Friday 7 August 2020

Seaquest (Atari 2600 review)

Developer: Steve Cartwright
Publisher: Activision
Released: 1983

Seaquest is an action game that was programmed by the same developer as Barnstorming (1982, Atari 2600).

Your objective in each wave is to retrieve six treasure-divers and return to the surface before your oxygen runs out; the more oxygen you have left, the more points you receive. Enemy subs and killer sharks try to impede your progress, but your sub can fire torpedoes to destroy them. The controls are rock-solid with pin-point accuracy and I appreciate the ability to keep the fire button held down for rapid projectiles rather than having to continually tap it. I also like how, despite the static screen, enemy patterns are frequently changed to keep you on your toes and include single, double and triple sharks at once. The speed increases fairly quickly too, adding to the almost 'hide and seek' nature of the gameplay as you constantly strategise as to whether you have enough time to quickly duck down to the bottom to rescue a diver before the sharks drag them away. It's full of risk-reward and the enticing bonus of gaining an extra life for every 10,000 points almost goads you into taking chances to conserve oxygen and ultimately gain a high score. Speaking of which, my initial impression of the enemy sub patrol (which stalks the top of the screen from right-to-left) was not very positive, as while you're sitting patiently waiting for your oxygen tank to refill prior to each wave, these enemies continue to move and can crash into your vehicle while you're immobile; this can be seen as cheap, but actually the more you play the more this becomes an important part of the intense gameplay towards the end of each wave as you desperately try to keep distance from the sub while rising and avoiding incoming enemies.

Seaquest is an exceptional game that excels in the gameplay and control departments, and it's yet another Activision classic on the Atari 2600. It's full of technique and strategy too, making it an ideal title for players to return to in order to maximise their point total with its deceptively deep scoring mechanics.

Random trivia: Players could receive a special patch from Activision if they scored at least 50,000 points and sent in a picture of their TV screen as proof!

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