--------I LIVE FOR ADVENTURE!--------
If you're a regular gamer, you've probably played your fair share of games, both good and bad. You have the games that you can't stop talking about and then you have the games that motivate you to spend hours conjuring up ways that you can tear it to shreds... but if you're like me (and you probably are if you're reading this article), then you've also played your fair share of games that you really want to like, but the game gives you too many reasons not to. When I play Data East's unsung platformer, "High Seas Havoc", I really feel like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Back during the early nineties, the Genesis saw character after classic character from numerous platformer games get pinned as a Sonic impersonator because of several key characteristics that the games chose to have. It seemed like every company wanted a piece of the anthropomorphic blue hedgehog's popular pie and developers came up with some of the craziest characters that would pose as his competition. Socket... Awesome Possum... Bubsy the Bobcat... Aero the Acrobat... characters who were meant to portray coolness and attitude... that's what the developers needed. While many games that are touted as Sonic wannabes probably don't deserve such delineation, some games just try a little too hard. This isn't a bad thing to me, but it only hurts more when you see a character that looks like they have what it takes and ends up falling short. You can tell where I'm going with this...
--------AYE, HAVE WE MET BEFORE?--------
In the world of High Seas Havoc, there exist a legendary gem known as Emeralda which has great magical powers capable of conquering armies and kingdoms. A wicked pirate by the name of Bernardo learns of its existence and goes searching for it until he finds out that a young maiden named Bridget has a map that leads to the precious gem. Bridget narrowly escapes from Bernardo, falling into the sea and drifting for an unspecific amount of time until Havoc (the hero) and Tide (his sidekick) find her at an ocean shore. When she awakes, she pleads with the two to help her protect the map from Bernardo, to which the two gladly agree. All is peaceful and the trio become good friends, until Tide and Bridget are kidnapped in the middle of the night by Bernardo's henchmen, at which point the game begins.
Let's make this article a little more interesting and change the names of the protagonist. Let's call Havoc "Sonic", let's call Tide "Tails", let's call Bridget "Amy", and the big mean pirate Bernardo can be "Robotnik". Even better, let's just call Emeralda a "Chaos Emerald", just for kicks. Why not, right? You have your muscular, cool blue spiky-headed hero, your little buddy, a pink girl with a few similarities to Amy Rose, and a big fat guy who wants to conquer stuff with an emerald. While it's important to note here that this game came out slightly before Amy Rose's first video game appearance, let's just call her a poser too. The concept is good and just different enough to actually stand as a plausible contender to Sonic the Hedgehog. Naturally, when I find something like this, I want to get as giddy as a schoolgirl, so what's holding me back? Well, let's take a look.
--------TIS NOT A GREEN HILL ZONE, BUT A FINE VESSEL SHE BE.--------
To this game's credit, it has some really nice visuals. This game has one of the most beautiful title screens of any Genesis game with streaming clouds and birds flying off into the horizon, and all the other stuff is above average as well. The game is very vibrant and the first level, Cape Sealph (or Seal) takes a page from Sonic with its blue skies, beautiful ocean and lush greenery. The other levels are nearly or equally as impressive and include a pirate ship, a run down city, underwater caverns, a burning hamlet, snow-capped mountains with the majority of the exposed areas resembling a waffle cone, and more. Some levels even have impressive background elements, such as an aurora borealis that can rival the one found in Super Famicom's "DO-RE-MI Fantasy" and stormy skies. Most of the characters in the game are fairly detailed as well and I also like the various cartoon animations that Havoc has such as getting zapped, burned to a crisp, frozen, and just plain running. The audio is what you'd expect from a game starring an adventurous pirate. The music is mostly light-hearted and none of the music contains any scurvy, so be at ease.
As a whole, there are only a few things that bother me with the presentation. The underwater cavern bothers me... it has most of the benchmarks of your standard underwater level, but buoyancy doesn't exist. You move through the level at the same pace as any other level, and it's as if you're not even underwater. There's also a level where the water is zapped by exposed electrical wires, but it only zaps that one spot of water and not the whole body of water. The latter is just overly analytical banter and probably more of a gameplay fault than a fault with the presentation, but it's more than a little bizarre. I should note that the sound effects are a little loud and jarring. They can put a bit of dampen on the experience, but nothing that would break the game.
--------HA! FACE TO FOOT STYLE, HOW DO YE LIKE IT?--------
High Seas Havoc is naturally about pirates, and as such, one would think there's loads of treasure to be found and lots of fencing to be done. Well, despite what the game might lead you to believe (he holds a sword on the box... he uses a sword in the opening...), there's no swashbuckling in this game, no indeed. Who needs sword fights anyway? As any self-respecting pirate knows, swashbuckling is manly, but fisticuffs is even more manly than wearing Old Spice deodorant and last I checked, rampant consumerism and dumb commercials have been passing that product off as the brand of D.O. for real men. Havoc decided to go all-natural when he set off on his journey not armed with a sword, but with an arsenal of moves mostly taken straight out of Sonic's playbook, a little courage, and a little more stupidity. What the game does right is potentially outweighed by what it does wrong.
Let's first talk about how finite Havoc's list of abilities are. As limited as Sonic's repertoire of abilities was, Havoc has about HALF as many skills. By comparison, let's say Sonic can peel out, spin dash, jump on enemies, and do his flash attack (Insta-Sheild for those who care)... let's not even count all the variables that he has in the form of allies and power-ups. Now let's add everything Havoc can do in his entirety. He can jump on enemies, do a
LAME IMITATION OF A SPIN DASH almost useless rolling technique, do a FLASH ATTACK kick attack, and grab a SNEAKER boot to run faster. Seriously, a boot makes you run faster? I suppose strapping an anchor to your back can help you swim better too. Okay, jokes aside, I can see what they were doing here, but when you consider that this is what you'll be doing the whole time (sans the fire levels, where you can jump on a machine to put out fires), the prospect of this game looks a lot less glamorous.
Still yet, when you add in the touchy control mechanics and the difficulty level, then it's enough to make you cry uncle. The game is comprised of thirteen levels with a boss at the end of every other level and the final level where you'll face Bernardo for the second time. You'll be timed on every level (with the ten minute mark signaling a time-related death) and you can open treasure chests along the way, which have either health, gems for gaining extra lives, or... an extra life. Speaking of health, this is one area where Havoc and Sonic don't see eye-to-eye. Every blow he receives must be taken like a man since life isn't dangling everywhere like in Sonic. Of course, this makes the game much harder, since Havoc doesn't have any truly useful abilities. His jump has an obviously limited range, his flash attack equally so, and with agile enemies and several cheap spots in the game, this game can really get on your nerves. During the first half, I was saying, "Geez, this game is really easy". Then the next two levels made me say, "Well, it's getting tougher, but that's to be expected... games have a tendency to do that". Then I entered the factory levels and told myself, "You'd have to be pretty patient to put up with this game at this point". The funniest part was when I entered MT. Bernardo.
There are enemies everywhere, platforms you have to jump on with less width than your hero, instant death spikes everywhere, and an end level boss who's blasting you with laser beams and summoning tons of chakra, ripping rocks out of the walls and teleporting all over the place. I thought the game was kidding until I got the "GAME OVER" screen, and I was sitting there waiting for the words "LEVEL CLEARED". Should you kick the crap out of this laser-shooting Earth-bending warlock, you have the pleasure of playing the incredibly annoying final level and fighting a Bernardo who shoots meteors and goes bananas with the power of THE CHAOS EMERALD the Emeralda. It's all FUN FUN FUN... until you come close to pulling your hair out from frustration. I should mention that this game doesn't list any Play Testers in the credits.
--------YOUR DAYS ARE OVER MISTER!--------
High Seas Havoc is a great looking, great sounding game that appears to look like a timeless classic on the surface, but it's marred by its playability. There are no bonus rounds, only one real power-up which was meant to help add that element of "speed" that any Sonic-like game would want, a very limited repertoire of basic abilities which can make the game more vexing than it should be, and little reason to play the game as a whole. There are a lot of better platformers on this system, even if a lot of them don't look as nice, which is unfortunate given everything else High Seas Havoc had going in its favor. The game isn't completely insufferable as it is, but its far from SONIC being the best.
- Written by Bel Cain The Eternal -