Gunboat is a first-person "river warfare" simulator that's been transplanted from the popular Accolade version for home computers. In this intensely moody Vietnam-era shoot-em-up, you'll pilot a patrol boat through narrow rivers and channels, blasting the enemy's huts, ships and fornications with a variety of powerful weapons.
One of the first things you'll notice about Gunboat's control scheme from one of your three weapons to another. Believe me; it's not easy to figure out without looking at the instruction manual. Pressing the 1 button switches from a front view to one of the weapons, and the choice of weapon is actually determined by the setting of the three-position auto-fire switch above that button on the TurboPad. This can be a little confusing at first -- particularly in the heat of battle, which is 99% of the time -- but I really liked this innovation use of the existing hardware.
Unfortunately, there's a trade-off. Because the sliding auto-fire controls of the TurboStick can't be easily "locked in" to the same positions as those on the TurboPad, you can't use the TurboStick to play Gunboat. Perhaps this was just the version I was playing, but I have a hunch that all copies of Gunboat have the same problem.
Though the graphics in the TurboGrafx-16 Gunboat are not as detailed as in most computer versions of the game, they're still atmospheric. The frame rate of the animation is fast enough to allow the polygon-filled graphics to really get you involved in each "mission" -- which is a little easier to do in this case, since a majority of the action takes place only in the upper third of the screen.
Not that all players are going to enjoy the simulation of an experience that many Americans would rather forget, but the game uses an interesting technique to get inside your head and manufacture a suffocating sense of claustrophobia. Whenever your patrol boat is in danger, the sky slowly fades to a ghastly blood-red hue and a buzzing noise swells to signal the oncoming attack. It almost makes it seem as if your ears are ringing from the adrenaline rush; it's like a subconscious voice telling you, "Get your head down, you idiot." Stirring stuff -- and very involving (for a 16 year old game, that is).
The game's soundtrack is varied and interesting. The sound effects are realistic for a TurboGrafx-16 card, the digitized weapon sounds are tremendously powerful and the shrieks of wounded soldiers on both ends of every exchange are almost too intense. The music behind the title screen also earned some brownie points from this reviewer. I'm a sucker for any video game that includes a rendition of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries -- that's how I got hooked on the Satan's Hollow coin-op.
The problem with a game like Gunboat is that it just seems very out of place on the TurboGrafx-16 hardware. The graphics are adequate and the controls are fine, but the game doesn't work as well on the home console. Who knows, you may still have some fun with this game, but it's definitely not for everybody.