System: Atari 2600 Publisher: Atari Developer: Atari
Genre: Arcade Type: Target Shooting Circa: 1977

A friend of mine once described Air-Sea Battle as "playing as a letter 'L' shooting rectangles up at square happy faces", while having "no idea what the heck was supposed to be going on or what the point was". Her confusion is understandable. Only on the Atari 2600 could a letter "L" represent an anti-aircraft cannon, a submarine, or a carnival BB gun, and all within the same game.

The point of Air-Sea Battle was to give home gamers of the time something to do with the console. It was the pack-in game for the Sears Tele-Games version of the Atari 2600 (under the name Target Fun), and was probably a better choice than Combat (the pack-in game for Atari's own version of the console). Not only did I have more fun with Air-Sea Battle's two-player matches than I ever did with Combat's, ASB also contains one-player modes, which Combat didn't.

Based on an earlier Atari arcade game called Anti-Aircraft, the premise (which is as simple as a video game premise can be) is that each player controls an L-shaped cannon at the bottom of the screen and shoots at targets of varying speed and size that fly by overhead. Several different variations on the gameplay were added to Air-Sea Battle, including modes that have boats as targets instead of planes, a carnival shooting gallery, and plane vs. boat battles. Only one bullet per player can be on the screen at a time, so aiming (and timing) is crucial. The game ends when the (unseen) timer runs out or when one player scores 99 points. What those planes and boats ever did to you is never explained (nope, not even in the manual).


Though the game was obviously designed with two players in mind, the good news is that if you don't have a second player, you don't absolutely need one. The downside is that the CPU-controlled opponents have no AI. They sit motionless and fire continuously, so every point they earn is purely coincidental. It does not take a thinking human brain, with the ability to actually move the cannon and plan shots accordingly, to outsmart the CPU drone and win every time. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the plane vs. boat modes where you can win by getting ahead one point, and then simply avoiding the CPU's bullets until time runs out. There is no reward beyond personal satisfaction for winning.

Air-Sea Battle has simple, yet colorful graphics, but the identities of some objects are certainly more clear than others. The gradient sky (or ocean, whichever role it's fulfilling at the moment) is nice, but I've always been slightly bothered by the lines on the left side and the jagged look on the right. Players each have a unique explosion sound effect, so it's easy to tell who just got a hit without even glancing at the scores.

While what's going on doesn't make a whole lot of sense (why are there so many planes and boats out here making themselves targets?), it makes even less sense to play this game expecting to be engaged by the single-player modes. If you have two players, then Air-Sea Battle can provide a little more entertainment, since you will no doubt find yourselves more evenly matched. Maybe you won't even care that those giant rectangular happy faces are supposed to be clowns.




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