As you might imagine, the CD-i library was not a particularly extensive one. Between the relatively new technology behind it, the wonky controllers to design around, and the simple fact that well, very few people actually owned CD-is, very few developers apparently ever bothered to program games for Philips’s do-everything home console. So, when you have very few studios chomping at the bit to churn out content, you kinda gotta take whatever you can get, no matter how basic or unpolished the finished product is. And sometimes, you’ll accept a port of a well-known board game that’s on just about every gaming platform under the sun already, because hey, someone might buy it. And so was birthed today’s game, Battleship for CD-i, developed by Capitol Disc Interactive Media (the same people that brought you CD-i’s Pinball).
Now, I think that it’s safe to assume that pretty much everyone reading this understands how Battleship works, but for the .0001% of you who are just waking up from the coma, it’s a simple game where you hide five ships of differing sizes on a 10×10 grid and try to guess where each other’s ships are. It’s really about as basic a game as you can get. So why, you might ask, would anyone bother to put it in video game form when the actual physical game is cheaper and takes the exact same amount of time to play? Well, um, that’s a very good question. Maybe people don’t want to worry about losing pegs or the little ships? But this version of Battleship has something to really hang its hat on, which we’ll get to a bit later.
You do have the option of playing the computer or against a friend, as well as choosing between three variants of the game. These variants aren’t terribly wacky, they just more or less dictate how long the game goes on for; you can fire one shot at a time, five shots at a time, or one shot for each ship you have remaining on the board. I found the third option to be the most enjoyable, as you can really bring the pain on someone if you get lucky early and tag one or two of their ships in the first couple salvos. Once you’ve gotten those decisions out of the way, it’s time to get down to the water. Sure enough, this version retains the standard 10×10 grid and ship sizes: the massive carrier takes five hits and the lowly Cruiser takes only two. You can choose to deploy each ship individually or click the Deploy button to randomly place your ships all at once if you just want to get on with it. Lo and behold, the two-player mode kinda requires you to operate on the honor system and have the other player turn their head or leave the room so you can hide your ships, which I suppose was the only way to go about it, but it’s still hilarious to me to have a game basically tell you “um, hey, man, go bugger off for a while so your opponent can get his ships ready.”
Once you’ve got all your ships lined up, you click Ready and then it’s time to open fire, and that’s when you get to see the big selling point of CD-i Battleship in action, that sweet, sweet FULL. MOTION. VIDEO. Yes, Battleship features real historical naval footage from the National Archives to punctuate the action, like giant deck guns firing away, depth charges being hucked into the sea, and torpedoes streaking through the water. When you sink a ship, you get to watch a clip of a vessel actually beginning to go under…which, in hindsight, is kinda creepy. Of course, when you miss, you get to watch a big ol’ splash, so that totally evens it out.
I can tell what you’re thinking already: ah, jeez, Dave, another game where we get to watch super grainy footage compressed to all hell and peppered with scanlines? Well, no, actually. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they avoid the Sega CD trap of atrocious resolution and framerate and such by scrunching these video clips down into a teeny-tiny window in the bottom left of the screen. Yes, that quality video from the 1940s definitely looks great when compressed into a space that’s less than ten percent of the entire screen. I really want to hammer home what I think is a very cogent point here, that these clips and videos were something of a selling point for the game, the developers mention them glowingly in the manual and ostensibly, they had to cut a check for the use of them. I played this on a modern 32″ Vizio TV for the purposes of this review, and even then, things didn’t look great. Now think back to 1991 and what kind of TV you had then. Imagine a four-inch square window of video on your 240p-ish caliber TV from 1991 and think of how “good” that would look.
Those complaints aside, the AI here is not bad, you tend to get a good, competitive game of Battleship here if you’re playing by yourself, which is nice, although oddly enough, there’s a comment in the help narration that says “don’t worry, the computer can’t cheat, we’ve disabled its radar.” Yes, I said “help narration”, because for whatever reason, they decided to make the help feature audible instead of visible, featuring two narrators, one American and one…British, I think? It does the job well enough, but it strikes me as something that was tossed in at the last second when the developers realized that they hadn’t taken up enough of the disk space and needed to get closer to capacity.
As for my verdict on this game, I’m somewhat conflicted. On one hand, Battleship does exactly what it says on the box, and does so reasonably well, it’s a quality game of Battleship. One the other hand, again, it’d be way cheaper and about as time-consuming to own an actual physical Battleship game and just play it instead, and the one real selling point in the CD-i version’s favor are video clips that are exiled to a small corner of the screen and would look atrocious on even the nicest televisions of the time period. There’s nothing glaringly wrong or broken with the game itself, but I just cannot for the life of me think of any real reason to recommend it unless your life’s goal is to play every form of Battleship known to man. It probably won’t disappoint you, but if you do pop it in, do take a moment to appreciate how far video technology has come in the last 25 years.
Perfectly acceptable game of Battleship, a couple variants, and the video clips look alright if you’re using current tech.
It’s just Battleship, and this would not have been funderful to look at when it was released.