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Seaman
Platform:  Dreamcast
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Vivarium
Publisher:  Sega
Features:  Comes with Microphone
Ratings:  Teen
Memory Req.:  64 blocks
Info:  www.askseaman.com
Nearly every review that I have seen about Seaman has been basically the same. It is very hard to look at this game from a critical point of view since there is really nothing to hold this game up against. There is no standard for the voice recognition-creature-raising genre. Therefore all that one can really do in criticizing this game is to describe what does go on in the game and then offer suggestions.

The first thing I have to say is bravo to Sega for releasing this in the United States. We here in the US are usually ignored when it comes to strange and creative games because they are not considered as marketable as they are in Japan. Kudos to Sega for allowing us to partake in one of the oddest and most original games to be released for any system since Parappa. Seaman is a game with no action and no goals except for keeping this creature alive. Forget about points or completion. That is just not what the game is all about.

If you have not played Seaman or read a review allow me to explain what occurs in this weird world. You are presented with a very ugly looking tank and an egg. Initially there are very few factors that you can control in the tank. You can clean it by pushing oxygen into it, heat it and drop the egg in it. If the conditions are favorable (clean and warm) the egg will hatch and release these sperm-like objects that are the equivalent of tadpoles. You then feed these tadpoles to a mollusk and when the mollusk has enough it will explode and become four baby seamen. After that happens you are pretty much on your own as far as the instruction manual is concerned. Each new development is a new discovery and you must pay attention to the creatures and the narrator (played by Leonard Nimoy with all of the excitement and vigor that he can muster).

Since the game takes its cue from the Dreamcast's internal clock , it happens in real time whether the system is on or not. This means that twice a day you have to check on the Seaman to see how it is doing. This also means that you will not get all that far on the first day. Of course you can crank the clock ahead to advance progress but that would be cheating. Conversely if you have neglected the Seaman you must crank the clock back before turning on the game or else it will know that you have been too important to care for your creature and once they die you have to begin all over again.

I do not want to give away too much of what goes on in the game since the discoveries are what keeps the game fresh and exciting, but I will give you a general run-down. The little creatures grow up in three stages. They start as babies, become kids, and rapidly become adults. Over this time you have to make sure they are well-fed, and they have a warm clean tank. Other than that the real fun of the game, as you might have guessed from the accompanying microphone, is talking to the creatures. This is the innovative heart of the game and the real reason to play it.

Voice recognition and response is a new technology on any platform and as such has some kinks to work out. At this point it is really just a set of responses to certain code words that you say into the microphone. The Seaman has a very set vocabulary and does not learn anything new. So for most of the time I found myself trying to figure out what words the creature would understand and then saying them in short clear sentences. "Are you hungry?" "Do you want to play?" I also would repeat things that it said figuring it knows its own words. "You suck," for example. The beauty of a voice recognition game is that anyone with a voice can quickly learn how to play. Seaman has the lowest learning curve of any game ever. It goes great at parties.

Like I mentioned before, various things happen in the game that keep it fresh. You can grow plants, move rocks, make other animals and so on. The game developers added these little tasks in case talking to the Seaman gets boring (which it does). It would have been nice to have a little more eye candy in the game like a background for the tank for example. Also, I wish there were items you could buy or make to put in the tank in order to alter the Seaman's experience there. Alas, there are few and if the Seaman can't eat it he won't even know that it's there.

The game is worth checking out simply because there is nothing else like it. Games that require you to follow the advice of Spock in order to keep your man-fish happy are sadly few and far between these days. Even if the game seems like it is limited in play options, you have to realize that nothing like this has ever been done before and games along this line can only get better. Plus how many other games do you know that will sarcastically respond when you give it an "F-you"?


Chris Shade


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