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Radar Mission (Game Boy) artwork

Radar Mission (Game Boy) review

"An imposing warship, ready to decimate an unseen enemy. A blood red sky, foggy with the haze of battle. An oh-so-cool logo.... the cover art for Radar Mission was very exciting for an eight year old. And as such, on the magical Christmas morning when I first got my Game Boy, I spurned the lure of Tetris, the super-heroic adventures of The Amazing Spider-Man, or the wonder of Mario in order to spend some time with what promised to be a tale of epic naval conflict, heroism, daring escapades and ex..."

An imposing warship, ready to decimate an unseen enemy. A blood red sky, foggy with the haze of battle. An oh-so-cool logo.... the cover art for Radar Mission was very exciting for an eight year old. And as such, on the magical Christmas morning when I first got my Game Boy, I spurned the lure of Tetris, the super-heroic adventures of The Amazing Spider-Man, or the wonder of Mario in order to spend some time with what promised to be a tale of epic naval conflict, heroism, daring escapades and excitement. Or, to put it another way, Battleships.

Yessir, war has hit your Game Boy. For reasons only known to themselves, three navy captains (the Popeye lookalike, the Cap'n Haddock lookalike, and the Captain Birdseye lookalike) have decided that they really don't like each other all that much, and have decided to try and blow each other to Belgium and back. Fair play to them I suppose. And so, taking control of the Salty Sea Dog of your choice (not that it really has any effect on the gameplay whatsoever), you prepare your fleet, and head to the high seas to meet your destiny...

Radar Mission is split into two distinctly different play modes. While both, naturally, focus on the general idea of sinking the enemy fleet, they both play very differently. On the one hand, in what has been inventively named 'Game A', is pretty much your classic Battleships game. You start off by positioning your fleet, consisting of ships of various length, on a grid of a size of your choice. You and your opponent then take turns taking pot shots at various squares in the grid - hit a ship and you get another shot, until that ship is sunk. Sink all the enemy ships before you lose all of yours, and victory is yours. It's a fantastically simple concept, and one that I'm sure you've all played - be it the simple pen and paper way, the classic board game, or even through your Sky Digital remote. However, Radar Mission adds enough shiny little extras to give the game a slightly more unique flavour (in much the same way as the more adventurous among us might add mustard to our baked beans before heating them up.... the basic product is still the same, but with a bit more of a kick).

The first little addition comes in the form of the Lucky Shots' - these are power-ups that can be earned by striking the grid point in which they are hidden. Collecting one of these means that in your next turn you can take more than one shot at the same time, with your shots branching out in 'X' shapes of varying size. This is a nice touch, and one that can prove immensely satisfying - there's little better than watching a well placed array of torpedoes rain down onto your opponent's fleet, cutting through several of their ships. But even if you fail to hit anything, you can still take something away from your turn, by way of the 'near-miss' alarm, which sounds if you strike a square in the general vicinity of an enemy ship. While some could argue, and with some good cause admittedly, that this makes your task too easy, gently prodding you in the direction of your enemy, it should be pointed out that your opponent also has this feature available, which can lead to some rather tense moments as you have just one ship left, one that has so far managed to remain hidden: the enemy is getting close to it.... and knows it... By far the most radical departure from traditional Battleships, though (and one that quite possibly had Battleships traditionalists up in arms..... assuming such creatures exist of course), is the fact that if your Aircraft Carrier (by far the easiest target, being the largest member of your fleet) remains afloat long enough, an aircraft will launch, and circle the vessel. This is handy, as not only does it give you an extra unit, effectively prolonging your survival just a little, but it also moves - extremely controversial, but it does add to the feel that you actually have a real fleet at your command - the fact that something is moving about out there helps maintain the illusion in ways that having a handful of purely static sitting ducks does not. And of course, just as with all the new features, your enemy can pull just the same stunt on you - you'll be scrambling to take out their Aircraft Carrier as soon as possible... Of course, if you don't like these additions, it is entirely possible to turn them off before you start the game. This seems a little silly, though, as without these there is nothing here that can't be done with a piece of paper and a pen.

Although there are only three stages to this game mode, it still manages to prove quite challenging, due to the tight learning curve. By the time you reach the second stage you are granted only two ships - the huge Aircraft Carrier (as seen on eBay...), and a tiny, two-square long little number. What's more, the grid is a fixed eight-by-eight size, meaning there isn't much space to hide in.... and the enemy still has a full fleet. Make it through this stage, and you reach the enemy base. Here, still armed with just the two ships, you must take on a more diverse range of enemy - including tanks. It's just a little touch, but it at least makes it feel like you are following some form of narrative.

Really, this game mode is better than a game that at heart can be played just as easily with a pen and a few scraps of paper should be. I feel like I should be deriding the game for being a waste of money and so on, but it's hard not to like the sheer enthusiasm with which this game has been created - despite being based on a concept that is very old and well-worn it's clear that the developers refused to write this game off as 'just' Battleships, and that in itself is quite admirable. But there's more to the game than this slow-paced, tense and tactical offering.....

In the other game mode, which in accordance with alphabetical law has been named 'Game B', you are treated to a far more action-oriented, arcade-style romp through the high seas, as you take command of a submarine for what could be described as 'first person Battleships'. Again spread over three missions, you are thrown right into the battle, as opposed to controlling events from 'above'. Before you set out to do battle you are given enough money to upgrade your ship in three areas - you can increase the speed, maximise the sonar abilities or add the ability to shoot both your torpedoes at the same time. Although as your submarine takes damage the upgrades fail, you can earn more money for completing missions, or by shooting the huge money bags that float on the horizon (I have it from a reliable source that Sir Richard Branson made his fortune the very same way...)

When you feel that you're ready to go and fight the good fight, your sub heads out to face the enemy fleet, and you take a kind of side-on sitting-on-top-of-the-sub view of the proceedings. Just as in the other play mode, you have a whole fleet of ships too, although now you have no control over them - this is more of a protection deal. Armed with two torpedoes that respawn a short while after they are fired, and with a machine gun that can fire continuously but has limited range, you set out to destroy the enemy fleet. This can either be done by picking the ships off one by one, which is actually a bit of a chore, since your torpedoes move rather slowly, and the enemy ships (and your own submarine) are in motion, aiming can become quite a chore. However, take out their submarine and the day is yours by default. Since their sub is rather up-close and personal when you run into it, you basically end up just sailing in the direction in which the computer indicates it is to be found, constantly firing your machine gun. Proceedings can still get quite frantic though - chances are when you run into the enemy sub it'll be doing just the same thing, so the battle is still quite tense, as you try to mix all out gunplay with strategically submerging your craft to avoid the pain.

This fast-paced action really does compliment Game A very well - it retains the general atmosphere of it's shipmate, and yet in terms of action it manages to be different enough to provide the much needed variety. However, although initially the hectic pace of this game feels more appealing, after a quick session it all starts to feel rather shallow, meaning that the first play mode is ultimately more satisfying in the long term.

As with all games of this variety, though, Radar Mission really comes into it's own in the two player mode. While Game B in two-player usually doesn't last that long, it's possible to get quite a lengthy battle going in the first mode. As the game draws on, and your adversary inevitably starts to draw in on your fleet, you really do need quite a good poker-face so as not to give too much away.

Graphically this game is surprisingly accomplished. While you spend a good part of it just looking at a grid, every effort has gone in to making the game feel real. As such, when you are deciding where to take your next shot, a radar line is moving across the grid. Other touches, too, really add to the overall effect. Every time you take a shot at the enemy you are treated to an animated sequence showing the shot being fired, and either hitting an enemy ship (accompanied by a satisfying bout of pyrotechnics), or more likely just dropping beneath the waves. In the later missions there are even some nice backgrounds on offer during these sequences. The second play mode suffers a little more, in the graphical department, though - there are no backgrounds on offer at all, meaning that each mission looks just the same, and when you are moving more quickly things have a tendency to get really quite blurry. However, that said, the graphics still aren't poor, and as one of the earlier Game Boy games on the market, Radar Mission can easily hold it's head up high amongst other titles of the time.

The sounds are very good, though. The music is genuinely impressive, and suits the mood of the game very well - the music changes to become more tense when your fleet is on it's last legs, and similarly a really rather rousing tune rings proud when you have the enemy at your mercy and staring defeat in the face. The sound effects, too, while limited in number still manage to impress, with some rather fantastically meaty sounding explosions proving to be the highlight.

With the two play modes complimenting each other so well, there is no denying that Radar Mission is a good package, and one that is well worth picking up if you see a copy. There have been other Battleships-style games appearing on the system over the years, but this game has the edge due to the two distinct play modes, and all the unique new features on offer. An unoriginal concept at heart, and as such far from essential, but Radar Mission is a very stylish interpretation of an old classic.

tomclark's avatar
Community review by tomclark (March 07, 2004)

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