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Review: Dreamcast's 'Seaman': Evolution of the virtual pet

"What are you looking at?" Seaman can be a grouch sometimes  

(CNN) -- "Seaman" is not your average virtual pet and this is not your average video game. In fact, this really isn't a game at all. It's more of an interactive experience that requires diligence, creativity and above all, tons of patience.

As the biggest selling Sega Dreamcast title in Japan, you might expect "Seaman" to be a little different. But different doesn't even begin to describe what is in store for those curious enough to take charge of their very own Seaman.

A caveat: You don't own Seaman, it owns you. From the time you drop the little egg into the aquarium to the bitter end, this is something that will require your attention each and every day. And you can't just go feed your virtual fish then expect to walk away because it has a special talent. Seaman likes to talk. The unique part of this whole endeavor is that you get to talk back.

The Dreamcast controller with microphone peripheral (note: Visual Memory Unit also required)  

The "Seaman" software comes with a microphone peripheral that plugs into your controller and allows you to converse with your slimy friend. It will ask you all about your love life, your career, your family, even your take on modern technology. It will remember the answers you give and bring them up in later conversations. The objective, if you need to have one, is to figure out how to evolve your Seaman out of its aquatic environment and onto good old terra firma.

The speech recognition can be a little finicky and is limited to single words and short phrases. Seaman is not limited in its speech however and will bend your ear on a variety of topics. If you are mean to Seaman or if you consistently say things it can't understand, then it will ignore you or say things such as "I'm not talking to you, go away." To put it nicely, Seaman is crabby most of the time.

Watching your Seaman grow is a slow process unless you are speaking on an evolutionary scale. It takes a number of days just to get a creature that can produce understandable conversation. Enough food is provided to get you through the first few days or so. From that point it is really up to you to discover how best to keep Seaman alive.

And keeping Seaman alive doesn't just require food. You also have to make sure that it is comfortable and able to breathe. There are controls that allow you to adjust the heat, the oxygen and the amount of light in the tank. There are also auxiliary tanks for storing food and pellets and the creepy crawlies that Seaman likes to eat.

Tapping on the glass will get Seaman's attention  

In addition to talking, you can also interact with Seaman by using a virtual hand to tickle it, tap on the glass or if you are feeling sadistic, even flick it. Because there isn't a lot going on most of the time, things can get a bit dull if you spend too much time with your pet. It is safe to say that anything more than a half-hour is overkill.

Additional instructions on how to care for your Seaman, as well as a recap of the past day's events are provided by the familiar voice of narrator Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy's soothing, authoritative tone is the perfect match for an experience where making logical decisions are a must in order to succeed.

Don't expect to be blown away by the graphics in "Seaman." While the Seamen themselves are nicely detailed, the rest of the environment is decidedly simple. Initially, there are a few rocks in the tank as well as an aerator and a heater. It would been nice if there was an option to decorate the tank any way you like with things like colored gravel, plants, fake coral or even a tiny castle or two.

After spending some time with this title, it really isn't difficult to understand why the Japanese find it so appealing. While the "Seaman" experience is definitely not for everybody, it does offer something different from anything else available for the Dreamcast. Dull moments and plain graphics aside, those who enthusiastically embark on the journey to raise a Seaman should find it quite entertaining.



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