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Sea Battle (LCD Handheld)

Posted: October 25th, 2016, 6:32 pm
by scotland
Sea Battle by Radio Shack

Released: 1992
Sold by: Radio Shack (60-2245)
Size: 2" pre-pixel LCD screen. The white handheld unit is about 3.5" by 4"
Retail Price: $12
Battery Life: 1 AA battery that seems to last a very long time
Today's Value: $12 with box, significantly less as loose game
Brings to Mind: Missile Command

Catalog description from 1995 Radio Shack catalog
Radio Shack Sea Battle 1995.JPG
Radio Shack Sea Battle 1995.JPG (55.43 KiB) Viewed 1171 times

Tandy released "Sea Battle" in 1992, competing for low end handheld electronic entertainment. It was part of a line of pre-pixel LCD handhelds that were about two thirds of the price of a Nintendo Gameboy game or a Tiger handheld (about $18 for a Tiger handheld or Gameboy game, while the Gameboy handheld itself was about $80 in 1992)

The game is a simple pre-pixel LCD design, about what you would expect in the Nintendo Game & Watch series of the 1980s, especially early ones like "Fire". I say "pre-pixel" because instead of darkening chunky block pixels to create a variety of images at a given location, there are just a series of fixed position black images on the grey screen which are darkened to create a crude sense of movement and action. Its very limited, and expectations should likewise be limited. When you look at a Gameboy and think of how limited its graphics are, even those are a well above these.

Like Game & Watch "Fire", Sea Battle marries the simple graphics and illuminates other objects for simple focused gameplay. The LCD game is small and light and feels good in your hand. Playing will require about the same amount of light as reading. The sound is chirps and beeps. The colors are just black and grey. The controls are just rotating your turret to the left or right, and firing, but that's more complicated than "Fire" with just left and right. Like the Game and Watch series, there are 2 games, but its really 1 game with 2 difficulties. The decal around the 2" screen has bright and colorful artwork, very similar to the Tiger handhelds. There are other Radio Shack "Sea Battle" games, so don't get confused.

The gameplay is simple, with a small strategic element. Like Missile Command, your gun is in a fixed position, but you can direct where it shoots. You have limited shots, but its not by number of shots, but by an algorithm. If you shoot an airplane, you gain 1 shot (and don't lose the one you just used) up to a maximum of 5 shots. If you miss, you lose the shot. Each airplane is worth 1 point. Simple, right? Well, there is a bit more.

There are also enemy ships (to the left) and tanks (to the right) {Why tanks? Wouldn't other ships or a plane make more sense? Oh well}. The enemy planes actually won't hurt you, but the ships and tanks will. If you allow them to touch your ship, you lose one of your 3 lives (or armor plates, or however you think about these things). You have to shoot them. The good news is that shooting them is worth 5 points. The bad news is that it always uses up the shot. So, if you shoot one and you only had 1 shot, now you have none, and the next one will take one of your lives. You have to hazard shots at the planes to keep your ammo high enough to ward off the ships and tanks. Miss too often, and you'll sunk. And therein lies the game's strategy.

Its a simple enough game, but that works to its advantage. Its not trying to be even evoke a console game, as some of the Tiger handhelds were. Instead, its just a simple gameplay mechanic and a simple strategy using simple graphics. Considering Radio Shack sold it from 1992-1995, it must have been relatively successful (or massively overproduced in 1992, take your pick). This is somewhat odd in that the LCD technology seems to be about 8-10 years out of date, but then again, that didn't stop Tiger Electronics either.

Perhaps these pre-pixel LCD games were the precursors of mobile games of today. Mobile, cheap, lower quality graphics, but who can resist them at least once in a while. Someday, adults may look back to playing Pokemon Go fondly on their parents' mobile phones, as we might look back fondly on these inexpensive handhelds.