Review: Battleship (Game Boy Color)

In this review, we find out if the board game Battleship for the Game Boy Color is a hit.

This game was released in 1999 and is a port from the NES version.

A lot of elements were retained in this version. This includes the boat system which features a 1×1 ship. In this game, you are working on an 8×8 grid.

You have 4 boats to place in the grid: a 1×5 Battleship, a 1×3 Destroyer, a 1×2 Frigate, and a 1×1 Submarine. After you place your ships, your objective is to sink your enemy ships.

While you would think you just have the 1×1 single shot, the truth in the matter is that you have an arsenal of weapons at your disposal. This includes a 2×2 radar sweep (capable of detecting any ship and quite useful in narrowing your search a little bit for that freaking submarine!) which can be used twice, a harpoon shot (a big “X” in a 3×3 grid) which can be used once, a 3 missile shot (three 1×1 shots anywhere you like in a single round) which can be used once, and a 2 missile shot (same as the 3 missile shot, only you have two shots instead of three) which can be used once. After that, you are stuck with the single 1×1 shot.

One interesting aspect is that while this game animates a hit or a miss, the scene actually does provide a small amount of useful information. This information is if you used a special shot and you hit one boat multiple times, or if you hit more than one boat in the same shot.

If you win, you advance to the next stage. The second round is Stage 2, level 1. Now, you would think this follows along the level system as found in Super Mario Bros. where after you complete a certain number of stages, you move up a level. This game doesn’t do that. Instead, you have 5 stages in the first level. If you advance to the next stage, you get moved up to stage 6, level 2. Why? No idea. The only information you can glean from this system is the fact that if you move up a level, you get a new weapon to use at your disposal.

Like the previous game, certain weapons in your arsenal are held on certain ships. For example, the largest weapon you get immediately, the Harpoon, is located on your Battleship. This is important because if the computer player sinks your Battleship before you fire off that harpoon shot, you lose that item for the rest of the round. So, it becomes important to get these shots off as quickly as possible before you lose the chance to fire these weapons.

One final note: radar sweeps have their own arsenal. If you get the second radar sweep, the game will tell you that you have two of each. Unfortunately, you have two radar sweeps in the entire round. If you use one, you only have one radar sweep left – regardless of type.

This game is a prime example of how computer AI can completely ruin a game. While you can see how the AI works in the NES game as it scours for your ships, in this game, the computer, as far as I’m concerned, know where all of your ships are. So, the game is heavily tilted towards the computer from the beginning to the point where the computer is basically cheating.

Just to make the game even more asinine, the computer opponent also has unlimited shots of all weapons available to you. The only thing that determines how often the computer player uses these weapons is how far into the game you are. By the time you reach about the 3rd or 4th level, the computer player is already using 2 or 3 harpoon shots on the grid.

Of course, the AI can’t just constantly sink your boats within 12 shots in a given round. Instead, it seems that the AI is programmed to sink 2 or 3 of your boats in the first 5-7 shots. After that, it assesses your progress and begins wasting shots on purpose to allow you to catch up. I ended up playing about 12 rounds. The computer player sunk my submarine 3 times in the first shot. Two of those times involved the 1×1 shot while the other time involved the harpoon weapon where the center shot hit. To put this into perspective, since we are working with an 8×8 grid, the odds of taking a single missile shot and hitting the submarine on the very first shot is 1 in 64 chances. In 12 rounds, it was unlikely I would see this happen even once, let alone three times.

The more likely scenario is, of course, that the computer player knows where all the boats are located. The AI is randomly picking which boat to sink first. This means the odds of the computer player sinking my submarine in the first shot now becomes 1 in 4 instead. Since I played 12 rounds, seeing my submarine go down 3 times makes perfect mathematical sense as logic would dictate that I would see this happen 3 times if the computer was randomly picking which vessels will go down first.

To further my suspicion that the game was rigged, there was one round where the computer had sunk every single boat except the battleship. Accounting for orientation and location, I watched the computer player fire shots randomly in places where there was open water, but it would be impossible for my Battleship to be located there. Since I had only managed to sink 2 boats (the battleship and the frigate), I’m virtually dead at this point. It got to the point where there was a 1×6 grid where the computer player never fired at and a 1×5 grid right next to it. This meant that the computer player logically would only have a 50/50 chance at hitting my Battleship. The computer player ended up taking 8 shots to find my Battleship, only hitting after I finally found the destroyer. Coincidentally, the computer took 5 shots to sink it (two of which were fired right next to the ship and neither misses being at the end of each boat). I sunk the Destroyer and the computer let me fire two more shots to find the submarine (unlikely) before finally finishing me off.

In a different round, I somehow got extremely lucky and sunk the Submarine, the Battleship, and the Frigate within the first 5 rounds. This was definitely out of luck more than anything else. Magically, the computer player was able to find all 4 of my ships and broke off the attack right before taking the last two obvious shots to sink the final boat when I started hunting for the final ship. I lost the match, but the computer extended the match by about 4 rounds before finishing off the last boat.

The first round I had ever played in this game, which got me suspicious in the first place, the game went up to 5 rounds. I had only found one of the ships while the computer hat a hit/success rate of 100%. Every shot hit a ship while I was trying hard to find the computers ships as quickly as possible.

So, in short, the AI is rigged to make every game look close, then leave the odds of you winning somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 2. The game is literally broken.

Graphically, for a game that was released on a handheld game, it wasn’t bad graphics. The full color and basic graphics were pretty good. It could have been better, but it could have been a whole lot worse. I liked the fact that different rounds at least changes up the hit or miss animation sequence by adding different environments (i.e. tropical islands, helicopters, icebergs, city port scenery, etc.). So, that was definitely a plus.

The audio was hit and miss. On the plus side, the sound effects were pretty decent. The music, however, got repetitive because you get treated to the same track every round after you place the ships.

Overall, this is definitely not a game to play. The AI literally wrecks the experience because it is so inherently obvious the game is stacked against you. The fact that it drags you along as if the matches were always close and the fact that the computer opponent sometimes just lets you win after anyway just adds insult to injury. The graphics were pretty good and the audio was OK, but this game shows how one element can completely wreck the experience. A game go avoid.

Furthest point in game: The game let me get to Stage 6, level 2, but I just switched it off out of disgust before even attempting the round.

General gameplay: 6/25
Replay value: 1/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 2/5

Overall rating: 32%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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