PlayerOne plays the Convoy Commander and controls the square on the screen designated as “The Convoy”. The Convoy Commander must move the ConvoySpot through the shipping lanes, represented by a convoluted path, by staying on the path the whole way. If the Commander strays off the path, a ship in the aggregate ConvoySpot inevitably hits a mine and sinks. Meanwhile, PlayerTwo is the Submarine Commander. The Submarine Commander sits just outside the shipping lanes and tries to sink the convoy ships.
Remember Tennis? Remember the BallSpot? The happy, fun BallSpot that we used to bat back and forth with our paddles and make wobbly with our ENGLISH? Well, now it’s a TorpedoSpot! PlayerTwo hits the RESET button to serve and uses the ENGLISH to control the vertical position of the TorpedoSpot as it moves across the screen. If the ConvoySpot is hit by the TorpedoSpot, the ConvoySpot disappears and the Convoy Commander laments the sinking of another ship. If the Convoy Commander manages to dodge the TorpedoSpot but also manages to swerve out of the shipping-lanes while doing so, then another ship is counted as "sunk", but this time, by a mine. Whether by torpedo or by mine, the Sub Commander keeps track of sunken ships because sunken ships are what make Sub Commanders happy.
Players take turns playing each part. The player with the most sinkings as Sub Commander after three rounds is the winner.
In terms of gameplay: this game could be said to merely reverse the gameplay we’d gotten used to in the opponent-oriented sports games (i.e. Table-Tennis, Tennis, Football, and Hockey). While playing as Sub Commander, instead of using the ENGLISH to wiggle the BallSpot past your opponent’s PlayerSpot, you’re trying to hit your opponent's PlayerSpot. As the Convoy Commander, instead of trying to return the ball spot by hitting it, you’re trying to avoid it. However, we could also compare Submarine's gameplay to Ski. You're given a similarly twisted trail to follow, only this time you're being shot at!
It's the slight evolution of gameplay from title to title that makes this system interesting to look at, usually even more interesting than any title by itself ... but, I digress.
Conceptually, this game is an advance over the sports-themed titles. Submarine puts the player in a situation not easily recreated in the outside world. While many of us may have played Tennis, gone Skiing or played ice Hockey, I’d be willing to bet that scant few of us were ever in the position of commanding a submarine to sink freight convoys!
We’re seeing the future here. More than translate sports games to the TV, as we’ve seen, or allow a simulation of puzzle, board or casino games, as we will see, Submarine introduces the concept that home videogames could potentially "place" us in situations outside our every day realm of experience. That is what is exciting to me about this game.
In terms of “fun factor” this was OK. You get to pretend to destroy something (finally!) and you get to taunt the Convoy Commander with bad Submarine Commander accents ("Miene Ünter-der-zee-boot vill zinkt you! Achtung, baby!"). We enjoyed this for about 20 minutes but we weren't willing to take all three of our turns and ended it prematurely after two. Because of the violent nature of this one, I think we will have to play it again.
For providing the sheer novelty of allowing families to pretend to blow things up using little squares on the TV, the Odyssey gets a whole point.
The Score: Ultraman: 3, Odyssey: 2.5
Cat and Mouse will be featured in the next entry.