Published by Milton Bradley in 1993 after development by Mindscape Inc., Battleship was a video game on the Nintendo EntertainmentSystem (NES) that was based on a popular board game, just like Monopoly. In this case the board game is Battleship, a tactical strategy game where two players hide ships of differing lengths (1-5 units) on an 8-by-12-sized grid, then take turns trying to “fire” at grid coordinates in attempts to hit the opposing craft. The winner is the first to destroy all opposing ships; or, alternately, the last to have any ships remaining. As prior attempts tried to place a board-game concept within a video-game environment, would Battleship succeed in being more fun than the original version?
The first warning sign that this may not go well is the fact that there is no two-player mode. While it may be an understandable obstacle to try and perform a two-player game based on placement secrecy considering that both players would have to share the same screen, this design decision still eliminates the primary motivator for anyone wanting to play the original Battleship board game: The desire to play it with another human being. Already, the decision has been made to radically alter even the fundamental principles of the source.
Thus, one player enters the game, and must clear level by level against a computer opponent. There are sub-stages as well, each called a Battle, so the player will beat level 1-1 to get to level 1-2, then eventually get to 2-1, etc. Just like the board game, the player must first hide ships of differing lengths on the grid, such as the two-unit Frigate and, of course, the five-unit Battleship. As Battles are won and the game advances, more ships will be put into play, like the pesky one-unit Submarine. As Battles are won the player also receives a pass code that can be entered at the title screen to return to that place in the game later.
Unlike the board game, where each turn can only target one specific grid coordinate to fire upon, Battleship the video game does incorporate one interesting mechanic in that, as long as the larger ships are not sunk yet, the player can fire special missiles that cover more than one unit on the grid. These different firing patterns can target up to five squares on the grid in crossing and geometric-based patterns, greatly increasing the likelihood of a successful hit and discovering the opposing ships. This does add a much-needed depth to the game, and keeps it interesting as Battle after Battle continue.
At the end of each Battle the player is given a neat screen that indicates his or her accuracy percentage, along with the opponent’s, and how many shots it took to finish the Battle. That is the Battleship video game on the NES in a nutshell; considering the rather single-dimensional gameplay of the board game version, it is remarkable they managed to squeeze this much out of the concept for the cartridge iteration, yet one still wonders if they should have done more.
Battleship is given an unfair slate to begin with, in terms of judging its visuals, since the majority of the game takes place on a simple grid with crudely rendered naval cruisers, or on the Battle summary screens with numerical statistics. Sure, the grid has some stylization with the differing colors and gradients, but overall this is still a simple-looking game. The exceptions would be the majestic titular Battleship on the title screen, and the fun little animation when the player fires that shows a ship in sight and the anxious anticipation of whether the missiles fired while score a hit or not. There is not much else to this game in the graphical department, except perhaps the marks on the player’s grid that show the status of previously fired shots: Fire on the players’ own ships, either a “hit” icon or not for shots at the opponent, and a square filled with water for opposing misses.
Oddly enough, the background music for this game is pretty good, fairly richly layered in both its composition and thematics. Rather than go straight for a cheap pulse-pounding fast-paced thrill track or a subdued bit of ambiance, Battleship has a pleasant theme that strikes chords of majesty, pondering, triumph, and gravity. The problem is that this same single background music track is repeated across every Battle. Battle after Battle is fought against the backdrop of the exact same tune. Otherwise, the sound effects are okay; they get the job done, but the explosions should have maybe been a little more explosive. Meh.
The concept is not original at all, as it was taken straight from the board game. However, this video game does manage to incorporate a new element to the board version, with the multi-shot warheads providing at least some semblance of innovation in what could have otherwise been a remarkably bland and boring game.
That being said, this is still an overly repetitive game. While it is somewhat fun to test wits against the computer admiral, and try to slog through all the Battles, without a two-player option, or even the opportunity to try different difficulty levels, the entirety of Battleship is a one-way track. Perhaps huge fans of the board game will get a kick out of it, and the board game concept itself is decent so at least it has that going for it; but compared to the overall NES library, compared to the standard replayability expectations of a video game, and compared to cartridges that were built on original concepts or at least media licenses and not just taken from board games, Battleship is underwhelming, below average, and sinks a rating of two stars out of five.