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by Xicat Interactive

SeaMonkey2-01.jpg (6273 bytes)When you were young, you could make a comic book last about an hour. You read the story twice, lingering on each panel, memorizing every heroic moment. You admired the superhero physique or thought about whether Lois Lane was wearing lace under that prim reporter dress. And when you were finished with all that, there were still the advertisements for x-ray glasses and genetically engineered trees that grew both oranges and lemons. In every single issue, one recurring ad titillated you. It promised a whole microcosm of tiny living creatures whose god you could become: sea monkeys. One day you broke your parents’ spirit and they ordered the creatures for you. Then came the excruciating period of waiting that no child endures unscathed. Finally, long after the excitement had dulled to frustration, just as you had begun to forget about them, there came in the mail an envelope of powder and a miniature aquarium. You poured in water and mixed in the powder. Then, again, you waited.

SeaMonkey4-01.jpg (7516 bytes)Sea monkeys weren’t necessarily the most anticlimactic toy ever offered by comic books—those x-ray specs weren’t penetrating any dresses—but there was something especially pernicious about sea monkeys. They tricked you into believing you were getting a pet when what you really got was soup. If you were lucky enough to avoid this disappointment, let me evoke it for you. Imagine going to the pet store and buying a fish tank that the manager promises will contain a school of pirana and a dead cow, but when you get the tank home and open it up, what you have is a glass of water with white floaties that look like Wonder bread backwash. If this clumsy analogy fails to evoke the proper depth of disappointment, you can recreate it perfectly by purchasing The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys.

First, there’s a giant difference between what the manual promises and what the game delivers. Amidst numerous exclamation points, you’re told that your virtual sea monkeys will try to communicate with you, will put on shows, and will even forge complex societies that provide ample entertainment. Put them on your screen saver to maximize the potential excitement! What the manual fails to mention is that the sea monkeys’ so-called attempts to communicate amount to a limited series of movements made at mostly random times. And when they’re not astounding you with these attempts to shatter the language barrier, your sea monkeys swim around their amazing virtual aquarium harvesting pearls, which you use to buy amazing luxuries or necessities to provide nourishment, entertainment, or companionship for your virtual pets.

SeaMonkey3-01.jpg (7586 bytes)Every item is accompanied by a description that includes jokes hilarious enough to have been written by eighties comedian Sinbad. The items themselves are in four different groups. You can select from a long list of fish or other aquatic life to share your sea monkeys’ water. These are essentially different colored, two-dimensional models that float back and forth across the screen. For a better idea of the hypnotic effect this invokes, load up the fish aquarium screen saver that came with Windows 98. Besides fishy friends, there’s the usual battery of food and steroid-like plasma that drives the monkeys crazy. To keep things more or less interesting, there are entertainment items like karaoke machines, which your sea monkeys love, juke boxes, which your sea monkeys sometimes fight over, and sunken pirate ships, which your monkeys completely ignore. Their idea of good entertainment should be your first clue of how much fun these sea monkeys are. If your idea of a great weekend is rocking to synthesized pop music and then singing karaoke, you just might be the intended audience of The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys.

However, if you’re old enough to read this, chances are you’re not the intended audience for Sea-Monkeys. This is one of those game that proves the rating system is full of lies. When The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys claims to be rated "E for Everyone," what they really mean is "Unless you’re younger than twelve, you will be helpless to imagine a world in which you could enjoy this game." That’s not because older people are incapable of appreciating simple pleasures. It’s just that we’ve been around longer, and we’ve played more games, so we recognize a cheap knock-off of The Sims mixed with a cheaper knock-off of Black and White. We understand that the strength of Black and White was the sophistication with which you could interact with the game world, just as we understand that the terrible weakness of The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys is the game’s presumption that it’s fun to watch bitmaps float across your monitor when you could be drinking beer or watching leaves grow.

SeaMonkey1-01.jpg (8147 bytes)If there’s anything good to say about this game, it’s that Xicat Interactive succeeded in perfectly recreating the experience of owning real sea monkeys. There’s the same wait for entertainment that never comes, the same waste of money, and the same bitter disappointment. If you’re a parent who thinks Max Payne will transform your child into a homicidal maniac, or if you’re tickled by A Very Chipmunk Christmas because that Alvin is such a character, then you might enjoy playing The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys. If by some chance you’re still not sure whether sea monkeys are right for you, consider this story of the most successful sea monkey experience I’ve heard: my friend’s sea monkeys not only lived but actually thrived for some reason, growing bigger and fatter, until she became creeped out by the nubby little things. Paralyzed by dread, she stopped feeding them and watched as they turned on each other, eating their sea monkey brethren until a single, bloated monkey remained. She flushed it down the toilet. That’s as good as real sea monkeys get, and it’s much better than The Amazing Virtual Sea-Monkeys.

Paul Cockeram   (02/14/2002)


Ups: It's Sea-Monkeys.

Downs: It's Sea-Monkeys.

Platform: PC