Posted by , 21 June 2005 · 1,016 views
This is the first entry in the genre of "early math games that videogame makers thought had to be included to give their system an educational appeal." All of the early systems had at least one of these types of games. It impressed me that the Odyssey, an analog system that doesn't do math, would introduce this form of edutainment. Their flavoring of it is also ambitious. Analogic could also be considered the first Science Fiction themed home video game.
The Überlay consists of a grid of numbers with some solid circles forming an asteroid-field-like barrier diagonally across the screen from lower left to upper right. (see pic above) The players start with their "light beam transceivers" (i.e., little white squares aka the Player Spots) on opposite corners of the field (odd player, upper left, even player lower right). They activate their light beam transceivers by pressing the reset button which, by adjusting their ENGLISH control, allows the Ball Spot to go back and forth between them. This is to represent the transmission beam between the two transceivers. It's actually a cool idea, to me.
After a coin toss, a player goes first by moving to an appropriately numbered square. Here's where it starts getting, er, interesting, with the usage of the word "interesting", in this context, meaning "hardly interesting at all."The object is for the player from the planet ODD (in the upper left) to reach planet EVEN before the player from planet EVEN reaches planet ODD. If the player from planet ODD goes first he may move only to an odd numbered square. If the player from planet EVEN goes first he may move only to an EVEN numbered square. Usually a player may only move in the horizontal or vertical direction, but there's a special sitch for a diagonal move. We'll talk about that later, look forward to it!
Succeeding moves go as follows, and I'm quoting from the manual, caps and italics are THEIRS: "The EVEN player may move only to a square whose number combines with ODD'S last move to total to an even number. ODD may move to a square whose number totals to an ODD figure when combined with EVEN'S last move." The player has to do these sums aloud before they move.
During this movement each player uses his ENGLISH control to maintain interstellar contact. This isn't too hard to do and it is a nice touch, but at a certain point it becomes irrelevant. Once the transceivers get close enough, the manual says don't worry about maintaining contact. If it's lost by a player during their turn, when it does "matter", the other player gets a Diagonal Chip good for a diagonal move. A chip may also be acquired by touching one of the planets towards the middle of the Überlay. Presumably that is why contact between transceivers when in close proximity is unimportant, one should be able to pick up enough Diagonal Chips in the cluster of planetoids making the maintenance of the beam unnecessary, at least for purposes of Diagonal Chip acquisition.
This game would not suck so much if it wasn't for the fact that it is possible to stalemate. When we played, at least, we got to a point where it was no longer possible for the player from EVEN to move in any direction. He'd summed himself into a corner, as it were. Maybe they didn't do any playtesting on this one, maybe playtesting hasn't been invented yet in 1972. Maybe he could've avoided the problem by picking up more Diagonal Chips. Dunno. Don't care.
Lack of a stalemate would not have made this game much more fun or interesting, though it may have allowed for a feeling of closure and possibly a partial point for originality of design. I can't give it any points, though, because it made me cranky.
I did like the theme and the idea. The gameplay, though original, in the way it introduced math on a system that can't do math, just wasn't fun enough. For the record: my son, 7 years old and pretty good at math, hates Analogic like the Grinch hated the Whos. We wouldn't miss Ultraman for this. Hell, we wouldn't miss The Partridge Family for this! If we ever recommend Analogic to you, it means we don't like you.
The Score: Ultraman: 5, Odyssey: 3.0
Another edutainment title tomorrow: States. EDIT: NOT States, Roulette.