Saturday, January 17, 2009
SOS, a very simple game for the Super Nintendo. I would like to say that it has an cult following, but that isn't the case. A game so obscure I only remembered it a few days ago. Never really liked it as a kid, I guess I never got the point of it at first. Now that I'm older I decided to get a go at it once again. Surprisingly it defied my simple childhood memory, it was a delightful experience. Now with the gaming industry filled with multiple sandbox/open ended games that seems to take more time than fun, this game was short but sweet. Reminded me of Portal in the way that you could just pick up and play.
At first I though it was just using the Titanic exposure to boost the sales, but Titanic came out in 1997 while SOS came out in 1994. So looking at other popular boat disasters obviously it was influence by ship disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure. It has the main catch of it, which is the cruise ship going belly side up. With the fact of the ship being belly side you face awkward scenario of water and fire. So that's the whole premise of the game, going along a trip and suddenly the ship flips over. Contrary to video game fashion there aren't any evil forces causing this disaster. Simple people dealing with a complicated problem. So you play as Capris Wisher, one of the survivors from the flip. Wake up with more dead corpse than living ones and your off. You just lost you sick sister from the flip so the first objective is to find her and any other survivor you find along the way. The whole point of the game is to find you way out and also rescue the most people you can. Once you save the maximum amount of people you switch from another characters perspective and so on. Doesn't change anything gameplay wise but simply story wise.
There a bunch of things that make this game quite an unique experience. First off with it being made on the Super Nintendo they took full advantage and used Mode 7 for the entire gameplay. Amazing considering that Mode 7 was mostly used for showing of maps and some mini levels back then. The way they use Mode 7 is, because the ship is flipped upside down it has a tendency to swerve from side to side once in awhile. So you might be walking completely straight then in real time the ship will shift and you might be walking in a 40 degree angle or even a 90 degree angle. Amazing stuff for the time. So to face this you can climb walls, ceilings and floors depending on how the ship is angled. I don't think that there's any pattern to the shifts, they seem all random.
Another thing that makes the game unique is that there is a timer. I don't usually like timers in video games, but in this one it works. Immersion can either make or break a game and the fact that you can't physically see the timer really helps with the immersion of the experience. The timer adds a new layer of panic because you don't want it to run out before you can get out or before you can save the most people. An incredibly short timer, only clocking at one hour. A simple hour with no save function whatsoever. This game is meant to be played for that single hour. Each time you do play it you get a different experience. Simply because of the multiple survivors with each their own ending depending on how much people you do save. Speculation say that there are about 100 ending but I think there must be only 50.
You also can't take any damage because that would kinda take away from the immersion of not having any hub you can see for your health and such. So to fix this, if you take a rather large fall or get hit by fire you lose time because you fainted. Sometimes it is impossible to avoid a fall because of the shifting ship, so you will lose time no matter what. In all I would say a normal game where you try to save the most you would last about 45 minutes. Or if you're selfish you can finish it in about 6 minutes or so. Isn't so simple either rescuing people, some wont follow you unless you find their kids or vice versa. There are a bunch of favors to do before you can make to make the said person follow you. Even you manage to get one to follow you need to reach the boiler room. There a few annoying elements like the stupid AI but I'll excuse that for the hardware its on. The fact that you can't run seems odd, you'd think he would be in a hurry to get out?
All and all, its an innovative pick up and play experience meant to last you no more than an hour. Really an amazing concept, a hidden gem that deserves at least some small respect. A game that you ask yourself "How could that work?" yet it totally does. There's supposedly a sequel on the playstation but I know nothing about it.