SOS: An Engaging, Cinematic Disaster Experience on your SNES

When I first picked up SOS, I was already a big fan of 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure, starring Gene Hackman and the late, great Ernest Borgnine. I knew going in that no other SNES game I had played thus far would be anything like it, but nothing prepared me for the emotional visual and auditory onslaught that awaited me once I hit Power.

After being greeted by an ominous underwater panorama accompanied by some of the most dramatic intro music that I’ve ever heard, I hit Start and was met with a mighty image of what my Titanic-obsessed father pounded into my head as an “unsinkable ship” (yeah, right)! All hail the mighty Lady Crithania, amirite? I can already smell the starchy ascots and $2,000 cognac from here!

What I wasn’t ready for was the subsequent character select screen. I have a choice who to die as?! Wow. Not everyone that you can play as are spry chickens, mind you…the four characters that you can choose from are:

Capris Wisher, an architect by trade, shackled with taking care of his sickly sister during his relaxing cruise (the nerve!).

Redwin Gardner, a middle-aged counselor traveling with a mother, her two children and nephew (get Maury Povich on the horn, stat!).

Jeffrey Howell, an elderly psychiatrist traveling for leisure with is equally elderly wife (no mistress in sight though, sorry).

Luke Haines, a crewman who finds himself doubting the ship’s ability to navigate the impending storm, much to his boss’s chagrin (hey, work sucks).

After making my initial selection (I think I chose Redwin), I found myself engaging in small talk with random NPCs and being treated to some crucial character backstory. During the latter, you begin to get a sense of where your character’s heads are at.

Capris languishes over the dilemma of caring for his ill sibling, Redwin gets smashed with some casino rats, Jeffrey gets pressured to dance with his wife much to his playful dismay, and Luke gets into it with his arrogant, stalwart superior (who will soon eat his words).

Regardless of who you pick, after some wandering around, a horrific shakeup occurs, the ship is hit by a ginormous wave, and everything turns RED! After a brief period of unconsciousness, you awake to any OCD architect’s worst nightmare: water is pouring in at a catastrophic rate, everything is upside down and bodies litter the floor.

Your goal is to work your way to the ship’s boiler room in less than one hour, but nothing is ever simple as that in the great world of video games! You can choose to save yourself, or bring up to seven survivors with you. Bringing along a certain NPC and some other survivors will increase your points and influence the ending that you’ll receive, but they come with their own challenges.

The NPCs in SOS have questionable AI at best, and will stupidly jump around in circles or otherwise trip over their own two feet trying to reach you. Planning ahead and moving slowly is crucial if you plan on saving anyone besides yourself, and you’ll certainly have your work cut out for you.

The road to the boiler room is convoluted, twisting and packed with obstacles such as falling chairs, fire splintered floors, cascading ceiling tiles of death and upside-down staircases straight out of an Orwellian Wonderland nightmare.

And if those aren’t bad enough, the floor continually tilts thanks to the endless barrage of icy cold death filling its chambers. The ship’s initial tilts typically don’t exceed 20 degrees, but after 30 minutes, the ship will begin going FULL VERTICAL!

Even the tiniest miscalculation in your jump can spell death, but when the Crithania goes straight up and down, I guarantee that you’ll mess your underoos while listening to the tormented scream of your character as they plummet to the floor, followed by the sickening thump of their body striking the ground at maximum velocity.

But wait, it gets worse…much worse…try listening to the heartwrenching shrieks of your fellow survivors who miss their target (some of who may be children) being cut short by the sound of their fast-moving meat sack hitting the deck.

Going one even further, if one dies in a catastrophic meeting with the floor, the rest will follow suit, as the AI simply follows whatever trajectory the first survivor set, even if it leads to certain doom. Would you still have the gumption to escape if you had to listen to all seven of your survivors fall to their deaths one by one?

But not to worry…even the most egregious of injuries only robs you, the main character, of 5 minutes off of the hour afforded to escape (which is hidden unless you “die”). Your fellow survivors don’t have this luxury and are permanently lost once they hit the floor, so planning your jumps effectively and grabbing their hand (TAP Y like a wildman!) before they rocket past you becomes crucial to their survival.

Bear in mind that if you get knocked out, your survivors may or may not be nearby. Depending on where you wake up, they may be right next to you or a few rooms away. This can be very frustrating if you’re close to the end and have a full stable of survivors, so do your best not to get hit! And speaking of those sometimes wacky survivors…

While some NPCs will gladly go with you, others will resist your offer unless you fulfill certain conditions (write a note with lipstick, save a violin, you know, the usual…). Learning how to effectively respond to prompts using the B and Y buttons is the best way to convince others to join you, but sometimes, even the kindest words will fall on deaf ears.

For example, some NPCs will attempt to convince your fellow survivors to change course, AKA removing them from your control and leaving you alone!. Talk about a bum deal…at least you have some calming music to put your mind at ease, right? Just kidding!

SOS will tick on about every insecurity and self-doubt you’ve long harbored (nurtured?) through an engaging and hopelessness-inducing audio assault. From the sound of rushing water accompanying a brain-wringing bass boomer to the percussion-filled finale of the boiler room, SOS will have you truly believing that you’re in imminent danger of drowning… if the hypothermia doesn’t take you first!

The ship goes full vertical once you hit the boiler room, and you know it’s about to get real when the boiler EXPLODES and literally rains fire from above! Randomly falling flames, blinding thermal waves and precarious jumps while dodging it all will have you questioning your sanity as you push towards the exit.

So do I like SOS? More than words can adequately describe! Is it a perfect game? Absolutely not. However, my only beefs with this amazing game are the sometimes spotty yet forgivable Engrish, and the NPC AI.

A more comprehensive control scheme would have resolved the latter issue, but again, this is also forgivable once you get used to the controls. I learned that going through a door with the shoulder (summon) button held down will typically move your survivors into the next room with you. If not, it’s easy enough to go back and get them…right? 😉

So in summary for those who need it spelled out for them:

Music: Simply put, amazing. I played the soundtrack for a friend recently who had never played it and he later commented how he wanted to play the game simply after listening to it. YouTube it…it’s absolutely magical!

Sound: Human Entertainment has always been a favorite of mine (Clock Tower!), and they didn’t disappoint here. Thunks, thuds, screams, rushing water and flames are all intricately woven into SOS’s rich tapestry and are an absolute treat to listen to. However, I don’t think that I was ever the same after hearing the terrified screams of those falling children. One word: haunting.

Graphics: Nothing to write home about while in-game, but serviceable. Everything is scaled perfectly and there’s a distinct difference between first and third class floors. While you may not be able to count the wrinkles in Jeffrey’s furrowed brow, you’ll know where you are and will remind you that yes, you are in fact on a capsized luxury liner on a fast track to the briny bowels of Davy Jones’ Locker!

Replayability: Given the multiple endings, characters and exploration aspect, I’d say that SOS will be one of those games that you’d want to play over and over again. What survivors will net you the most points? Is there a quicker way to the boiler room? Could that sour conversation with a disgruntled survivor have gone better? Get in there, find out and you’ll see what I mean!

Overall: As much as I enjoy SOS, it’s not without its flaws. What I consider “unforgivable” may not be so for younger players. The AI system takes time to get used to, and newer gamers may not have the patience to figure it out. However, for those who are willing to get past the slight learning curve, you will find that SOS is a thrilling, emotional rollercoaster of a game well ahead of its time. You will not find a game quite like it, and if you dig exploration and character development, you owe it to yourself to try SOS at least once.

Intended Site:

Rejection Reason: Tech_Filler

Rejection Detail: A review should focus solely on the content of the game rather than the technical aspects of the game. System specs or laundry lists of any particular content of the game (such as characters, items, weapons, song lists, etc) should be avoided. If a particular character, item, etc is worth mention, it should be mentioned within a standard written paragraph rather than just listed as being in the game.

Total number of edits: 2

Visit my page over on GameFAQs to see the contributions that did make the cut!

Wanna see some gameplay? Check out Project SOS on YouTube. Runs are currently up for both Luke and Capris!

If you’d like to pony up and have your own physical copy of SOS, copies are available on both Amazon and eBay.

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