High Seas Havoc
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Data East
  • Publisher:
    • Data East
  • Released:
    • US 08/16/1993
    • JP 04/22/1994
    • UK 1994
Score: 85%

This review was published on 07/20/2013.

High Seas Havoc is a 2-D, side-scrolling platform game developed by Data East and originally released for the Sega Genesis. While not as popular as Sega or Nintendo, Data East did make a couple of decent games back in the day. This is one of them. Mostly thanks to the Internet, many obscure games of the past now have cult followings among retro gamers around the world. Games like Rocket Knight Adventures, Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy, and Ristar are now fairly well known among retro gamer circles. Basically, if a game was good, it'd develop a following online, even if that happened many years into the far flung future. Unfortunately, High Seas Havoc isn't one of them. It's a very good game that was completely overlooked back in the day, and it doesn't have a cult following today. Even among most retro game connoisseurs, High Seas Havoc is a relatively unknown game. It's my aim to change that, because High Seas Havoc deserves to have a following.

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This game is literally about a seal. It's an anthropomorphic seal, but a seal nonetheless. You wouldn't really know if by looking at him, though. He looks more like Sonic the Hedgehog than anything else. The seal's name is Havoc, and he is a pirate that is ready to cause some havoc. Havoc's character design was probably trying to replicate Sonic's vast popularity, but that obviously didn't pan out. The protagonist's sidekick is a similar looking character named Tide, though he doesn't make any appearances outside of the game's story. One day, Havoc and Tide discover a fair maiden who washed ashore. After the two rescue her, she shows them a map that reveals the location for a powerful gem called Emeralda. That sounds more like a woman's name to me. Speaking of a woman's name, the fair maiden's name is Bridget. Bridget instructs Havoc to hide the map somewhere, because an evil pirate by the name of Bernado is looking for the gem. Bernado strongly resembles Bowser from Super Mario. I wonder if they're relatives. According to legend, the gem has the power to topple entire armies, which is why Bernado is after it. It doesn't take long for trouble to strike, as Bernado captures Bridget and Tide. Havoc now must avert havoc as opposed to causing it, for the whole world is at stake. I could sure go for some steak right about now. The story isn't anything special, but the pirate theme is cool.

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Havoc is the protagonist of the game, so you control him for the whole adventure. He has the typical abilities seen in most platform games, like being able to run, jump, and duck. Your main method of attack is a simple stomp on an enemy's head, much like a Mario game. High Seas Havoc isn't afraid of being straightforward. It's possible to perform a brief dodge roll while ducking, but I don't find this move particularly useful. What is particularly useful is a mid air kick attack you can do if you press the jump button twice. This attack is like the precursor to that spinning shield move Sonic has in Sonic 3, only way more useful. It does about the same damage as a regular stomp, but there are many enemies in the game that can only be injured in this manner. In particular, most of the bosses are only susceptible to the kick move, so mastering the move is essential. If you're dissatisfied at Havoc's default running speed, then don't worry, because there's an app for that. Okay, it's not an app, but it is a power-up. A set of boots are hidden as power-ups in practically every stage that increase Havoc's speed when picked up. The effect lasts as long as you're alive, which is neat. I'm not sure why they didn't just give you this at the start of the game, but it's never a huge deal to get it. You can also opt to avoid it if you don't like the added speed, as it can make jumping across tiny platforms more difficult. Beyond that, there aren't really any other maneuvers at your disposal. High Seas Havoc is a simple game that doesn't befuddle you with convoluted controls.

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Because of the simplicity of the game mechanics, the heart and soul of High Seas Havoc lies in its excellent level design. It's a lot like Mario in that respect. Despite looking a lot like Sonic the Hedgehog, Havoc doesn't run very fast. The game play revolves around more methodical platform mechanics, wherein slow and steady wins the race. It really all comes down to the level design. The first few levels of the game are pretty straightforward, but things start to change up on you halfway through the game. One such level is this town area that's on fire. During certain parts of this level, you're being chased by a giant, sentient fireball that will instantly kill you on contact. On top of that, there are fireballs that block your way forward, and you need to put them out with conveniently placed water pumps. It's a fun and challenging level that has a cool gimmick. I find it to be a nice twist on the typical fire level. The same kind of thing goes for the snow level much later in the game. There is this floating checkerboard pattern in the snow level with various floating blocks, and each block will travel in a given direction when you stand on it. You have to carefully stand on the right blocks to not fall into the instant death spikes down below. There are countless other cool design concepts that show up throughout the game, keeping the experience interesting throughout. High Seas Havoc is high on stage design.

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The bosses are all pretty cool and unique. While they're not quite as good as the typical boss from a Treasure developed game, they are still good enough to be one of this game's highlights. First of all, I want to make special mention of the music for bosses. Pretty much all the bosses in this game have unique tracks, which was a rarity for games back then. This game overall has an awesome soundtrack, and the individualized boss tracks make the soundtrack that much better. Anyway, the stages are generally broken up into acts, like in the Sonic the Hedgehog games, and a boss appears at the end of each stage. Unlike those games, the boss is something vastly different each time. From muscle bound bulldogs to bomb throwing moles, there are plenty of lips to bust. Some of them don't even have lips, like the bird boss of the snow level. My favorite boss is this dude you fight in the second to last level of the game, in which he causes a bunch of rocks to fall down, and then lifts them up and launches them at you using telekinesis. It's like something out of Dragon Ball Z. In addition to looking really cool, it's also a ridiculously tough battle, so it has that effect of getting your adrenaline going. I find that most of the bosses later in the game have this effect. If a video game boss can make your heart race, then you know it's a good boss.

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High Seas Havoc is the very definition of a lost gem. This one is truly lost, since it doesn't even have a cult of hardcore retro gamers following it, like many other obscure games do. I'm one of the only people to have had the privilege of experiencing the game back when it was newish. You should thank me for imparting you with such pertinent knowledge. This game might seem like a Sonic the Hedgehog rip off at first glance, but that's why you should never judge a book by its cover. High Seas Havoc is its own animal, and it's quite good. It's got an absolutely fantastic soundtrack, great level design, fun bosses, and precise controls. I would go as far as to say that it stands up to the best of the best on the Sega Genesis, though it does have a few flaws. The biggest one is the extremely high difficulty level; getting to the later portions of the game is nigh impossible and beating it is even more unlikely. As cool as the early bits of the game are, the last few levels and bosses are arguably even cooler, so it's a shame that most people won't be able to get that far. It's also a shame that most people don't know about this game. If you're one of those people, be sure to give the game a try. I highly recommend it.

Word Count: 1,470

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