A new entry in the one genre that the Neo Geo Pocket has yet to tap fully, Dive Alert is a simulation/RPG set in the future. Spread over two games (Matt's Version and Becky's Version), the game tells basically the same story from two different viewpoints. A star has exploded, leaving the Earth completely flooded, and most of the population dead as a result. You play as either Matt or Becky, humans created by a huge supercomputer built by scientists hoping to salvage what's left of the planet. Not the usual RPG fare to be sure, and some of the younger ones will be turned off by some of the bleak stuff here, but stick with it, and the game gets even deeper (no pun intended).
Dive Alert's gameplay is a bit hard to get used to at first, but that's where practice, and a fair amount of patience comes in. Most of the game is spent navigating and battling in real time on a sonar screen, with tiny shapes representing both you and your enemies. Not exactly the most exciting thing at first, especially with the somewhat complicated control scheme. But the game draws you into its world with its art style and well-done story. With the chips you collect from defeated subs, you can upgrade your own rig at a Domus (a floating base) with everything from a new body and weapons, to a new computer navigator. Each of the navigators has a feminine personality, with assorted strengths and weaknesses, so choosing one is half the challenge here, especially if you've grown attached to your current one.
The game offers up two types of missions to tackle. In N-Mission, you set out to destroy as many enemies as possible, before you run out of air and/or fuel. This is great practice for S-Mission, in which you set out to gain access to Terra, the last remaining landmass on Earth. You'll also meet up with a lot of colorful characters, each with their own motives, and a few that you'll do battle or perhaps even join up with. In fact the game's story is the big draw here, as the graphics lean a bit toward the simple side. Other than the neat arcade-like Training mini-game, there's nothing resembling speedy action here. Music and sounds are well done, and fit like a diver's watch.
Although the game is rated E, as I said above- most kids with short attention spans will have a tough time with the game's slow pace and occasional long stretches of dialogue. So be prepared for a boatload of questions, should you choose this one as the game to take on that long car ride to Grandma's. If you happen to have two NGPC's and a link cable, you can play the fun two-player Interactive Battle. This allows either player to collect all the game's subs, and is in fact, the only way to get them all! Sort of like Pokemon for the more cerebral among us. While the game is very good, you almost get the feeling that there's too much depth (pun also not intended), and that it would be better suited to a console system like the Dreamcast, where certain elements could have been exploited even more.
Dive Alert ends up being more of a hardcore gamer's delight, rather than a guilty pleasure, and that's fine with me. The Neo Geo pocket has too many fighters and puzzle games as it is, so it's good to see that there are some developers out there willing to break new ground for the system. Highly recommended for anyone looking for something out of the ordinary, and challenging as well.
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