Sea Monster (Puzzy, 1982)
One look at Sea Monster and my eyes practically rolled out of my head – it just had low quality written all over it. In this case it was good that my expectations were low, because the game exceeded them – a little bit. Sea Monster is pretty much standard Air-Sea Battle flipped upside-down; instead of shooting up at rows of increasingly-valuable targets, you drop depth charges from the top of the screen with the lowest rows accruing the most points. This small twist – combined with the considerable fact that your targets actually shoot back at you (unlike Air-Sea Battle) – makes a substantial difference in the difficulty of the game. The graphics and audio are standard subpar third-party fare (Puzzy was apparently a division of Bit Corp of Bobby is Going Home infamy) so don’t expect much in those departments. Basically, Sea Monster is one of those games you play if you have literally five minutes to spare – just playable enough to be enjoyable but lacking any serious addiction factor that would have you hit “reset” more than once or twice. It’s rated a “9” for “Extremely Rare” on AtariAge’s rarity scale, so unless you’re an independently wealthy collector, just stick to emulation. C-
Seaquest (Activision, 1983)
As an Activision game from the company’s classic 1980-1984 VCS era, Seaquest practically reviews itself. Like the best Activision shooters, you can expect frenetic action, multiple goals, eye-popping graphics and lots and lots of destruction.
The primary goal is to rescue six underwater divers (per level) with your submarine while fighting off sharks and enemy subs. Your oxygen levels are constantly depleting so you frequently have to come up to the surface for air. However, there’s a catch: every time you surface, you lose one of your divers (the neat thing, though, is you can use this feature strategically to get maximum oxygen points at the end of the level). Surfacing can be tricky at later levels, with a boat on the top of the water intent on crashing into you. You especially have to be careful when you surface with all six divers – the boat keeps moving while your score calculates, leaving you a sitting duck!
My only complaint about Seaquest is that for some reason you can’t capture divers on the far left or right sides of the screen, which becomes particularly frustrating when everything and everybody in the game starts to swim or float faster. I also could have used a few more difficulty variations (as it is there’s only one) because I like to practice on harder variations in order to get better at the default game. Otherwise, Seaquest is a can’t-miss proposition. A-
Seawolf (XYPE Homebrew, 2004)
Video games can serve lots of different purposes. Many – if not most – of today’s Triple-A games serve those who want to participate in a cinematic-quality virtual experience. So-called “casual games” (which I suppose most classic-era video games fall under, although I resent it because I don’t take them casually at all) scratch one’s itch for reflex action and simple puzzle-solving. My own definition of “casual” would be a game like Seawolf which, like its spiritual forebear Air-Sea Battle, is just a nice, relaxing lazing-on-a-Sunday-morning kind of game.
Programmed by Manuel Rotschkar (who was also responsible for the excellent Gunfight), Seawolf is an ocean-based shooter. Greeting you with some sombre but strangely appropriate music, the basic point of the game is to shoot down as many ships as possible before your torpedoes, fuel or subs run out. Each of the ships exhibit different behaviours (some are fast, some are slow – some shoot, some don’t etc.). Sea mines litter the lower levels of the ocean; although these can be used strategically as shields a la Space Invaders, they mostly tend to get in the way.
Conceptually, Seawolf is not much different from the above-reviewed Sea Monster except it looks, sounds and plays much better. The ships look great and the colour gradients Rotschkar uses were clearly Activision-influenced. I can’t say the game absolutely blew me away, but I don’t think it was intended to. C+
Seawolf can be purchased online at the AtariAge Store.
Secret Agent (Data Age Prototype, Developed 1983)
Well, this was a bit of a surprise. Data Age had its share of difficulty releasing good finished games, so I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for a mere prototype. Oddly enough, Secret Agent is better than a good number of the company’s released titles.
Might as well get this out of the way now: Secret Agent is a take on Kaboom! and has very little to do with espionage, although an attempt at Bond-like music is heard throughout gameplay and there are two little guys at the top of the screen chasing and shooting each other that only serve a cosmetic purpose. You use your paddles to catch secret-agenty items such as money bags, suitcases and capsules with “US” written on them for some reason. One of the differences between this game and Kaboom! is that there are also objects to avoid: grenades, guns and bugs (get it, bugs?). You are not penalized for missing items, which is a welcome break for a Kaboom!-style game. When you collect enough of the spy booty, a tone rings and you drop a suitcase to one of the boats below. The game features better-than-average Atari sound and serviceable graphics.
The score is measured in money, and this is where things get a little confusing. From what I can tell, you lose all your money if you lose a man before making your first drop-off. Other times you lose cash for seemingly no reason whatsoever. I honestly don’t know if there’s logic behind this or if it’s a glitch – there’s not a lot of documentation out there to explain the game (speaking of which, thanks again Atari Protos). There are three levels of difficulty; I recommend sticking with the first one as the other two are impossibly difficult. Overall, pretty good for a prototype, especially considering the source. C+
Secret Quest (Atari, 1989)
Y’know, the more I think about it, I really don’t feel that bad for those kids who were “stuck” with a 2600 in the age of the NES and Sega Master System (I guess I was technically one of those kids, but by the late ‘80s I had pretty much moved on from video games and when I did play it was either in the arcade or with my trusty old VCS). Not only did they have the benefit of over a decade’s worth of game software, but innovative and fun games were still being produced for the system. Secret Quest is a shining example of this.
If Secret Quest would have come out nine years earlier, it would have probably wound up as legendary as Adventure. As it is, it’s a pleasant surprise with a cult following, an action-adventure map game designed as Atari’s answer to the NES’ Legend of Zelda. The ultimate goal is to blow up eight space stations. At each station you must collect codes (in the form of rune-like symbols), find the appropriate room to enter the code, then run like hell to the transporter room before the timer runs out. Sounds simple, but the gameplay itself requires a lot of alien-fighting, object collecting and either memorization (not recommended) or mapping (recommended) of your route around the various stations. There’s also a constant risk-reward dynamic in the game; fighting an alien depletes energy and oxygen but defeating one also gains you extra energy or oxygen.
The game’s primary innovation – at least for the 2600 – is its code-entry system. That’s right: Secret Quest is a VCS game you can quit in the middle, shut down the system and come back to pick up where you left off. There were a lot of similar games for more advanced consoles at the time that lacked such a feature. I’m not entirely sold on the approach – the code is a series of ten symbols, which seems a little excessive. However, that doesn’t take away from what a revolutionary advance this represents.
While minimal, Secret Quest’s graphics are colourful and a nifty little tune plays throughout. The control is precise and fluid. The marketing of the game centered on Atari founder Nolan Bushnell’s involvement as a producer (his company, Axlon, produced the game for Atari). Although he didn’t technically program the game, there’s no doubt that Secret Quest captures the energy and enthusiasm of early Atari. B