Posted on December 4th, 2009 6 comments
Deep Blue: Kaitei Shinwa
Release Date: 3/31/89
Price: 5300 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: n/a
Kōgien: “Your character in this game is a submarine shaped like a fish. The enemies are also fish, and you fend them off with three different weapons, each with three power levels. Your ship’s eye color changes as you take hits, letting you know your current status.”
Pack-In-Video’s second PCE game is a hell of a lot better than F-1 Pilot was, although I’m not sure by how much. It’s a game that generated a lot of divergent opinion among hardcore folks of the time. Magazines rated it very low — I don’t have PCE FAN’s score at hand, but Shogakukan’s PC Engine Hyper Catalog gave it two out of five stars, a rating reserved for the major stinkers in the library (only a very few titles got one star). In a way, it’s a very early example of how the media can rate a game far differently from gamers themselves.
The gimmick in Deep Blue is that both the player and all the enemies are aquatic creatures — not in the Darius space-monster manner, but living, breathing fish. Since fish aren’t known for firing bullets, every enemy in the game attacks by bashing into you. Your craft moves pretty slowly (in classic ’80s shooter style), so knowing when to shoot and when to dodge is the key to survival here.
A lot of the negative press this game got is all a misunderstanding. This is not some sort of Endless Ocean, or even Ecco the Dolphin, new-age undersea voyage (though it sounds like it sometimes). The first time you play, you’ll get hit dozens of times by the waves of creatures (their patterns reminiscent of Activision’s Megamania in my mind) and die before you know what happens. This is exacerbated by how durable all the enemies are, many taking multiple hits with the default weapon. If I can chop them up with a fork on the dinner table, then why are they causing my cyber-aquacraft so much trouble?
What most people don’t realize (unless they paid the full 5300 yen for the game and felt obligated to stick with it) is that Pack-In-Video didn’t intend for you to shoot everything. That’s why your ship gradually refills energy as long as you don’t shoot — a detail not especially obvious unless you read the manual. This means that finishing the game and getting a high score are almost mutually exclusive goals, because survival is all about keeping your energy high and avoiding getting hit too often instead of getting hit period. Once you realize this, mastering the game isn’t terribly difficult.
It’s an interesting shooter mechanic, really, and it’s a shame Deep Blue was so misunderstood in its time. (Not that I’d rate it high, either — there’s only four stages and no real ending.)
Here’s a basic runthrough of the game that employs a mix of shooting and dodging. It’s funny to note that the bosses are easier to dispatch than some of the enemy swarms that precede them.