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Moby Dick: The Video Game– Make a splash with literature’s favourite sea-based creature.
In spite of its reputation, I don’t claim to be a fan of the actual Moby Dick, a game by Not Doppler. In fact, I found reading it extremely taxing, a little tedious and found the style of writing to be awkward and unnatural in its (lack of) flow, resulting in the closing of the book and the strong desire to burn it. Though I never got as far as starting a book fire, the creators of this game also make a similar confession, clearly and candidly stating that this game is the result of the creators having never read the book from which it takes its title. Truthfully, the similarity ends at the physical, undisputable fact that the game contains a whale that swims in a discrete quantity of water and impacts upon the marine environment around him through the actions he takes. The book and the game part ways with the introduction of flash, the internet, and computers in general.
In a much abridged form than the book, ‘Moby Dick: The Video Game’ is essentially all about feeding the titular whale with as many victims of possible including the various swarms of marine life in the water and more importantly, the overly-curious humans that gather on the surface of the water, their presence being almost inconvenient to the point of comical peskiness. In truly poetic style, the humans are particularly dangerous to our poor water-dwelling mammal because of their incessant tendency for violence and cruelty, leading them to feel obliged to send arrows and projectiles in the direction of Mr Dick, or Moby if you play the game enough to get to know him on a first-name basis.
The camera position which the game is played in is a basic cross-section of a segment of ocean, allowing you to follow Moby’s movements to the very bottom of the ocean floor and also to the action-packed echelons of the surface of the water, where the destructive humans tend to congregate and attack at their leisure. Moby is very easy to control, following every movement of the mouse with unfailing obedience. The movement takes a little getting used to but is certainly the most efficient method for controlling him considering the format of the game. As a result of this simplicity, the only other controller variable that you then have to worry about is clicking the left mouse button to provide a speed boost that temporarily accelerates Moby, making his movements more effective.
If hunger was the only thing on our whale’s mind, however, then it would make for a severely limited scope of gameplay and lack of entertainment. Luckily, there are several other constraints on Moby’s actions which make the game significantly more of a challenge. Firstly, you must pay close attention to his level of health, which is indicated clearly by the health-bar-red coloured meter at the top of the screen. His life force depletes steadily as arrows, nets and various other projectiles such as cannon balls make unfortunate contact with him. Your proximity to the surface of the water is directly correlated to the amount of damage you are likely to sustain; I advise making tactical appearances only when you are certain of your ability to prevail over the soon-to-be snack items above.
Moby’s health slowly recuperates simply by swimming around and keeping out of danger, but you are also able to collect bubbles of health that are conveniently floating through the ocean. The second factor which you must pay attention to is the level of air (indicated by the blue meter) which Moby still has in his lungs. Being a mammal, it is an inescapable fact that he must breathe air like us lowly, land-dwelling creatures; frequent trips to the water’s surface are therefore necessary to ensure our hungry whale is able to keep teaching the human race a valuable lesson in the proper conduct of marine-based warfare, and it is imperative for your very survival that you ensure they fail their final examination on staying alive by ending their lives in a very permanent way.
Compounding the progress of Mr. Dick further is the hunger factor; indicated by a yellow bar in a similar fashion to health and air, Moby’s hunger is fairly mild at first and can be satiated with a few nibbles of marine creatures and the occasional trip up to the surface to prepare and devour a few human croutons in the soup of the sea. As the game progresses and you continue (hopefully) to stay alive, his hunger increases almost exponentially in ferocity, and it takes frequent trips to the surface and a lot more than the recommended five humans per day to keep him satisfied. This is particularly true when you factor in his gradual growth as you progress through the levels. The occasional growth power-up is seen floating in the water, looking like a pill and increasing his size by small increments each time.
The addictive aspect of the game comes mainly from the symbiotic relationship between your increasing proficiency and his increased size. Starting off as no more than an overgrown, sorry excuse for an albino cetacean, you must devour and evade your way through a number of growth stages, resulting in the increase of your physical size and therefore ability to topple and destroy larger, more dangerous ships. With this growth in size comes the inevitable increase in metabolism and therefore hunger, meaning you must begin to sink boats and collect the human snack items with ever-increasing haste. The once-sufficient single-man boats become no more than the equivalent of a Kit-Kat break between meals, with the more sizeable boats being the only efficient way to sustain your growth; it simply takes more than a bite of Nestlé chocolate to satisfy the full-grown Moby Dick.
There are several techniques which can be used to more efficiently sink the boats floating on the surface of the water. The smaller boats can be toppled even at your smallest size by simply passing by them a few times, or one direct-hit from a vertical jump will suffice. As you increase in size, you are able to topple boats with less effort, and you will find that the occasional tail-slap on the way back down will add a second element to your already dangerous attacks. I particularly enjoyed the ‘to scale’ measurement device that sits permanently to the right of the screen; it provides a little perspective and gives you an idea of just how big your whale is getting, therefore reminding you of the progress which you are making, which is a good of an incentive as any when playing a flash game.
Even with the simplicity of the controls and the incredibly entertaining gameplay, I did manage to find one minor drawback in the way which Moby moves; specifically, it is the nature of the mouse-guided motion that makes it fairly difficult to accurately target objects, often leading to swimming past them and being unable to make a return journey without a little hassle. I often found myself frustrated when accidentally (but frequently) clicking outside of the window when becoming a little too involved in the game; this often results in clicking away from the game or even closing the window entirely.
It isn’t immediately obvious, but the manner in which Moby moves can be a little frustrating if you are attempting to perform a quick turnaround, or are aiming for a specific power-up or ship on the surface of the water. It appears to come down to the turning circle, which simply isn’t narrow enough. This results in having to frequently double-back for power ups, which are often only accessible on the second attempt at collecting them due to this minor problem. The larger the size of Moby, the less noticeable this minor annoyance becomes, however, so I feel this can be readily forgiven in favour of recognising the otherwise simplistic brilliance of the game.
First and foremost, ‘Moby Dick: The Video Game’ is a game of survival; this is indicated in every aspect of the game which rewards you for a variety of feats such as the accumulated number of minutes which you manage to survive for, the collective number of boats you manage to sink and the number of nets/cannonballs you are struck with, and many, many more. These quantifiable indications of your relative capacity for underwater survival are recorded as achievements and can be accessed under a menu of the same name on the main title screen.
As if you were not already sufficiently entertained by the act of watching Moby grow as a result of my own gaming efforts, the game offers even more incentive to continue playing by dangling a list of these achievements in front of your face; it is an almost irrefutable fact that the very concept of ‘achievements’ in a game is nothing short of irresistible to any gamer worth his mouse and keyboard.
Combination rewards are also available for the act of eating multiple victims in quick succession. It can be incredibly fun to survive long enough to grow to one hundred tonnes, take out multiple boats and go to town on many multiples of human culinary delights. This results in a ‘sailor’s combo’ and can end up multiplying your points by a great number. With increased size also comes the ability to perform more powerful jumps that launch you to greater altitudes (an achievement in itself); while reaching for the sky, you can also help the birds on their way to Moby’s digestive tract and are even able to earn points for multiple bird kills. Watch out for the UFOs flying high in the air when you reach a sufficient size and level of accomplishment; this is when you know you’ve made it as a whale.
I was also impressed in no small way by the stylistic touches within the game. I am referring chiefly to the pirate-style artwork which is evident throughout the game, from the in-game drawing to the aged-paper menus and a font that looks not far off Long John Silver’s own handwriting (the observant reader would forgive the purposeful reference to the unrelated works of Robert Louis Stevenson ; I enjoyed ‘Treasure Island’ a lot more). The varying appearance of the whale as he grows is also a very nice touch that shows attention to detail and also helps to reflect your relative progress in the game. Film fans will also appreciate the use of the instantly-recognisable Wilhelm Scream which emanates from your human victims as they fall to their untimely (and likely to have been only days away from retirement) deaths.
Forget symbolism, use of metaphors, Shakespearean literary devices and a gripping narrative; you neither get this with the actual novel, nor the flash game with the same title. Instead, you are presented with some very simple yet extremely entertaining gameplay from Notdoppler, Mostro Games & Laventia.com. The game features numerous opportunities for upgrading and improving the general performance and attributes of your whale. The amount of fun that can be derived from simply staying alive for as long as possible is too much to be conveyed accurately in the medium of writing. I suggest you partake in a little of the action yourself; even those averse to games of survival or aquatic adventures in general will be pleasantly surprised.