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.
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.