Air-Sea Battle (Atari 2600) review
"Kicking off my series on the Atari 2600 “Launch 20”, we lead with Air-Sea Battle. Now, in order to be objective when reviewing Atari 2600 titles, you have to become somewhat of a time traveler. That is to say that it’s not fair to compare Air-Sea Battle to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It’s not even fair to compare Air-Sea Battle to Freeway. (Interestingly, it would be fair to compare Freeway and GTA: SA to Air-Sea Battle). So, what you end up having to do is examine competitive products ..."
Kicking off my series on the Atari 2600 “Launch 20”, we lead with Air-Sea Battle. Now, in order to be objective when reviewing Atari 2600 titles, you have to become somewhat of a time traveler. That is to say that it’s not fair to compare Air-Sea Battle to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It’s not even fair to compare Air-Sea Battle to Freeway. (Interestingly, it would be fair to compare Freeway and GTA: SA to Air-Sea Battle). So, what you end up having to do is examine competitive products from that particular moment in time. Being that the level of internet-driven obsession over all aspects of the gaming world didn’t exist during the 2600s initial run, you have to do the equivalent of carbon-14 dating to determine exactly when a game was released and what else was available at the time. This is the only method by which one can do a fair evaluation of any classic (Golden Age) game.
Having said that, Air-Sea Battle sucks. It’s only real competition were the other 19 members of the “Launch 20”, and while it isn’t the worst of the lot, it is number 18. Why? Let’s take a look.
Mama Dodge always said, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing.” Well, I’ll try. Air-Sea Battle’s strongest point is the graphics. (They’d have to be, considering the gameplay…more on that later.) Reasonable first-gen representations of ships, helicopters, airplanes, sea mines, and other assorted goodies. The only graphical representation that sent me to the manual was the smiley face. It turns out that, according to the manual, it wasn’t a smiley face at all, but an “observer blimp”. Well, have a nice day, observer.
There are 27 game varieties of Air-Sea Battle for you to enjoy. In reality this boils down to whether or not your cannon moves, whether or not there are dummy targets (smiley faces), and the style of targets you shoot at. All modes of Air-Sea Battle involve you firing at targets. The targets do not return fire. You have the option of playing against the computer, but the computer simply fires constantly, hoping it might hit something.
Picking on the sound in an Atari 2600 game is like beating up the fat kid in gym class. It’s easy to do, and it’s not very nice. So, I’ll simply say this. There are two sounds in Air-Sea Battle: A firing sound, and a “target destroyed” sound. I’m actually pretty relieved they didn’t aspire to more there.
Now, for the “believe it or not” portion of this diatribe… Do you know who programmed this second-rate salad of slop? Larry Kaplan! Yes! Larry “Kaboom” Kaplan of Activision. The man who created what could be in contention for best Activision game ever also programmed the horrible Air-Sea Battle.
If the “Launch 20” contained a bunch of games like Air-Sea Battle, Atari would not have enjoyed the success it did. Fortunately, there were some gems hidden in there. Air-Sea Battle fails as an entertaining game, and even worse, failed to contribute to the legacy of video gaming by providing no innovation.
(As a parenthetical aside, if you are looking for a good game in this genre, I strongly recommend Coleco’s excellent 1982 release, “Carnival”. I did not include this in the body of the review, as it would be unfair to compare Air-Sea Battle to Carnival, which was released nearly 5 years later.)
Community review by ddsilver (October 27, 2004)
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