What's hard and Japanese and full of Seaman?
Okay, okay, let's get the jokes out of the way. It's just killing me. Here, for your puerile reading enjoyment, is a collection of rejected quotes I considered including throughout the course of this review. Note: If you are offended by this kind of talk, please look at this picture instead.
Seaman, a coming-of-age title. Something smells fishy. Quit fiddling with your joystick, because Seaman is here! Pssst. There's Seaman on your television. Every Seaman is sacred. And of course, A tough game to swallow.
Ahhh...that's better. Cigarette?
Yep, Sega's latest foray into the world of artificial intelligence arrives in the form of a smug, witty, and generally bad-tempered beastie with perhaps the worst name in the history of video gaming. Or at least the easiest name to poke fun at. Hey Beavis, he said poke...Huhuhuh..uhuhhhuh. Onward!
From the demented brain of game design cowboy Yoot Saito emerges Seaman, a bizarre half-fish, half-man denizen of the deep that swims around on your television. With breakthrough voice-recognition software and some flashy AI programming, this irritating/ed little guy marks an impressive leap forward for console gamers. However, some problems hold Seaman back from overtaking The Incredible Mister Limpet as the world's foremost talking fish.
The backstory is intricately detailed but marginally impressive. You take on the experiments of the fictional scientist Jean Paul Gasse, the man who discovered and first attempted to raise Seamen back in the 1930's. Your goal is to discover the secrets behind this mysterious amphibian through close care, conversation, and doing what it takes to help the thing evolve.
Seaman is all about evolution, which makes sense, since it's basically an advanced version of a Seamonkey. But where the latter only managed to swim around a bit and die, the former manages to swim around a bit, talk to you, and then die. Let's hear it for progress!
Essentially, Seaman is a tamagotchi, a virtual pet living in a virtual fish tank. As his primary caretaker, you have to make sure his water is warm enough, he's well-fed, and his tank is oxygenated. This is a daily chore, and skipping a session could have dire consequences, like death, or worse, annoyance.
Of greater importance is your interaction with Seaman. The game comes bundled with a nifty little microphone which plugs into the DC controller. As the fish develops, you'll eventually talk to it to get it to evolve further. This is where the voice recognition ability - the selling point of the game - comes into play.
At first Seaman only understands a few random words, but as he grows and as you speak to him, he'll understand, well, a few more words. Apparently Seaman comes programmed with over 10,000 responses, but more often than not he has no clue what you're saying. Words are often misunderstood, leading to confusing moments of him answering a question inappropriately. Example:
I say, "How are you?"
He replies, "Well, if you say so."
Moron. In fact, much of your conversation with the man-fish sounds like an Abbot and Costello routine performed by Frankenstein and Solomon Grundy. "Fire Bad?" "Me Tired." "Ben Throw Rock At Seaman!"
Seaman does a much better job when he asks you the questions...which he will. Over the course of your time with Seaman, some genuinely profound moments will have you laughing out loud.
Eventually, Seaman will want a name. I named mine "Thargor." I don't know why - it just sounded like a good Viking name and I was in a Viking mood. He asked me when I was born, and commented about the specific day. He inquired about my job and my sex life. I answered truthfully. A few days later, he made references to these conversations. It was REALLY freaky...and REALLY cool.
After a while, though, the freakiness turns sour. Seaman is a pissy little bastard, and getting him to say anything useful or to ask you interesting questions is often a time-consuming affair. And aside from asking the guy questions, there's not a hell of a lot to do. You aren't really able to manipulate the environment ala The Sims to better Seaman's mood. You don't really train Seaman to perform cute tricks. You don't really do anything, aside from grunting into a mic at a digital trout.
Hence, this is not a game for the impatient. Seaman takes a good solid month to "complete," and sitting down to play for a few hours at a time is out of the question. Staring at your Seaman, waiting for him to say or do something interesting is about as fun as watching grass grow. This is, at its core, a turn-based game, one that requires turning off for a good 12 hours before it's worth turning on again. Your hyperactive little brother will absolutely hate it.
The delivery of the game is fine. The tank is spartan but Seaman is rendered nicely and moves like a real fish. In a move brimming with logic, Sega hired ex-mind melder Leonard Nimoy to narrate. A brilliant decision, because when Leonard talks, strange things happen. Remember In Search Of?
So the big question is whether or not you should buy this game. The big answer? I have no idea. It's a really tough call. The game is new, innovative and funny but the voice recognition software is still a few years away from being truly amazing. In all fairness, attempting to pull off successful voice recognition is really, really hard, and Sega makes a good stab at it. But a good try does not equate to a good game.
And what grade does it get? Ah hell, who knows. This is that rare title that sort of defies grading, seeing as how the game isn't really a game at all. It's also not like anything else, either. Seaman is an experience, one with some shiny bright spots as well as some irritatingly dull ones. If you have the patience and 'wish you were a fish,' then by all means drop the cash. But those looking for their next best friend should swing by the local pound.