Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Deep Blue (PC Engine)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
4 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Pack-in Video
Published by Pack-in Video in 1989

Have you ever felt the sensation of controlling a heavy brick and having to dodge rain at the same time? If you haven't but you'd like to know how it feels here's a good pick: Deep Blue. Almost unanimously heralded as the worst shmup in the PC Engine library, Pack-in Video's underwater shooter is a test to the patience, endurance and tolerance of all gamers out there. Steer away from this title if you're bothered by even the tiniest unfriendly gameplay feature you've ever imagined, for Deep Blue will probably have it implemented for you. Slow craft, health meter, underpowered weapons, irritating enemies, lame bosses, short duration, lack of enemy bullets, you name it.

Wait a minute, lack of enemy bullets? Exactly, there isn't a single one fired against the player throughout the whole game! Most of the time we take these things for granted and don't even notice how such an important aspect is absent from what's supposed to be a shooter, but alas! At least you can say Deep Blue's bullets are its own enemies. And if the lack of enemy bullets makes you think dodging is unecessary, well... think again. Those evil marine creatures are out to get you, and even if you choose to tread the safe route in any specific wave chances are you won't get away with it at all. I dare anyone to accomplish a no-hit run of the first stage, which is in fact the hardest stage in the whole game (that sea urchin shower of the fourth level nonwithstanding, even though it's an easily doable section once you've figured it out - in the first loop at least).

Wow, what big deep blue eyes you have!

The game box suggests the angelfish you play with is actually a mechanical craft, supposedly sent into battle to obliterate evil sea creatures. This is where reminiscences of Darius end, unfortunately. As soon as you start the game the impression you get is that the fish is swimming in a pool of mud instead of water, such is the sluggishness of his moving ability. The enemies, on the other hand, can sweep back and forth and up and down with graceful and irritating gusto. Your firing rate is ultimately useless if they arrive in a slightly higher number than that which you can handle. Once you get hit you're briefly paralyzed and prevented from shooting or taking any incoming items, and whatever's already coming can hit you in painful succession. The fish's big eye is the health meter and changes colors as you receive damage: it goes from blue (full health) to green, yellow and then red (imminent death), with blinking intervals in between these colors. When you die in an explosion it's GAME OVER, no continues in sight.

At least the game gives you full health when a new stage starts, but the little catch in Deep Blue is that to slowly recover health at any time all you need to do is refrain from shooting. Some of the enemy waves allow this if you lean against the upper/lower borders of the screen, but if you're lucky you might come across an item that provides full health recovery. This item is brought by a light-blue moonfish that can also carry a speed-up (an icon that looks like an arch) or three types of weapons: light bullet (default pea shot), swirl cutter (cone-shaped bursts) or bubble beam (purple thin laser). Collecting three of the same weapon icons will upgrade the ship to its maximum power. However, keeping powered-up weapons is often a feeble experience in Deep Blue since you lose one level of power every time you get hit (you can also say bye-bye to the speed-up as well). One of the most enraging moments in the game is going from a maxed out weapon with speed-up to zero power because a series of enemies just rammed into you in succession. To make things worse, the moonfish has a knack for appearing on the opposite side of the screen... Going after it is an invite for getting a red eye while being trashed along the way.

Stages in Deep Blue are alphabetically named and called "scenes". They go from A to D and slightly resemble blueish reefs, dark muddy waters, green corals and a sunken building. It's not artistically overwhelming, but the little amount of parallax helps to keep the design within PC Engine graphical standards. I didn't notice any slowdown or flicker. Even though the music can be grating at times, it actually fits the dire underwater theme quite well. Halfway a scene there's always a section where the music changes and angrier waves start ramming against you, and some of these enemies can hurt real bad. The rule of thumb is that the bigger and faster the enemy the larger the damage. Bosses are big and slow, but most of them can be dispatched even before they get close to you. The built-in autofire isn't ideal but gets the job done, using a turbo controller won't help that much anyway.

Deep Blue's first loop in its entirety
(courtesy of YouTube user cubex55)

With such dry gameplay for a shooter where you're supposed to be navigating waters, Deep Blue at least shows a wide array of enemies across its relatively short length. Waves are composed by practically all sorts of fish, it seems the developer wanted to grant each major species with at least one prominent representative. The scoring side of the game is pretty straightforward, and is only affected by the player's ability to avoid getting hit and not incur in periods of inactivity in order to recover health.

Regardless of how much you might love shooters, this game is most recommended to masochistic people looking for a painful experience or to those who're extremely bored. Deep Blue loops after the fourth stage (scene D), and the main difference in the second round is that it comes with faster enemy waves. Having been there twice, I honestly think it's impossible to survive the sea urchin rain of stage 2-4 (scene D').

Whenever you die the game halts while showing your score until you start a new credit. Here's the new high score I achieved when I died in stage 2-4, having improved a previous one in approximately 13%.


  1. So, you made it to Stage 2-4 in the second loop?

    1. Hi there, sorry if that sounded confusing...
      When I wrote 2-4 I meant "stage 4 in the second loop".

  2. Wow. You actually played this game, and twice at that too?! Are you looking for more pain? Cause some of the shmups you've 1cc'ed make me wonder how the heck did you muster all that courage to endure so much pain?

    I only fired this game up for a bit before I was like "Wow, this is so bad." Then awhile later I seen this game on TurboViews (a great must see PCE YouTube review show), and after that show I decided right there and then to create a "crap" sub-folder for my PCE shmups rom collection folder so I wouldn't be always reminded of this terrible, terrible game. I've since created "crap" folders for other shmup systems. I think it's a really great idea. :) ... I think you should create a "crap" shmup trash can to store all you bad shmups too, Edward. Too help you from ever returning to these terrible, terrible games.


    1. hehehe
      even though they're crap we can still find enjoyment from them, depending on the situation
      aaaand we can alway brag about how brave we were!

  3. Kind of a shame its so bad because I honestly love the aesthetic here

    1. I see your point. There's certainly a kind of gritty charm to the graphics and the simplicity in how the game tracks the character's health.
      It would be interesting to see a sequel that uses the same design choices but is actually good.