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Overboard is a galleon-crazy single and multi-player game that's stuffed to the gills with maritime mayhem. With luscious 3D accelerator enhanced graphics, the view from the crow's nest is always bright and clear.
  • Weapons include cannons, rockets, broadsides, mines, depth charges, oil slicks, lighting and flame throwers.
  • Puzzles and obstacles including Kamikaze fish, Sadistic Sharks and Killer Parrots, plus shoot 'em up action.
  • 5 player Battles of the Brine across ten specially designed levels using linked Microsoft Sidewinder joypads.
~ from the back of the box

Gauntlet on a pirate ship is an intriguing concept, and way back in 1997, Psygnosis ran with it by developing Overboard!, or Shipwreckers! to give it its American name. At the time, it received mixed reviews but I'm not too sure those who wrote it got got that Gauntlet comparison. GameSpot compared it to Sid Meier's Pirates - a strategy game - while Electronic Gaming Monthly bizarrely put it up against the puzzle platformer The Lost Vikings. To compare it to those more thoughtful gaming genres and you're bound to be disappointed. Overboard! is an arcade actioner through and through.

It is also very British. Made by Whellhaus, one of Psygnosis in-house development teams based in Stroud, it exudes the kind of quaint light-heartedness found in Bullfrog titles at the time. In fact, when I first read about it in a PlayStation magazine I had thought the people behind Theme Hospital and Dungeon Keeper were involved. You play as a pirate ship sailing the seas searching for treasure, defeating increasingly inventive maritime vessels. The ship is rather zippy and controls decently enough with the keyboard, but even if you feel they don't, you can easily remap them in the options menu.

Claim seaside ports for the pirates, and gain a checkpoint with some bonus power-ups too (left).
These swirling whirlpools mark the end of the stage (right).

The arrow keys move you about in a tank-like fashion; up arrow accelerate, left and right turns. To attack, you have two buttons; < and >. Depending on the weapon selected, they could do the same thing but the best weapons shoot out at either side of the ship. A spread of three Cannonballs, for example, can down an unsuspecting sailboat in one while a nicely aimed Flame Thrower can give them a long death.

You'll have to collect these weapons again each time you load up a game. It's no use to just pick up the ammo, which are represented as floating crates with the weapon icon painted on it, but you'll need to hunt down the gun itself. These are represented as a polygonal token somewhere on the map and their worth picking up. It may take 5 or six cannonballs to take down a regular galleon with your basic weapon, but significantly less with a zap of Lightning. Select them on the nautical telegraph wheel on the top left by pressing J or K.

Use you rockets to attack flying enemies or hit airborne switches (left).
Some power-ups give you instant though temporary abilities such as flight (right).

Some enemies require a specialised weapon to defeat. You'll have to hunt down rockets to attack airborne attackers, or unleash Depth Charges to tack the pesky underwater ones. It is here where the first major issue with the gameplay arises. If you don't have these weapons, you'll just have to constantly dodge them until you can fight back. Even with a means of attack, it's all too easy to get overwhelmed with a swarming fleet making survival almost impossible. Make no mistake, those cute and vibrant visuals hide a brutally difficult game underneath.

The difficulty mars what could otherwise be a very entertaining game. The levels are long and maze-like, but are decent enough to guide your ship through. Traps such as giant buzz saws or closing walls offer decent variety while offensive turrets and towers all have a tactic to destroy them, but the designers felt a need to pummel you with multiple enemies at once. Each of them require a different and conflicting tactic and the close camera means a particularly nasty hit can catch you off guard, quickly draining your health.

Press Space to take a look at the map (left). Reveal more of it by collecting floating bottles (right).

You can regain health, but it's not easy. Claim a town for the pirates by swapping out its flag will give you a couple of pick-ups (as well as a handy checkpoint), but you'll have to clear the area first. You can also pick up stranded sailors for a small health boost. They will jump from burning ships including your own which makes your Flame Thrower the weapon of choice for this reason alone. After a while, it does become repetitive with little substantive variation between the twenty levels. There is a multiplayer mode, which can be played locally, but I have yet to try it. It apparently has a party game vibe, which I can see could play very well.

So, Overboard! is a bit of a mixed bag. The Gauntlet gameplay is decent but not particularly balanced well enough to ease it out frustration. It has a style and premise that has always intrigued me, but it simply doesn't follow that up with gameplay. If you can handle the difficulty, you might get a lot more out of it, but the increasingly uninspired level design will still stop it from being anything other than average.

To download the PC game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses dgVoodoo and _inmm.dll to run on modern systems. Both the UK release of Overboard! and the US release of Shipwreckers! are part of the package. Manual included. Read the ChamberNotes.txt for more detailed information. Tested on Windows 10.
  13.02.2023 - Version 2 - Updated dgVoodoo config to limit framerate.
                                         Fixed bouncing boat bug.
                                         Those who've downloaded version 1 can just use "OBD-Patch_v2.zip" instead.

File Size: 228 Mb.  Install Size: 309 Mb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ


Overboard! (aka Shipwreckers!) is © Psygnosis Ltd
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me

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  1. Geysers height in this game depends on the framerate, the higher the framerate, the lower they launch you. 60FPS breaks at least two levels because the geysers don't launch you far enough. So those must be played at 30FPS. The rest of the game is a bit more difficult at 60FPS (cannon rate is higher), but can be completed fine.

    1. That could be the reason why I found it that bit too hard! You can cap the FPS in dgVoodoo so I've added a patch that will hopefully solve it.

  2. This one was rather notorious for its inclusion on one of the more widely-circulated playstation demo discs, I believe. Along with Karushi and Toomba, it certainly gave me an impression of the system as having an eclectic selection of games.

    1. That's where I first played it too. I believe it was a promo disc with a load of Psygnosis games on it, but I'm sure I had a magazine cover disc too. I believe I had this one:


  3. Fun fact - in Poland, in the late '90s and early '00s, there were several TV shows where you could call the studio and play games (or play with real construction toys) via the DTMF of your home phone (many people still had rotary dials). One such game was Overboard (one wonders if such use was "legal"). The most popular was Hugo, a franchise somewhat popular in Europe. The delays between the caller and the studio were corresponding to the physical distance, so many players were handicapped and didn't even pass the basic mini-games.

    1. I don't know if the same is true for Overboard here in the UK, but the first Hugo was definitely used in the Saturday Morning kids block. I vividly remember the handcar on a train track but IIRC the game itself wasn't out here at least when it first aired.

  4. How do you fix the no music issue?