Nintendo’s take on Battleship, this one livened up by a fast-paced multiplayer submarine warfare mode.

People talk about how Game Boy was flooded with bad platformers and tons of box-pushing puzzle games, all of which is true. But let’s not forget that Game Boy publishers really had a thing for creating their own takes on Milton Bradley’s Battleship — including, it turns out, Nintendo themselves. This is the third Battleship-alike we’ve seen, coming after NTVIC’s Power Mission and Use Corp.’s Navy Blue, which came out in the U.S. as an officially licensed Battleship game. And if you’ve seen any of those other games, there are no surprises to be found with Radar Mission

…well, OK, there’s one surprise.

The basic mode here plays pretty much exactly like Battleship. It actually contains fewer extra features than the actual Battleship Game Boy game — while you can tweak several combat parameters, you don’t have access to the wild array of special weapons as seen in Navy Blue‘s take on the board game.

The biggest play-altering feature in Radar Mission comes from the ability to tweak the size of the battlefield. You can set a match to take place in either an 8×8, 10×10, or 12×12 grid. Whatever your selection, you always have five ships per side, so there’s a pretty big difference between having five ships on a 64-square grid and five ships on a 144-square grid. The smaller grid makes for shorter matches, while the larger ones demand patience and careful tactics.

You can also tweak other options and potentially create handicaps. There are “near misses,” which causes a special chime to play when you strike a space adjacent to a vessel. There are also “lucky shots,” which cause you to earn a special multi-missile barrage attack for your next salvo when you hit randomized special square. And you can also activate airplanes, which will cause a jet to launch from your carrier during the match to create an additional, hard-to-find, single-square fighter escort for your side. You can turn these features on or off for each side, creating a de facto difficulty selection system. You can also choose your own admiral and the enemy’s, though I’m not entirely certain what the difference is besides the fact that all the computer opponents look ridiculous.

Play advances turn-by-turn in this mode. You call a shot by selecting a space on the enemy grid, then watch your missile drop toward the silhouette of a ship on the horizon where it will either hit explosively or land with a splash. Then the computer takes a turn. Then you do. And so forth, until one side has lost all its ships.

The same general strategies that work in Battleship factor in here: You know the enemy has a specific lineup of ships, which means you can use deduction to sort out where to aim your salvos once you’ve landed a hit. The “near miss” feature can be a big help here, as it chimes when you strike a grid square adjacent to an enemy vessel. It’s pretty standard fare, something we’ve seen already on Game Boy. It’s less adventurous than Navy Blue was, but it does benefit from that Nintendo polish — the graphics look nice, and it has plenty of neat touches like a continuous radar sweep of the attack grid.

However, I think the real appeal of Radar Mission lies in its secondary mode, in which you take command of a submarine trying to sink an enemy fleet before their own attack sub wipes out your side. In this mode, you fire torpedoes at ships that scroll past in the distance while hoping to god the other sub doesn’t beat you to the punch. You have to possess a sense of distance and speed in order to clobber enemy ships. You also need to submerge on the regular to speed through the water — there’s simply no way to win if you stick to the surface. The enemy fleet is spread too wide.

Once you dive, you can get a view of the enemy fleet and move to counter their actions. The real threat, of course, is the enemy’s attack sub — it has all the same abilities as you, which means it is sneaking around to take out your ships even as you’re blasting at the bad guys. The enemy sub (along with enemy planes) can take down your own sub, which amounts to an instant game over. So it’s a really brutal game, even on easy difficulty — I wasn’t able to win once.

Because, don’t you know, as in the other games we’ve seen in this genre, the computer isn’t afraid to take advantage of its omniscience. It fluffs attacks, sure, but it has an unerring ability to keep apace with the player… even when you give it all the handicaps. Somehow, the computer miraculously seems to know where all your ships are. If you turn off its “near miss” capabilities, it’ll take an extra turn or two to home in on your ship, but the A.I. has no interest in playing fair.

In fact, it seems to have the same sort of rubber-band A.I. you see in Super Mario Kart — always keeping pace with the player in order to ratchet up tension, even if its doing so doesn’t even slightly resemble fair play. I guess that’s just Nintendo’s schtick… which is, ultimately, a quest to sell more copies of the game, which is does by nudging you to play multiplayer, where you’re guaranteed a fairer match. Oh well, that’s nothing new on Game Boy Works.

Incidentally, if this game seems vaguely familiar and not because of the Battleship connection, that’s probably because you own a 3DS. For that system’s launch, Nintendo seemingly dug back two decades into its archives and dredged up its memories of Radar Mission’s B mode to serve as the basis of an all-new game: Steel Diver. The company then published Radar Mission during the extremely short life of 3DS Virtual Console in order to guarantee that however you like pretending to captain a submarine on a handheld system, you could get your fix. 

All in all, Radar Mission is a decent enough take on Battleship, with an entertaining secondary mode. But if you’re going to travel back into portable history to sink some bad guys, be sure to do it with a friend… unless you like hopeless pursuits.