Seaman: New Pet or Potty-mouthed Tamagotchi?

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One thing you have to give Sega credit for: they seem to be the only game company to have grapefruits enough to come up with original stuff. Right out of E3 their impressive showing debuted several interesting titles. Space Channel 5, the dancing game, was released last June (when everyone else was playing the same old genres), and later this year Sega fans will be treated to even more original titles with the likes of Jet Grind Radio and Shenmue.

In the meantime, another original title has been released. Seaman, which has been mentioned in many Sega publications, and showcased at E3, has been released to the gaming public. Once again, I wonder if it will be accepted to a populace who was born and bred on crappy FMV-based RPGs, mindless racing games, and Street Fighter clones.

Seaman’s background is based on the works of a 1930s French scientist named Jean-Paul Gasse. Gasse had a theory of a man-like creature that lived in water, hence, a Seaman. Unfortunately, the Seaman specimen died, and when Gasse tried to compose a thesis for his experiences, they were dismissed as just a publicity stunt. A diary of Gasse’s work was recently found, and with it, was one remaining Seaman egg. That’s where the game comes in.

When starting the whole experience (I will not mention this as a game, because in essence, it is not a game) you will be given an aquarium (complete with an air duct and a heater), a cryogenically frozen Seaman egg, and 11 food pellets. The first objective will be to set the tank environment to one that will breed life. Once done, the egg is placed in the tank.

After a few minutes, the egg will hatch, spawning eight little balls known simply as Mushroomers. They must be directed (using the cursor) to a shell-like creature named the Nautilus, where, in a very creepy moment, will spawn the next step, the Gillmen.

Gillmen, put simply, are baby Seamen. They even start talking in baby talk, but in time they will learn simple words like "hi," "play," "fun," "yes," "no," "baby," and yes, even their name, "Seaman."

This is only the start of the evolution, and I don’t want to go any more into it without spoiling the whole experience. I will mention though some of the impressive features this title has.

To start off, this is Sega’s first game to implement the new microphone pack. Included with Seaman, it plugs into the second VMU slot and turns out to be an integral part of Seaman’s habitat. There’s not really much use for the first few moments (when the Gillmen are being born) but once the talking begins, it can be hard to stop. It must be mentioned though that messages should be short and concise, because the voice recognition is far from perfect. For instance, in one case Seaman asked what type of computer I had. My response was "AMD (Athlon)," and he read it as "IBM." It can be a problem at times, but it doesn’t detract from the experience completely.

It will also be a necessity to keep Seaman well fed. However, with only 11 food pellets to start off with, growing your own food comes to play. That’s where a second tank, more of a terrarium, comes in. Seaman loves larvae, and to keep them growing, moths need to have a humid climate of their own. It’s easy once you get the hang of it.

When each session is starting, a familiar voice (that of Star Trek’s own Leonard Nimoy) divulges all that has occurred since last visiting the tank, and what needs to be done (i.e. the water is too cold, or the Seamen are starving). See, everything runs in real time, and temperature and oxygen contents can change depending on the time between sessions. The experiment is very time sensitive, and accurate time is a must, which means it will be near impossible to play on any other person’s Dreamcast than yours.

I mentioned earlier about some of the conversations I have had with Seaman, and I’ll admit, they can be quite a blast. I had an interview with Seaman at E3 where I asked about Dreamcast vs. PS2, and he gave a hilarious remark claiming that I came to see PS2, though I (loyal to Sega as always) completely denied it. I haven’t had that conversation with my own Seaman yet, but we did talk about myself, my family, my writing job, and what computer I owned.

With each reply came a very witty, sarcastic, snobbish remark, which kept me laughing. I know this is only a computer simulation (once again, not a game), but I still felt as though I was talking to a person with a sense of humor, and yes, even a sick little mind. He has a fascination with potty humor, and lewd comments are plenty. My favorite occurred a few minutes before writing this review. While attached to another Seaman (don’t ask), he responded snidely by saying, "Close your eyes. You’re about to witness Seaman after dark!" I think the source of the potty humor can be traced to the comic madmen at Jellyvision, who were also responsible for the hilarious You Don’t Know Jack series!

I’ll admit though, it’s not much to look at. Graphics are very simple, just an aquarium and terrarium, and the inhabitants. But still it’s the overall surrealistic experience that makes Seaman a blast. It should be mentioned though that Seaman should be taken in small doses, as it requires a lot of waiting and watching otherwise. He should be treated the same way Tamagotchis were in 1997; keep a close eye on him but you don’t need to watch him for hours on end.

As another one of Sega’s unique experiences, Seaman scores 4 out of 5 gems. I only wish other companies could take chances like this instead of their usual repetition.

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