Insert Disk collects High Seas Havoc for the Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis.
Today’s retro game review is High Seas Havoc for the Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis. This retro gaming classic from Data East is a rather excellent Sonic The Hedgehog imitator. Don’t be fooled though, the overall game play has a really high standard to it and really reflects that special era of 90’s 16-bit platforming. The game was known as Captain Lang in Japan but was also known under the titles of Havoc and High Seas Havoc in other territories. It’s a fun game to play but getting on the expensive side for retro gamers to collect.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. I’m certain that most people that have collected video games for any length of time have that one game on their shelf that nobody else seems to talk about. I thought that it would be fun to visit one of those games today. A rather hidden gem from Data East for the Sega 16-Bit consoles released under no less than 3 titles. High Seas Havoc, Havoc or is it Captain Lang? Join me today as I take a look back at this somewhat overlooked game.
It’s perhaps best if I start with a little bit about the game before I get in to the rather confusing version history. You play as a seal called Havoc. Your overriding task is to stop the evil Barnardo (also a seal) from obtaining the legendary gem called Emerelda. The stone being of mythical power and gives the owner significant powers in return. Havocs girlfriend Bridget has a map to the legendary stone and asks Havoc to hide it in a cliff face. This is all good and well until one of Bernardo’s henchmen find the map as well as kidnapping Bridget in the process. So, this is a classic rescue the princess and stop the bad guy from getting the emerald deal. It is literally as if the story writer wanted to combine the plots of Mario and Sonic. Still, it was enough for me to get straight in to the action… and what excellent action it is.
Havoc has a jump attack very similar to the classic sonic days. You’ll be jumping on enemies to squash them and get involved in very well executed platform action. The animation really is top notch in terms of smoothness and overall the gameplay is fantastically tight for this type of cute platformer. The enemy designs are somewhat unique and really bring the game to life. The graphics are bursting with colour and the soundtrack is also a pleasant listen. Along the way you’ll encounter fantastic set pieces, hidden areas, epic boss battles and brutally difficult areas of dexterity. I’m hoping that most of you are with me on this one when I say that Havoc is a brilliant platform game. So why do so few people know about it?
I would really like to give you a definitive answer but unfortunately I’m not sure there is one. It appears to just be one of those games that has slipped through the cracks over the years and has never had any type of re-release for newer gamer generations to find. However, there are a few reasons I can give to explain why High Seas Havoc may have never hit the big time with gamers. First off Is the franchise itself. When you think of 90’s platform games you’re unlikely to think Havoc the seal. Havoc was released in North America in August of 93, sandwiched between Sonic 2 of November 1992 and Sonic 3 of February 1994. If you were a Sega 16-bit owner in North America, not only was the game released at an inconvenient time but at a time when the platform genre really hit its stride on the console making Havoc a bit of a needle in a haystack. Add in to this the releases of the 32X and Sega CD, Sega gamers generally were generally spoilt for choice in terms of games selection and consoles to play.
The same story is true of the European release. Havoc was released to us in 1994 placing it in direct competition with Sonic 3. There was only ever one way that fight was going to end up. Secondly, the overall timing of the release. By 1994 we were looking to the PlayStation and Sega Saturn for the next generation of games. 2D was still cool but not as cool as the polygon games to come that we were really saving our pocket money for. Perhaps a third reason why Havoc missed the mark was the lack of momentum behind it. High Seas Havoc did actually start life as an arcade game although it’s highly unlikely that you played it due to the limited release and slowing down of the arcade culture. This leads on to the fourth reason you may not have played the game and that’s that Havoc was a Sega home exclusive. So if you were in camp Nintendo, sorry, this just wasn’t a game for you. Sega already had a long standing arrangement with Data East to convert many arcade games to the Sega Mega Drive and Genesis. With such a small title it’s highly unlikely that anyone other than Sega put up and fight for the home publishing rights of the game.
All, in all a whole melting pot of reasons why Havoc was hobbled before it even made it to the masses. However, even when it did there was a bit of a twist. The game actually had more than one release, what’s even more unusual is that it had more than one release on the same console in the same region. In Japan you’re most likely to know this one as Captain Lang. Some of the character names vary from the US / European and Australasian editions but overall the game is fairly much in line with the other regions. Now, here’s where things get a little bit confusing. Here in the UK we received 2 versions of the game: High Seas Havoc featuring a cartoon style box published by Codemasters and also a black edition known simply as Havoc with a more adult skull theme. Strange indeed for a game that would quite happily have been satisfied by a single release. I’m a complete Sega nerd so please don’t judge me for collecting both. There are German and French editions of the cartoon cover but essentially they are all the same game. However, hop over to Australia and you’ll be treated to the skull design. Now I couldn’t find any proof of this but my theory is that the Australian release didn’t sell well under the skull design. With there being no significant compatibility issues with the UK Mega Drive why not ship any excess stock back to the UK as we also have the same language. This would also explain the 2 cover variants in the UK whilst other non-English European territories had the single cartoon edition. However, things get even more complicated for this release. Over in Japan High Seas Havoc was self-published by Data East rather than Codemasters. We can tell this from the box and also the difference in the shape of the cartridges. Codemasters usually opting for the curved design by this point in time.
Now head over to the US and see that he game was also published by Data East and not Codemasters. You’ll also notice that the cover artwork has been mirrored. Interestingly this led to 3 names of the game, High Seas Havoc, Havoc and Captain Lang. This also means that for the Sega 16-bit consoles the game had 4 logo designs which may be a record for the system. Either way you carve this one up with the differences in name and publisher its no wonder collectors have been slow to get to grips with collecting this game. But it gets even more confusing when you get in to the detail of the game itself. If you own the European version you will start the game on the pirate ship. If you boot up the Data East version though you’ll start in a zone called Cape Sealph. OK, so process all this as you will. At the end of the day Havoc had a number of releases by various publishers with various artwork and game content.
So, let’s have a look at some buying options. First up the North American version from Data East. $54 + shipping with no manual, good grief. It’s a little bit painful but worth taking the hit as it is a great game that holds up well even today. Next up, the UK/Australian Havoc Black Box edition from Codemasters. Weighing in at $104 + shipping. That’s getting a bit serious. On the plus side I do have this version in my collection already. Ok, how about the standard UK release? Mother goose! Nearly $200! Things are getting even more serious. Good job I had this one covered off a couple of decades ago. Oh well, at least we can always rely on a cheaper Japanese import. Cool, free shipping. I mean, what! A bargain at just $453.
Oh my, that price tag is just incredible. Now you can see why collectors don’t often talk about this one. It’s because very few are willing to stump up the huge asking price. Money aside though Havoc really is a great game and it’s fallen in to the classic trap of being. A decent game, rare to a degree and in high demand for collectors of the genre. The end result is the perfect storm of a highly priced collectable. Now prices do fluctuate and condition is a large factor in some of these prices but I do feel that this one may hold its value for some time. Havoc is by no means an original game, what it is though is brilliantly executed. It looks very cute on the surface but at its heart there are some diabolical sections of game play. The sections that ask that you make leaps on to tiny platforms. The sections to master incoming boulders and split second timing on some bosses add up to a fantastic game.
As you might have gathered from the channel, I’ve played a lot of games over the years and there are some really great games out there. Havoc is most definitely one of them, it’s bright, lively, packed full of character and isn’t afraid to throw in some difficult sections of game play. It’s not quite a 16-bit Sonic killer but I must say that this game has never disappointed. It looks great, plays very smoothly and actually feels like a lot of effort went in to this one to make the game play flow but in a challenging way. Its arcade origins give it that extra finesse that is sometimes lacking in similar titles. Having a legacy of the arcade you’ll definitely experience the trap of slightly unfair deaths designed to swallow your coins but you’ll also get the satisfaction that practicing this one is genuinely a fun and rewarding experience. There’s a reason Havoc is an expensive game to collect and it really is based on its quality. If you are in a position to pick this one up then I can thoroughly recommend it. Although you may have to forego some other of life’s luxuries such as food, a roof over your head or even a kidney to afford it. Until next time, happy gaming.