Image shamelessly linked from Game Oldies. Once again, I find myself
in awe of late 80's, early 90's box art. The cool fonts, the excellent,
hand-drawn artwork, and blatant overstatement of the actual product.
I love playing games. I love video games, of course, because, if I didn't, writing this blog would be pretty silly of me, wouldn't it? But I also love other kinds of games. I grew up playing board games and card games with my family. I can rock a game of Klondike Solitaire any time, and I rather enjoy trouncing my family in a rousing game of Scatergories. Yes, I love a good tabletop game. So do a lot of other people, I'd wager, which is why we see so many conversions of popular card, board, and other tabletop games on video game systems. The Game Boy was no exception to this, and received a number of relevant titles.
Radar Mission, on paper, is the very definition of taking a board game and turning into a video game with enough added content, feature/functionality, and substance, to make it worth playing over and above the source material it shamelessly copies. In this case, it's the venerable classic Battleship. Yes, the game that invented the catch phrase, "You sank my battleship!" that nearly every North American child in my generation could pull out of the air, since during almost any commercial break for after-school programming, or Saturday Morning Cartoons (RIP), a commercial for some iteration of the game was inevitably aired. The difference with Battleship, however, was that many versions of the game came with more than just plastic pegs, plastic ships, and a nice custom game board. Some versions came with lights, sounds, and gripping nautical warfare action! Okay, so maybe I'm channeling the commercials from memory, but the truth is, as a property to translate to the video game medium, Battleship had already transcended its pressed cardboard and plastic game piece brethren, and was therefore going to need more than just pictures on the screen and cutesy music to spruce it up.
And once again, we have a completely different game logo design
from the box to the title screen. Another case of the left hand and
the right hand not being aware of one another, methinks.
I suppose Nintendo was able to produce Radar Mission (or Kaisen Game: Radar Mission, in Japan) without having to pay Milton Bradley bucket-loads of money, because the game originated as a pen-and-paper game, and took on a number of physical board game revisions, before Milton Bradley's more famous Battleship game became a household name sometime during the late 1960's and early 1970's. By the 1980's, of course, it had become a phenomenon, and I think it was almost a prerequisite that any American family had at least one Battleship game board in their house. At least in my experience, I believe all my friends' families had the game, my grandmother had it, and they even had it at school where we could play during certain activity times.
Game A in Radar Mission sets itself apart by offering a number of features that its inspiration never boasted. First and foremost, when you start the game, you get to choose what size of game board you want: 8x8, 10x10, or 12x12. You only get to choose the size of the initial board, however, because, if you happen to defeat the enemy during the first match, you move on to a 2nd level with an 8x8 board, and then on to a 3rd and final level where you're attacking the enemy's base on land. It gives the game a lot more depth than the traditional board game variety. You have the ability to toggle a "Near Miss" feature, which means that, when you or your enemy fire a shot that lands in the water next to a ship, a warning sound will play, letting you know that in one of the spaces directly above, below, or to either side of your ship, there's a target you can hit.
Here you can see all the options available in Game A, like the ability
to have aircraft launch, near miss, and WHAT ON EARTH, is that
Hitler commanding your fleet? No wonder I lost so much!
There's also the "Lucky Shot" feature, which is triggered in a seemingly random fashion. When you or your opponent miss a shot, you may be granted a lucky shot on your next turn. There are 3 varieties: first a single square shot, which, if successful, will completely destroy a ship in 1 hit. Second, there's a 5-shot blast which fires off 5 shots in the shape of an "X", and finally, a 9-shot volley that mirrors the 5-shot, but just stretches out 1 additional square diagonally from the center-point. If toggled, you will be alerted of near misses with these, though it's still a guessing game as to what side the actual target will be on. Then there's a nifty feature where, mid-way through a match, your aircraft carrier can launch a fighter jet, which will randomly move to different squares surrounding the location of the aircraft carrier (even after it has sunk), during each turn of the game. If your opponent has sunk all your ships, but your jet is still in flight, you still have a chance to take them out, as long as they haven't taken it down. It adds an additional strategic element, because of the need to hit what is, essentially, a moving target. Finally, you can choose between 2 captains to command your fleet, and 3 different opponents to play against, though the actual choice doesn't matter, as each commander plays exactly the same.
It's a satisfying sight, seeing your enemy's ship go down in flames,
helpless to defend themselves against your missiles. No, I don't
need therapy; all is fair in love and war, remember?
As you can see, I've already taken out my opponent's aircraft carrier.
The area my targeting cursor is over happened to be the next ship I
hit. It won't be long before it's blown to smithereens, sinking to the
bottom of the sea, forever to be nothing more than a relic of warfare.
Here's the tricky thing about Game A: the AI is all over the place. As one would expect, the game attempts to approximate what a human would do, but sometimes it feels very random. Anyone I've ever played Battleship against, once they've found one of your ships, they continue to fire in that region until they've sunk the vessel. Sometimes, in Radar Mission, your enemy will hit your boat, fire a couple near miss shots which give them license to sink the vessel, and then, inexplicably, they'll begin firing on random spots on the board, seemingly in an attempt to find other ships. It's a strategy I've honestly never seen, and it's a bit baffling. I'm not complaining, however; Game A provides quite a challenge, and I only conquered my opponent after about 15 or 20 attempts, during a game where the CPU used the aforementioned tactic. Apparently, my nautical warfare skills need some tightening up.
Finally seeing the smiling face of my fleet admiral and the celebratory
dance of my crew was quite a feeling, after being taken down so many
times. It felt good to finally win all 3 rounds and defeat the enemy.
Game B, however, really ups the ante in the area of challenge. The enemy sub seems to have an innate sense of which direction to travel for maximum kill speed, and is relentless in firing machine guns and torpedoes at you when you cross its path. My assumption is, because the other sub can destroy you, that you could also destroy it, but I haven't been able to accomplish this apparently herculean feat. Rather, I have focused on taking out the opposing ships, but I've only ever been able to get past the first round, with a scant, single ship in my group remaining. In the 2nd stage, assuming I earned enough money to buy all 3 power-ups again, I get absolutely creamed by the lousy enemy craft, and haven't seen the 3rd stage, as of yet. Oh, and unless you're a masochist, or an absolute Jedi at games like this, don't even think about trying Game B without buying the upgrades before each round, because you'll probably lose. Needless to say, Game B presents a pretty stiff challenge, though I suppose with enough practice, one could best the 3 stages and achieve victory.
These guys are the smart ones, who stayed back at the dock. They're
not going to be sunk by an opposing sub. No, they'll happily be sipping
beverages in the cantina, laughing at their comrades risking their necks.
In terms of the game's visual aesthetics, they're pretty well done. The ships themselves aren't much to look at when you're looking at the game board, but the designs are nice, and the animations accompanying each volley are a nice touch, despite being a bit sparse. Obviously being a slow-paced game, Game A gets by more on substance than flash, but then Game B has some nice touches, like the multi-level scrolling water that looks like a parallax scrolling effect, and a decent depth perception effect when firing torpedoes at far away ships. The little animations in between stages are a bit goofy, but they're light-hearted, and serve their purpose. I also kind of like the explosion effect graphics each time you destroy a ship.
I said it before, and I'll say it again. Get the upgrades, or prepare to be
annihilated within short order. Seriously, the enemy sub will cut you
down to size without a moment's hesitation, and you'll be crying.
The music in the game is well composed. In Game A, there's a standard tune that plays during the bulk of the stage, and then toward the end of each round, the music will change, depending on you and your opponent's status. If you are down to your last ship, the music becomes serious and ominous, as if to signal that you're in trouble. If the enemy is down their last vessel, you get a more triumphant, victorious kind of theme that plays, signifying that you're in the home stretch with only 1 boat left to bomb. When the opposition gets a lucky shot, another serious, frantic-toned ditty plays while they're targeting and firing, as a means of building tension. The title screen theme is nice as well, with a catchy melody and a nice faux-military sort of feel. Sound effects are also decent, with the usual "alley-oop" kind of high pitched whistle when firing missiles, a good explosion sound, and a serviceable splash-down sound for missed shots. The near miss sound is a bit annoying, though one assumes that's the point. Game B's main theme is a bit less memorable, though once you're down to 3 ships, it changes to the "ominous" theme from Game A, which serves to heighten the action. I like how the music fades out on the option screens when you select your options and start the game, it's a nice effect. Overall, the sound design is pretty solid.
There are moments like this in Game B that are very rewarding - the
second before the torpedo hits, you know it's going to find its target,
and you'll get to watch the glorious explosion of an enemy vessel.
It's hard to fault Radar Mission for much of anything, because, in 1991, the Game Boy was really hitting its stride, in terms of development teams really learning how to get the most out of the limited hardware. The slow pace of Game A, coupled with the original DMG Game Boy model's blurriness, means that it was probably the perfect choice for car rides, weekends at grandma's house, and late night sleepover game sessions. Game B, with its faster pace and fast scrolling ships, doesn't fare quite as well on the original hardware, but since the animation is relatively flat, it still works pretty well. Nintendo took an established formula and added some nice additional features that really buoy the game (sorry, pun intended), and make it feel more fresh. But instead of just stopping there, they added an entirely different 2nd mode, which gives the game even more replay value, especially since both game types can be played with 2 sea-faring swabbies (no, this isn't a pirate game, but go with me on this one). Sadly, since I only have 1 copy of the game, I didn't get to experience that. My only real complaint is that, for Game A, there's no mode that allows 2 players on the same device. That would have been a fantastic addition to an otherwise well made game. Had I known about Radar Mission back when it released, it might have, erm, "been on my radar" (sorry, I can't help myself), and might have been a game I would have purchased. I know my younger brother would have played with me, and had there been a 2-player/1-device mode, I might even have convinced my dad to as well. Regardless, anyone who owns a Game Boy (or compatible device), has fond memories of playing Battleship, and enjoys this kind of tactical strategy challenge, should be looking this game up and seriously thinking about acquiring a copy. I got mine for $4 (loose cart), and I would think you could probably find a copy in the wild for around that price. It's well worth that and more, and you could easily sink hours (okay, okay, I'll stop!) into it. Highly recommended.
Unless you can master the submerging in Game B, you'll be seeing
this screen a whole lot like I did. Thankfully, once you do, avoiding
the other sub becomes a lot easier. You can also submerge to
avoid missiles fired at you by enemy planes, which comes in handy.