single screen, your goal is to rescue as many radical scuba divers as you can that are, for some reason, just floating by around you. Your vessel can hold up to eight divers at a time, and resurfacing will set them free and net you some delicious juicy points! Personally, I would've preferred some paid leave to go visit the local bars, but I'll take what I can get.

But if only the game were that easy! Grumpy fish (who seem to enjoy the succulent flavour of wetsuits and the flesh found within) are frequently swimming by, looking to hook their fangs into one of the divers and carry him off. Likewise, miniature submarines, presumably hired by sharks, also want to destroy your sub, but they are actually packing missiles and can fire two parallel shots at once — significantly more difficult to dodge.

Add to that a constantly depleting oxygen meter, and you have a recipe for a sunken disaster. The only way to refill the oxygen meter is to resurface, provided you have a diver on board to deliver simultaneously. If you resurface without any rescuees, you lose a life...for some reason. Don't ask. Just don't ask. It was a different time back then, back in the 1980s, what with their Cyndi Laupers and their... keytars and such. After each return to the surface, the game ups its own difficulty, with a larger quantity of faster enemies patrolling the waters. An opposing sub will also arrive on the surface, making your reemergence for air all the more challenging as well.

"I should've just gone with WestJet," the captain was quoted as saying.


Ariel would be mindful to steer clear of this.

Unfortunately, you're so much bigger than all of your targets, and you're the most likely one to falter, since your missile weapon projectiles are about as thin as steamrolled raisin toast. Hit detection is pretty unforgiving, so you'd better master the controls quickly and hope that no grime has wedged itself into your joystick. Quick reflexes are the key to survival.

Sadly, the game gets old quickly once you realize you're just trying to gun down guppies until your inevitable demise. We're not all Billy Mitchells here; the game's going to last five minutes if we're lucky. Sure, you can grab a friend to play, but you're alternating turns, rather than working together, which really defeats the point of co-operative play, other than to point and laugh at your colleague for his measly score before the stark realization hits you that a higher score will not help you in life. The graphics don't even entice us for very long. The screen is mostly blue pure water with little fish, divers, and puny gray submarines popping up from time to time. They could have at least included some seaweed, a coral reef, or leftover floating bottles of champagne from the Titanic to give the ONE screen some flavour. But no, they took the minimalist route, and it shows. I wish I could say something about the game's audio, but this is the Atari 2600 we're talking about — static explosions are the best you can expect out of that wood-paneled casket.

I can only recommend Seaquest if you have five minutes to kill, and you want to kill them hard. There are probably far worse games on the console, but Seaquest just doesn't deliver much of a refreshing affair. For a more long-lasting experience, try downing a can of expired CDO Seaquest-brand tuna. Sure, you may be heaving up barnacle-sized puddles, but at least you'll be entertained for far longer.


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