Folks, Seaquest did a lot more than meet my expectations. Perhaps I love it so much because it was dirt cheap. I purchased this title brand new in 1985 when stores were liquidating 2600 titles for what seemed to be next to nothing at the time. I picked up this title for $5 when I was a 16-year-old kid with a bit of cash in my pocket. That, folks, was a heck of a deal, and Seaquest is one of several games I bought for a bargain basement price back when Atari's fortunes were declining. After playing this game regularly for 17 years, I'd say I got my money's worth.
Perhaps I like it so much because it's one of those games that just demonstrates why the Atari was so popular -- it's a fast, arcade shooter that's a little bit quirky and fun as can be. The quality should come as no surprise. It was put out by Activision, the premier third-party manufacturer of Atari carts, in 1983 and lives up to the reputation that company established among 2600 fans. The programmer here, Steve Cartwright, is the talented soul who came up with both Barnstorming and MegaMania for the 2600. Add Sequest to Cartwright's list of noteworthy achievements.
The graphics here are decent and fulfill their purpose. All 2600 fans can expect are graphics that represent the action well, and this game looks clean and provides visual necessary visual information to the player even when the game is fast and furious.
The player controls a large, yellow submarine (perhaps Cartwright was a Beatles fan?) which is none too detailed, but moves fluidly and precisely. The player is charged with submerging and picking up divers carrying gold while avoiding submarine-eating(!) sharks and enemy subs. This is where the sharp graphics are important. The action gets fast and furious pretty quickly, and not being able to see a precious diver well or an incoming enemy shot or fish would lead to disaster. In fact, without the crisp, flicker-free graphics in the title, it would become unplayable in a hurry.
One nice twist to the game has to do with air management. The submarine can only stay underwater for so long before it has to surface for more air. If the player surfaces before "saving" six divers, one of those divers will vanish. If the player surfaces the sub with no divers on board, his boat will be destroyed. After two rounds are completed, a patrol sub will show up on the surface and tries to destroy the player's craft while the boat is up for air.
The sound here is similar to the graphics -- utilitarian, but nothing fancy. A mid-range tone sounds every time the player fires a shot, explosions are heard when enemy ships or sharks are destroyed and a loud beep sounds when the player picks up six divers. Of course, the player hears a racket when his sub is destroyed, when he picks up a diver and when the boat is surfaced and filling up its air tanks. The graphics don't really get in the way of the game, but they're nothing special, either. Certain blips and bloops in the game give the player some vital information, and that makes the game more enjoyable.
While the sound and graphics are good enough, it's the manic gameplay that makes this title fantastic. At the first of the game, picking up divers and avoiding enemies is pretty easy. The complexity, however, increases every time six divers are collected and taken to the surface for points. And, the speed picks up very rapidly, making this title very difficult in the latter stages. After a while, the player won't be able to keep up with the speed of the game and realize that his submarine is absolutely huge and hard to keep out of harm's way.
So, sure, the player is ultimately doomed, but so what? Isn't that the case with all great arcade shooters?However, like great arcade shooters, it's hard to resist the temptation to hit that restart button and give the game another try after all lives are expended. Fortunately, one game of this lasts for a bit because the players starts the game with four subs, bonus ships are common (a new one added every 10,000 points) and getting in the "flow" of the game is easy. Also, the control is fantastic. Controlling the submarine precisely at higher levels is crucial to success, and moving that ship around is easy and feels natural in this game.
The only complaint I have about this game has to do with replay value. Now, I know I said I've been playing it regularly for years, so let me explain what I mean. This game is an absolute kick and will draw the player in fairly regularly. However, it's easy to suffer from "temporary burnout" on this because one can get good at it and play the thing for around 30 to 45 minutes before dying. While it's great to get up to that level, it's kind of hard to start over after dying. Therefore, after a while, it's easy to say "the heck with this" and set it aside for a few days.
Now, here's a little game tip for this one -- just hold that fire button down and don't let go. If you can tape that button down, that's fine, too. You'll quickly discover that constant fire allows you to simply clear enemies out of crowded parts of the screen in a hurry.
So, here's yet another Activision title that is simply fantastic. Thank goodness Activision showed up and "raised the bar" for Atari games when it came to sheer quality and fun. If you happen to run across a copy of
Seaquest, go ahead and buy it. You'll be glad you did, and I know this cartridge is common enough to be found for a good price.