Somewhere, somehow, somewhen, someone thought that The Next Big Thing for gaming would be a title based on Sea-Monkeys. Think about it.
To me (and to many others, no doubt), The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys is little more than an underwater Lemmings poser. The goal of Sea-Monkeys is to navigate the depths of your aquarium in a tiny submarine, and lead the brine shrimp to this magical seashell, which transports them to some magical land where busty female brine shrimp feed them grapes and fan them with palm tree leaves. Or something like that. The reason the brine shrimp must leave this aquarium is never fully explained, though it most likely has to do with all the killer death goldfish and aquatic Venus flytraps that populate it. If you lead the Sea-Monkeys to safety too slowly, you lose; and interestingly, if you lead them to safety too quickly, you also lose. This is because, before the Sea-Monkeys can visit their magical seashell, you must suck up all the level’s goldfish with your submarine’s DustBuster. Otherwise, I imagine, the goldfish would all swarm around the magical seashell and tip it over, port-o-potty style, before it had time to transport the Sea-Monkeys to their magical grape villa.
For a game based on a pet you could purchase off the back of most comic books, Sea-Monkeys has a lot going on. It apparently takes a “quantity over quality” approach to video games, offering 70 levels of not much more than vacuuming up your goldfish, ordering snails to eat grass, and chasing your brine shrimp around with angry crabs. After about the 40th level, you’ll have experienced just about all this game has to offer.
Also for a game based on a pet you could purchase off the back of most comic books, Sea-Monkeys is hard. We’re not talking a Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins level of difficulty here, but come on now. No game calling itself The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys has any right to be difficult. Death happens fairly often in this game, because there are a ton of fish who can destroy your submarine by absentmindedly swimming into it. Losing all your lives doesn’t matter much, because you can restart the game from any level you’ve already reached (giving the game a nice pick-up-and-play touch), but it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you fail at a game based on Sea-Monkeys.
For a price, you can actually skip levels in Sea-Monkeys. But that can only happens if you have enough points to spend to skip the level; and you probably won’t have earned enough points, seeing as you’re bad enough at the game that you’d even need to skip a level in the first place. And you’ll want to save those points, anyway! Unlike far too many games, The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys actually saves your high scores, for both each individual level and the game as a whole. You know you want the bragging rights.
Each level in the game is a 2D underwater domain, each one varying in size. There are two different camera angles: a close-up of your submarine, and an interesting widescreen shot of the environ as a whole. You can also scroll through the entire arena and see whatever part you want, whenever you want; though you can’t do this while the game is paused. The smaller levels tend to be much easier because there aren’t nearly so many ways for you or your Sea-Monkeys to die; and, interestingly, those levels end up being the most fun. Perhaps because instant death is as horrible in this game as it is in every other game that employs it.
The levels all look pretty much the same, though I’ve gotta admit I like the character models for the Sea-Monkeys. This is because the Sea-Monkeys in this game actually look like the Sea-Monkeys on the box; whereas real Sea-Monkeys are more akin to this period: . Every kid who’s ever made his parents order Sea-Monkeys has been disappointed that the Sea-Monkeys look absolutely nothing like they do on the box, so at least this can be said for The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys: It makes dreams come true.
The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys, surprisingly, is actually more entertaining than mildew. (I had low expectations.) It’s frustrating to die over and over again because your submarine doesn’t turn quickly enough to avoid all the God-mode-enabled fishies; but if you’re good enough, that won’t be an issue. If you’re good at this style of game, you won’t have to feel so awful about yourself for losing at Sea-Monkeys, so you could, potentially, have a good time with it.
I’d recommend this game to anyone who’s a fan of the “lead these creatures hell-bent on killing themselves to some form of safety” genre of video games, but to the rest of us, stay far away. After the first few levels, the novelty of playing a game based on brine shrimp wears totally thin, and all you’re left with is a game based on the worst mission in every other game. Lemmings has this fault too, but in least in Lemmings, you’ve got loveable characters that actually do what they’re told to do, and who are thoroughly entertaining to watch explode. Sea-Monkeys works pretty well as a conversation piece, or as a way to defeat your friend in the upcoming “Who Has the Strangest Licensed Game?” competition; but other than that, you could be spending that four bucks on food.