A lot of negative stuff is written about the Virtual Boy, but whilst it has its defenders no one seems to want to stick up for Waterworld. It has a bad reputation, with some claiming it’s the worst game ever (and not just on the Virtual Boy). But is that fair? Is it really that bad? Or are people just picking an easy target: a game based on a flop film appearing on a flop system. Does it have something of merit that at least makes the game worth trying? In a word: no. It’s crap.
You begin the game with your ship in the water; a basic-looking sunset can be seen on the horizon. Atollers (friendly villager types) are in the water waving their arms about whilst Smokers (Jet-ski riding nasty folk) race forward to capture them.
Though lacking detail the horizon can be seen a great deal in the distance giving the impression of a vast expanse of water. However, the action takes place within a very small playing field with you only able to travel a short distance beyond it. The impression is then reduced from an epic battle on a massive sea to a minor scuffle in a paddling pool.
You move your ship about and fire at the approaching smokers to destroy them. It’s quite a leisurely form of combat as you can just find yourself a good spot then rotate and fire as you see them coming. Instant accuracy isn’t required as your foes don’t move quickly. The fastest move at an average speed whilst the slowest possess all the speed of an arthritic tortoise. You can’t be successful by remaining stationary indefinitely however as debris can get in the way of shots (sailing in to it removes it) and some enemies will attack you – though they don’t have weaponry of their own, they just ram you which results in an instant loss of life. Still even if you’re constantly on the move it’s not the fastest or most exciting form of fighting and as you get down to the last few opponents boredom sets in.
After defeating the last of the smokers the camera moves out and above your ship (admittedly rather smooth and effectively) and your score is totted up. Then a most horrifying thing happens. Below you a new arrangement of debris/Atollers/Smokers appear and the camera moves back down as you begin the next level doing the exact same thing. Yes that small area you began in wasn’t just to let you get used to the controls: each and every level is like this. Looking forward to a level where you chase after someone? Forget it. Hoping to face an army of varied opponents as you excitedly battle your way to a fortress? Not going to happen. You just have to keep making sure the drowning Atollers are safe. Safe by destroying the enemy as you can’t actually rescue them: moving your ship over to them just causes them to awkwardly slide out of the way.
You get points for enemies defeated and at the end of each round further points for remaining Atollers are awarded. If Enola (a character from the film) has also escaped capture this acts as a multiplier to increase your score. Keep her safe again in the next level and the multiplier increases. Enola appears exactly the same as the other Atollers save for the fact that her sprite flashes – hey why go to the trouble of designing another character?
There are not many types of enemy in the game. There are four variants of Smoker: identical except for their speed and the degree of their suicidal tendencies. There is also an occasional speedboat (easily dispatched) and an indestructible shark that retreats when shot. Or rather a shark fin that just looks like a badly drawn triangle that terrorises the people in the water.
The game features rendered graphics but this is not a taste of what VB Donkey Kong Country 2 might have looked like (had Rare got any further than the title screen). The Atollers lack detail and appear very flat and like the debris can only be viewed from one side, so they rotate as you move around them. Your ship has no animation except when turning, though this is slight and it does not bob up and down in the water, or for that matter even appear to be in the water: it seems to sit on top and moves like it’s across a solid surface. Combined with the limited animation this gives the impression that it’s stuck to the front of the camera.
The Smokers look better as they jump around (and can be viewed from all sides) but a big visual fault with Waterworld is the water itself. It’s black. Solid black. No rippley bits, just solid blackness. Particles leap about behind your craft as you move but this seems more like sparks from metal scrapping across a road surface – not helped by the fact the a similar looking particle effect is used whenever something is destroyed. Even the Atollers fail to give the impression that they are half submerged in water, instead just appearing like they’ve had their legs lopped off.
The game actually has a well judged difficulty level as you steadily find yourself being faced with more aggressive enemies and extra difficulty comes from unseen enemies attacking from behind which seems a little unfair but may have been implemented to stop people staying stationary. Of course you’re most likely to loose lives as you’ve nodded off whilst playing.
In a rarity for a Virtual Boy game, there is a multiplayer option though it is awkwardly implemented: start game, pause, press A to add additional players. You can have up to nine players, changing between rounds, the one with the highest score after loosing all their lives wins. It’s an excellent feature, ideal for if you have far too many friends. Find yourself too much in demand? Not enough you time? Well inflict this on people and you’ll soon find yourself about as wanted as herpes.
There are a few good touches to the game. For instance should you be stationary your ship slowly drifts with the direction of the current and the Smokers can actually look quite impressive as they drag their prisoners off in to the distance. The one and only music track that plays throughout is rather good, chilled and relaxed it brings to mind the underwater levels of Donkey Kong Country - not quite the same standard but a high point in a otherwise thoroughly miserable gaming experience.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with having to do the same thing over and over in a game (works a treat for puzzle games) but when it’s this dull, the game will be lucky to hold your attention for the duration of your first play through. With severely flawed visuals it can’t even gain points for impressing technically. Waterworld is one of the more expensive Virtual Boy games to pick up these days, but it’s still affordable meaning some people may be tempted to give it a try. Don’t.