The Game: Players assume the role of Susumu Kodai, a hot-headed young recruit unexpectedly thrust into a leadership role on a mission to cross the galaxy and procure a device that can restore planet Earth’s war-decimated ecosphere within a year. As if crossing the Milky Way and returning within a year wasn’t enough of a formidable task, the Space Battleship Yamato faces stiff opposition from an alien race, the Gamilas, determined to seal Earth’s fate by bringing the last-ditch rescue mission to a halt. Kodai and the Yamato’s ailing commander, Admiral Okita, must decide where to commit their forces for maximum effect. Large squarons of Cosmo Fighters can be dispatched to take the Gamilas on head-to-head on the on-screen grid, but Yamato herself can also be ordered into the thick of the action (a strategy that puts the entire mission in jeopardy if the battle is lost). Success means fighting through the Gamilas’ offensive front and reaching planet Iskandar. Failure means death for all humankind. Pick your battles wisely. (Interbec, 1992)
Memories: Space Battleship Yamato is, to this date, one of the best anime series that anyone in Japan has yet produced. First aired in 1974, its meaningful, carefully-paced tale of duty, honor, sacrifice, compassion and rapproachment is one that remains nearly unsurpassed. It’s like the best war movie ever, except animated. The series very carefully laid out the tactical stakes of its frequent battle scenes, and showed how both sides planned their next moves – it’s a fertile breeding ground for tactical action games. And yet, of the few video games based on Yamato, fewer still have done the action and adventure and drama of the series justice. In a nutshell: the games aren’t as fun to play as the show is to watch.
In the case of this Japan-only Game Boy title, you’re practically watching the game too. The player is in charge of deploying Yamato and her fighter squadrons to best strategic effect, but when battle commences, things are largely up a roll of the dice – it’s somewhat like having a computer-moderated tabletop wargame, or the battle sequences in the Apple II game Taipan!, over whose outcome players have no control once they’ve committed to the fight. The only real “action” occurs if Yamato is challenged directly, at which point the screen switches to a first person gunsight screen, allowing the player to fight off the incoming Gamila forces one-on-one; these confrontations are brutally hard, perhaps as a reminder that Yamato herself should be kept in reserve to deal with the big fish. But make no mistake – just as the grand old ship took improbable amounts of punishment and survived to keep kicking ass in the anime, eventually all of the smaller and more agile pawns will be sacrificed and Yamato will have to go it alone.
The graphics are decent – when character dialogue bubbles pop up, it’s easy to tell who is addressing the commander of the ship. Fans of the anime will be able to easily recognize the various enemy ship types at a glance. It’s a treat if one happens to be familiar with the Yamato storyline and visuals already; players not already steeped in that world are likely to feel a bit lost.
This game has a built-in frustration factor because it feels like the player has so little control over the outcome of anything going on, so it’s a toss-up as to whether or not it’s superior to more modern (and yet more over-complicated) fare like the Space Battleship Yamato games for the Playstation. Like quite a few licensed properties (I’m looking at you, Star Trek), Yamato has yet to produce a game that’s hands-down great, and yet no one denies that the source material would lend itself to some really good gaming. Someone just needs to find the right balance, but this game gets tantalizingly close.