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Games are about the impossible, and back in the arcade days designers would often extend that wish fulfillment into the game’s physical design. You weren’t just racing a car on a TV screen, you were sitting in one. That philosophy persists today. Walk into any of the few arcades that still exist these days — a Chuck E. Cheese, a Dave and Busters, a minigolf hut — and the only videogames you’re likely to see among the ticket games are these stabs at verisimilitude.
I am too young to have experienced Sea Wolf in its heyday, but when I saw its periscope at the Funspot in New Hampshire last year I immediately knew I had to play it. As a kid I would’ve loved that feeling of looking through an actual periscope; in my thirties I dug the goofball kitsch of this relic from a long-gone past. The game itself wasn’t memorable, just a basic high score shoot-off for which I lacked the nostalgia necessary to genuinely appreciate, but it’s impossible to not remember that periscope.
Sadly the new iOS version of Sea Wolf doesn’t come with a periscope attachment for your iPad. It takes the basic premise – blowing stuff up with torpedoes – and exploits the particular abilities of these devices as thoroughly as possible. You slightly tilt the iPad to aim the torpedo in one of five directions that fan out into the enemy-filled sea in front of you. Press a virtual button to fire a torpedo, or point and slide your finger across the screen to take down bombers with your machine guns. Occasionally you’ll have to shake the entire device to protect your sub from an enemy mine.
Each mission has a specific goal, such as destroying a bridge or lighthouse within the time limit, and also a minimum score needed to advance. Meeting both conditions isn’t always easy, and that’s partially the controls’ fault. Sometimes the game won’t recognize when you try to fire the machine gun, and by the time you realize this an airplane has already bombed you. Occasionally when you shake or flip your iPad to reload or ward off a mine the screen will rotate. You might want to lock that screen down before playing. Also, there’s no native iPad version yet, so you’ll have to either make do with that tiny iPhone-sized screen or double-size it into that slightly blurry, slightly ugly full-screen mode.
When those problems don’t flare up Sea Wolf is a perfectly fine handheld diversion. The two dollar price point might be a stretch, as iOS games that are far deeper and more elaborate can be found at the same price. If you’re just looking to kill a few minutes by whipping up a high score in a hectic but rudimentary shooter, Sea Wolf is a serviceable option, with or without the periscope.