|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.