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reviews:subroundup

SUBMARINER ROUND-UP

In this review of sorts, I decided to do a round-up of, what I consider to be, the best submarine “bottom-up” style games on the C64. I call them “bottom-up”, but you know them as those games where you control a submarine at the bottom of the screen and shoot torpedoes up towards ships sitting at the top of the screen.

These are one of the earliest style of video games to appear in the arcades and there have been many versions of them written for our beloved Commodore. But the ones I've played and consider to be the best offerings for the system (for different reasons, as you'll read below) and in no particular order are: Sea Wolf, Seafox, SeaWolf II, Fire One, and the most recent arrival, Seawolves.

Let's start off with the one that's responsible for launching the genre:

SEA WOLF

1982 - Commodore Business Machines

As I mentioned, Sea Wolf was the first of the submarine “bottom-up” style of video games. Originally produced by Bally-Midway, it soon spawned a sequel (Seawolf II) which was then ported to the VIC-20 and then later to the C64, by Commodore themselves. It is a simple head-to-head shooting competition game, where you and your opponent try to sink as many ships within the allotted time-frame. The one with the highest score, wins.

The original release for the C64 required the use of paddle controllers, but today you can download joystick fixed versions. You control your sub back and forth along the bottom and fire torpedoes up to the ships traveling above. There are marker buoys floating by that can block your torpedoes.

The graphics are quite simple, but effectively represent the setting of the game and are colorful with good contrast. Sound effects are also simple, but effective. The controls are quite smooth and game-play is snappy. However, if you're not playing with a friend, you're going to get bored quickly, as there's no AI to control the second submarine.

The game has been designed to be a simple game to comprehend and to just pick up and play by just about anyone, even a typical non-video gamer (like my wife). The only real downside to the game is that it's not a very good single player game, as the challenge is pretty much gone when there's no one to compete against.

SEAFOX

1983 - Brøderbund

Seafox is a unique sort of animal, although it shares many similarities with Sea Wolf, it also has elements found in other single screen action shooters. You pilot a submarine and fire torpedoes at the ships sailing above. But the big difference in this game is, you're not constrained to the bottom edge of the screen. You are free to move in all directions in the water. Along with attempting to sink the ships above, you must also protect yourself from the dangers you share the ocean with, like enemy subs, depth charges and other ocean weaponry. Although you can fire torpedoes horizontally to sink the enemy subs, most of the time it's easier to just avoid them. You have a limited number of torpedoes and fuel and must replenish each by collecting the aid packages delivered to you on the back of a fish, launched from a resupply sub? 8-O

Anyway, as odd as it is, the game isn't too bad at all. I consider it to be an arcade naval-themed action shooter. The graphics are effective enough, in the sense that everything is easily recognizable and colored nicely. For me, the game falls down with the choice of weapons control. I struggle with getting the torpedoes to fire in the right direction (that being upwards or horizontally). Half the time, I get it wrong. Apart from this, though, I find the game entertaining enough. The individual missions seem a little on the long side, but the variation and gradual increase of difficulty is a good balance for me. But, as for head-to-head competition, Seafox doesn't have it; it's one player only.

Update: I actually found a copy of the manual for Seafox and read it. Now, I can fire torpedoes reliably (short press of fire button: fire torpedo upwards; long press of fire button: fire torpedo to the right) and get much further in the game than I could before. However, as I've progressed further in the game, with a higher difficulty level, I've discovered the next major flaw in the game. As the enemies and their projectiles increase in number, the game slows down considerably. There were times that there was so much happening on the screen that the game slowed to a crawl. Aside from this, though, I still enjoy playing it. Oh, and according to the manual, it's a dolphin that carries your resupply pack, not a fish. ;-)

SEAWOLF II

2023 - Oziphantom & NM156

Seawolf II takes the old Sea Wolf and gives it a much needed shine and polish that brings it up to modern standards. Some of these improvements include enhanced ship sprites that don't flicker, more detailed ship explosions, animated wave action, sea mines as well as buoys to block torpedoes, and torpedo movements that closer resemble the original arcade animations. Along with these enhancements, the game now includes ambient background music (unfortunately only audible on PAL systems :-( ) and improved sound effects. But the big improvement to the game is the addition of an AI that can take the role of the second player. So now, if you don't have someone to go head-to-head with, you have the option of going up against the computer (aka Captain Backstein).

This upgrade to Sea Wolf kept everything that makes the game fun and improves upon it. You still get the fast action, easy to pick up and play, head-to-head competition style gaming, but with better visuals, better sound and even a friend to play against if everyone else is busy. It even kept the option of playing the game with paddle controllers; something that not many modern C64 games offer these days.

Even though Seawolf II provides a much needed AI for single player games, it's still at it's best when played by two players. It's the go-to two player game in our household (seconded by 5 Pin Bowling).

Library entry

SEAWOLVES

2024 - Kodiak64

Seawolves is another game that resembles the Sea Wolf format, but is ultimately a different sort of game for a different sort audience. As in Sea Wolf, you pilot a submarine and your objective is to torpedo ships traveling above you, but there's a lot more going on in this game that you have to contend with. Along with enemy ships are civilian ships that you have avoid hitting (sink more than three and it's game over), Orcas that get in the way, sea monsters, depth charges that can do you damage, homing mines, nuclear waste vessels, and more. There's also a feast for the eyes happening on the screen, with animated waves, spectacular ship explosions, your “sunkometer” to watch, game timer, bad kill markers, damage meter, launch alert system; it's borderline incomprehensible at times.

This is why I think the reviewers I've watched and read so far, who talk about Seawolves, are being misleading when they compare it to Sea Wolf. This does a dis-service to both games. On one hand, people who enjoy Sea Wolf will be out of their depths with the complexity of Seawolves. On the other hand, people who don't enjoy Sea Wolf because of it's simplicity will most likely overlook Seawolves thinking that it's similar. In actuality, the setting of you in control of a submarine shooting torpedoes at sea vessels is where the similarity between these two games begins and ends. The game-play objectives, challenges and presentation are all completely different from each other (and there's nothing wrong with that). Saying that Seawolves is a remake of Sea Wolf to me is like saying, Dig-Dug is a remake of Pac-Man.

Seawolves is an arcade naval-themed shooter, while Sea Wolf is a head-to-head competition game (think Duck Hunt on the NES but with submarines). The target audiences are completely different in my opinion; Seawolves being geared more towards the so-called “hard core” gamer, while Sea Wolf is more suited to the casual or non-gamer. If anything, Seawolves is more of a remake of Seafox, as I feel that it has much more in common with it regarding game-play and objectives.

Seawolves does provide a head-to-head competition mode, but it's far more complex than Sea Wolf. I tried playing a few games of it with my wife, but we didn't play for very long. Rather than just having fun out-torpedoing each other, we were spending too much effort discerning between what we could and could not shoot. Also, the low contrasting colours on the screen (although impressive from a technical point of view) and the constant color flashes of the game objects were very straining on our old eyes. We had to play it on the C64Mini, as it only runs on PAL systems. :-( So, the high-resolution of the big screen LCD probably didn't help matters. Headaches were inevitable after our gaming session.

With all this being said, however, Seawolves does have something to offer the gamer who likes a challenge, lots of detail and complexity in their games, and who values seeing the technical boundaries of their C64 being pushed to its limits.

FIRE ONE

1983 - Epyx

Of all the submarine “bottom up” style games on the C64, this is my favorite. Like Seafox and Seawolves, it isn't a direct translation of Sea Wolf (Seawolf II remains the best in this regard). But you still command a submarine and torpedo enemy vessels from below. The difference here is, you also have your own fleet to protect.

The game objectives are more complicated than Sea Wolf, but the trade-off here is, being a single player game, there's a lot more replay value with Fire One. The graphics are nowhere near as sophisticated as Seawolves, but the advantage here is that 1) I can play it for long periods of time without eye strain or fatigue and 2) it plays on any old un-expanded C64 or C128.

In Fire One, the game is not just about sitting back and torpedoing a bunch of ships. You also have to use some strategy to protect your own fleet from your computer opponent. Win the round by either sinking the red fleet or destroying the enemy sub before the same happens to you. You choose the duration of the game and you try to win as many rounds as you can. Another thing that sets this game apart from the others, at lease for me, is the adrenaline rush I get when I'm face-to-face with the enemy sub. Even after all of these years playing it, when the whooping alarm goes off and the visual “shaking” of the screen indicates that your sub is getting pounded by enemy torpedoes, I still get little butterflies. It can be a pretty intense game and I find it lots of fun to play. It's just another good example of how sometimes simpler can be better.

Fire One is sort of a classification of game on it's own. I consider it to be an arcade strategy shooter and not something to be compared to Sea Wolf, either. It lacks the head-to-head competition game-play, but is an entertaining single player action game. Library entry for Fire One...

FOOTNOTE

There is a version of Sea Wolf for the C128, appropriately called Seawolf128, but it's a pretty far cry from the quality and fun of anything on the C64; at least as of the time I've posted this review. Maybe someday the C128 will get one of it's own proper ports of Sea Wolf.


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reviews/subroundup.txt · Last modified: 2024/06/14 16:57 by David