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Seaman (Dreamcast)
MSRP: $49.99
Number of Players: 1
Developer: Vivarium
Publisher: Sega of America

Rating:
****
out of
*****

If you're looking for a fast-paced action game, please stop reading this review. Seaman is not a game in the strictest sense of the word. It's more of a virtual pet simulator and it doesn't require you to sit in front of the screen for hours at a time. A simple 10-20 minutes a day will do nicely, thank you. With that out of the way, lets take a look at what could possibly be the most unique console game of the year.

Seaman comes packaged with a microphone that is installed into port 2 of the Dreamcast controller (where the jump pack normally goes.) Once it's installed into the controller, along with a VMU with at least 64 blocks free, you're all set. (The game will not play without a VMU with 64 blocks free.) Making sure the date and time are correctly set is also crucial to getting the most out of Seaman, as it will track the duration and frequency your play sessions.

Each time you start a session of Seaman you're greeted by the voice of Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek's Mr. Spock). Mr. Nimoy will alert you to any major developments in the tank's habitat, the status of the inhabitants, any events that should occur that day, etc. He'll also let you know if you're playing too much or if you seem to be playing at different times everyday. Nimoy's vocal tone is perfect for the function he serves in Seaman.

The game's environment initially consists of an aquarium tank, with a few rocks, a heater, a light, a listening device and a thermometer. A second screen consists of a matrix, which holds an initial supply of food and one egg. The first day of playing Seaman involves only preparing the tank's environment and dropping the egg into it. You must provide the proper balance of air, heat and light to make the egg hatch. Adjusting the tank's environment is done with the d-pad. Simply adjust all of the settings until the counter turns blue. Once that's done, you're done until Day 2. See what I mean about this not being a fast-paced game?

On Day 2, your egg will hatch into little creatures called mushroomers. Utilizing the nautilus that sits in the tank as a host, these mushroomers will grow into Gillmen, who look like smaller versions of the final Seaman. The Gillmen will babble and giggle in what amounts to Seaman baby talk. They will respond to words spoken to them, but they will do so in a baby-sounding language that does not permit a conversation. However, you can look on the VMU screen to see whether the Gillmen understand you or not. You can also tickle and pick up the Gillmen for further inspection. Doing so will have varying degrees of response, ranging from more giggling to something akin to crying. Eventually, late in the day, the Gillmen will start to learn simple words like "Good" and "Hello." By Day 3, the Gillmen will start dying off. Those that remain will improve their speaking skills, while not quite being able to hold a conversation. Now the fun really starts...

I won't continue this day-by-day exposition of the game's progress, but I wanted to give gamers an idea of how it starts. Slowly. This is a game that rewards the patient. And calling it a game is somewhat misleading. Although there are a few "puzzles" you have to solve to get a desired result, there's no right or wrong way to play Seaman. But whatever you do will impact the outcome of the final product.

The game's voice recognition, while not exactly flawless, is pretty good. The game seems to get confused by similar sounding words. Sometimes the microphone doesn't understand or properly parser words that you used only a few minutes before, which is a little frustrating. This may not be an industrial or scientifically acceptable rate of recognition, but for a $50.00 game, it's not bad at all. Reportedly, Seaman has a vocabulary of 10,000 words and phrases. When the transition is made from the Gillmen's baby-talk to Seaman's attitude-laden banter, it's definitely noticeable in both his tone and his interactions with the player.

Seaman will ask for information about you, such as your birthday. He'll then begin using that information in later conversations with you. When I told him my birthday was on February 11th, he told me I shared a birthday with Jennifer Aniston (which is true) and then he made a joke about the TV show, "Friends." He also told me that I was an Aquarius and that all the other Aquarius' he knew were self-destructive nutballs. Did I mention he's a bit cranky?

It's really hard to review a game (or, in this case, virtual pet simulator) because the final experience is dependant upon the effort put forth by the player. If you know what you're getting into, you'll be more likely to get a pleasant experience than someone who has expectations of something more fast-paced or action-packed. You can actually think of it as buying a new pet. It will require some attention everyday, but if you dawdle over it for too long at one time, you won't get a whole lot out of it.

A tip of the hat to Sega for having the cajónes to release this game in North America. Its quirky and somewhat bizarre nature don't exactly lend itself to mainstream acceptance but that's what's so cool about it. Sega has provided something to the gaming public that is unlike anything else currently available on any console in North America. It may not consume your time like the latest installment of your favorite RPG or racing series, but you will still find yourself thinking about the next time you boot up your Dreamcast, even if it is to spend another 10-15 minutes talking to a fish-man on your TV. The curiosity factor is definitely the hook to Seaman as you'll always want to see what he'll do next.

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