Remember those ads in the back of comic books flogging the likes of x-ray specs, whoopee cushions to ‘wow your friends at parties,’ the fly-in-an-ice-cube (and other memorable gags) and of course The Amazing Sea-monkeys? Some poor kid bought those sea-monkeys, only to find they weren’t monkeys at all, just tiny shrimp in stasis until they are put in a tank of water and fed. I bet there were tears before bedtime that sad day. To celebrate 50 years (yes, they’ve been going that long) of these aquatic dwellers, Just Play is bringing us The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys, and this time there are no shrimp involved.
If you don’t remember the ads then it means you didn’t read enough comic books when you are younger and it’s too late to save you now. If you do remember the ads, then the design of the characters will be very familiar. Just Play has remained faithful to the original sea-monkeys, which are funny little pink creatures with kangaroo legs and a big flipper tail"er, yeah, kind of.
The premise of Sea-Monkeys is that they’re a fish tank full of virtual pets that need feeding and cleaning, blah, blah. I know what you’re thinking and I thought that too, but I have to say, the little critters kinda grew on me from the moment they hatched.
First thing you do is name your tank and then go inside to start the ball rolling. There are eight empty tanks at the start of the game, so you can have multiple tanks going and each one will develop differently depending on what you do. Inside the tank, the cursor becomes a big hand, which you control and easy to follow on-screen instructions appear in the initial stages. The player is given a free sachet of sea-monkeys which you empty into the tank and presto, out tumble these little balls, which before your eyes become teeny, weenie sea-monkeys. They all have names, but you can re-name them if you like. My first three sea-monkeys were called Holly, Molly and Dave and they swam around happily together.
There are a variety of things you can buy for your tank, which appear at the top of the screen in picture form, but you have to have enough pearls to get them. The items fall into different categories – the items signified by a heart are essential stuff like food, the cog items are toys and gadgets and the third category features all the fish and sea life you can populate the tank with. Fortunately the sea-monkeys spend some of their time farming pearls from the oysters that live in the tank and once you get the necessary food buying out of the way, it’s time to go shopping! You can buy everything from bubble machines, to seaweed and a whole host of different fish to share the tank.
Everything changed in my tank the day I bought a house. The first house was a humble dwelling and I set it on the bottom of the tank and watched. Ooh, look Molly and Dave are going in the house. Here they come out again, but there are four of them! Let’s just say Molly, Holly and Dave had some good times in that little house and before I knew it I had about 12 sea-monkeys and they were all having a good time in the house too.
I had a population explosion on my hands and with that come ecological consequences. So I bought a cleaning droid to filter the water, an air shower and a bubble machine, as well as the necessary food to keep my host of sea-monkeys going. Then disaster struck. This is about day four now, and when I go to check my tank, my work colleagues gather round because by this time they all have a favourite sea-monkey and "oh, my God, it’s Molly, she, she’s sick!"
There are three diseases that sea-monkeys can get and by adjusting their environment you can try and stop them spreading. If you get to the sea-monkeys in time you can quarantine them and treat them. It’s all clever stuff you know. Suffice to say, Molly passed away after inflating to a sort of yellow, spotty balloon with arms and legs. It was extremely traumatic and the office was a little sombre that morning. I managed to control the disease, don’t ask me how; it was all a bit trial and error. After the first 10 or so casualties the deaths became easier to handle.
To lighten the mood I bought them a jukebox, which proved very popular, as they all gathered round and danced. I traded in their old house and a bubble machine, saved a few pearls and bought them a Disney-like castle. My tank was rocking and I spent my days buying fish, a stingray and various toys to keep them occupied. You can also use your hand cursor to tickle them and make them giggle, but my best buy was the electric eel. Yes it did give them electric shocks and yes I did find it highly amusing. Before you call in animal rights protesters, they didn’t die or anything, just went a bit sparky.
The presentation is big, bold and colourful and everything is self-explanatory, making it ideal for kids and adults. Considering this is a game littered with humour, it raises some big questions about life and death and where do they plug in the jukebox? Just Play has created an entertaining sim management/virtual pet hybrid, but as with all these things the novelty soon wears off and it becomes a bit like hard work. And we all know how I don’t like that.
The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys is good fun and provided my office colleagues and I with some relief from the dull working day. I think every office should have some. It could be a popular addition to the family PC, although Sea-Monkey deaths can be an emotional thing for the more sensitive souls. The only problem I really have is with the game’s longevity, which is why I’m giving it 3 1/2 GiN gems. It makes good light entertainment and worthy potential Christmas stocking filler material.