Ah, another game for the vessel management genre pioneered by Flight Control. According to game producer, Jeremy Pope, the “goal was to evolve this style of gameplay to something more complex and engaging” and Sea Captain earns “more complex” in spades.
The action strategy of Sea Captain seems to favor strategy, tackling the action part in slow-motion with an onslaught of obstacles. You use the same simple line-drawing direction as other route-management games, but there are a few snags. Color-coded vessels must be docked accordingly, and the game also tracks the number of times you direct ships, or give “orders”. The objective is to progress through a stage with as few orders as possible with your score calculated based on the number of ships docked as well as how many orders you gave.
Making this management efficiency more difficult is the horrible reality of colliding with things in the environment other than ships – like the lighthouse or the dock itself. Cut a corner too sharply for these lumbering vessels and you’re sunk. Additionally, if you draw a line into the dock but draw it too long the ship will crash right on through. You learn quickly not to be hasty in your movements as an incomplete line counts as one of your precious orders; it’s best to lead the ship into the dock entrance and let the game complete the line for you to avoid mishaps. This is the sort of control nuance that compounds frustration a little unnecessarily, and almost guarantees you’ll be swearing on your evening commute.
Levels also incorporate obstacles like floating icebergs, pirate ships, and day and night runs of the same stage. There are three seas to navigate in either day or night, but you have to begin with only one sea, at daytime, then do well in each level to progress. In the night versions of a stage, with both darkness and cloud cover to contend with on top of pirates and icebergs, the illumination comes intermittently from the lighthouse at the center of the map. It’s difficult, very difficult.
The old weather-worn Sea Captain is your guide through the game, but man that guy is a jerk. As you progress through New England, the Arctic and the Caribbean Sea you will hate the bastard and his “booooo” as you lose a captain. And you will get booed a lot, adding insult to the already injurious challenge of the game. When ships crash, then a ship a few paces behind will get caught up in that same smoking wreck even though ships are no longer present. I just call that cheap, and a sure way to lose all three “Captains” (lives) in a moment.
In the heavy cloud cover and the darkness of night, it is far too difficult to tell what color ships are. While a boat imperiled by poor docking will remain colored instead of greying out, it’s still all too easy to miss in the fray. Like writing with yellow highlighter on a poster, and that’s just not the sort of challenge I’m into. Other than chroma issues, the graphics, sound and overall presentation of the game are quite tidy. Mostly, I just resented the title’s pace (and maybe that my first boat crashed into the side of a dock); there is an overwhelming sense that you are losing in slow motion. This snail-paced cruelty drove me batty, and I found myself more often than not playing on Fast Forward just to abbreviate my inevitable defeat.
Leader boards are global and scores can be posted for every map, day and night, as well as the six challenges, though I found switching between all those maps to view the high scores overly fiddly. The six bonus challenges are fun – and yes, challenging – and include things like bringing in 50 ships to dock with only 70 orders. Once you successfully complete a Challenge you don’t get the option to immediately advance to it but instead have to choose to go back to the menu, then back into the Challenges option and select from there, which seems silly. Scores from Challenges that have not been completed can still be posted to the leader boards, small satisfaction when you are still stuck on Tortuga Rum Runners.
Sea Captain dutifully expands on the route-assigning basics of its predecessors. With fresh gameplay elements it is a game I will come back to for just one more round, though I don’t fancy I will ever find it very, well, likable. In spite of a barrage of ships and obstacles the rounds still retain a glacial pace, and Sea Captain seems to favor strategy over action (the pirates are a ruse). At ninety-nine cents it’s a worthwhile purchase for the Flight Control fan looking for a greater challenge and plenty of content. Maybe that guy that landed 10,000 planes wants to give it a go.