We’ve recently covered a game based on jigsaw puzzles and a game about solitaire, both of which were better than they had any right to be, and since we’ve been on such a strong run with Super Nintendo ports of decidedly non-video games, it only makes sense to go for the third leg of the trifecta and cover an SNES port of a board game, and one of the most iconic board games of all, at that, Battleship, so today, we present Super Battleship, from Mindscape.
Shockingly, the classic game of grid-based naval combat is only half of the package here, as the main single-player mode is “Super Battleship” mode, which actually plays like a turn-based naval tactics game. There are eight different missions, ranging from sinking a massive enemy flagship to escorting a merchant fleet past a submarine ambush.
You start in a top-down perspective, maneuvering your fleet about and closing on the enemy. When you get within range, you can open fire with guns, switching you to a first-person mode where you control your guns and trade shots with the enemy. While not terribly complex, it’s more than a simple rockfight; different parts of the ship can be targeted, so if you attack the enemy’s guns (detectable by the muzzle flash), they’ll be unable to return fire. Aim for the engines, and you can make them a sitting duck. Damage can be repaired, although it takes a turn to repair a station, so even if your ship is sunk in the exchange, what damage you inflicted will still be present, meaning that even the smallest ships can eventually take down a battleship with swarm tactics.
Aside from your deck guns, you also have a couple other armaments. You can launch torpedoes, which are stronger than guns, but you have very few of them and they take a while to reach their targets, so they’re best used against ships that had their engines taken out already. Against submarines, you can drop depth charges, which changes the perspective to a side-on view, where you have to set the detonation depth and lead the sub into the blast while you pass by each other. Some ships also have missiles, which you control in a Mode 7 spot, guiding the missile to the target. Both missiles and depth charges take a while to get the hang of, but it’s still a nice little bit of variety.
The other half of the game, Classic Battleship mode, is the Battleship we all know and love: you have five ships of varying sizes, you try to hide them, and take turns trying to find them. Oddly enough, it’s pretty bare-bones, even by Battleship standards, just the two grids, red dots for hits, X’s for misses, and sadly, you can only play against the computer, which I understand, as it would be kinda difficult to stop someone from cheating by peeking at where you put your ships and all, but the computer still gets one major advantage that I’m pretty sure qualifies as cheating.
Y’see, when it’s your turn, you pick three squares to fire on, and then you see if they’re hits or not, meaning that if the first shot is a hit, you can’t stop and then fire on the spaces around it; you’re stuck firing the last two shots regardless. Meanwhile, the computer is allowed to take its three shots separately, so if it gets a hit, it can then press the attack without wasting their other shots. This is absolutely as cheap as you would imagine, and there’s no option to level the playing field, or any options of any kind for that matter, and it leads me to believe that Classic Battleship was tacked on at the absolute last minute so the developers could justify using the Battleship name.
Aesthetically, everything’s pretty solid, at least on the Super Battleship side of the ledger. Ship sprites, both in the top-down view and in the battle scenes, look quite decent, capital ships look appropriately menacing and PT boats look like the gnats of the sea that they are. Ships don’t sink in relation to where they took damage, instead, the whole sprite just kinda scrolls into the water, but you can see cracks in the hull and damage being inflicted on the superstructure, which is a nice bit of detail. Your deck guns also burst with flame when you fire, with dinky little spurts of fire from smaller vessels and giant fireballs bellowing from the battleships, although there aren’t any explosions when you hit the enemy.
Sound is actually quite good, at least compared to the visuals. Hits sound nice and thick, misses make quite a splash, your sonar sounds like the stereotypical pings you’d hear in a submarine movie, although it’s not terribly accurate, and the opening strains of “Taps” plays when you sink a ship, which is strangely satisfying. There’s very little music outside of that and a little martial theme when you start a mission, but you’ll hardly notice it not being there. Little flourishes like torpedoes hitting the water and depth charges blowing in deep water sound rather believable, also, considering the hardware limitations.
Since both modes are turn-based, play control shouldn’t be mission critical, but this is a game I wouldn’t recommend trying to jump into without a manual or some idea of what all the various commands are. For example, when I first played this as a kid, I had an absolute bitch of a time with the Convoy Escort mission, simply because I had no idea sonar was available, as it’s never mentioned anywhere in the entire game, and even after I discovered how to activate it, I didn’t know how to actually fight the submarines. Aside from that, the only real hitch in the gameplay I had was that it’s not real keen on diagonals, especially when you’re changing a ship’s course, and I had to wrestle with it enough to where it became quite noticeable.
As I said before, I suspect Super Battleship was originally designed as a naval tactics game, then tacked Classic Battleship on later so they could justify the title and gain some name recognition, but it’s still not a bad game overall. The tactics side is solid, although a bit on the short side, and Classic Battleship is serviceable, although the computer blatantly has an advantage, with no way to work around it or deactivate it. If you’re looking for a modern, upgraded version of the board game, the NES version might be closer to what you’re looking for, but Super Battleship is still worth a play. Just remember, the name on the marquee is a little misleading.
Combines the Battleship you’re familiar with with a decent naval combat game for a nice value, I appreciate the effort to make the different weapons actually feel like different weapons.
Classic Battleship is an uphill battle because the computer is a cheating bastard, and if you’re looking for a new and improved Battleship, this really isn’t it.