The Video Game Critic's
Updated August 2014
I understand many readers plan to celebrate Shark Week by climbing into one of those cages and submerging themselves in shark-infested waters. It may seem reasonable but I personally believe this course of action is ill-advised. It has been demonstrated that the cages can collapse under the force of a great white shark. With that in mind I would advise you to interact with sharks the way I do - through the magic of video games. I think you'll find it's just as exciting and arguably more realistic. To get you in the spirit I put together this page containing shark-related game reviews of varying quality that I've written over the years. All of these games are related sharks in some way or another, and one common thread I've noticed is that most exhibit a propensity to suck. Apparently it's really hard to make a decent shark game, so play these at your own risk.
Shark! Shark! (Intellivision 1982) Grade: A
Sharks have fascinated me since my childhood. I'd pretty much buy any
game with "shark" in the title; so one with "shark" mentioned twice
(with exclamation points no less) is clearly a "must have". Over time this underrated game has become one of my all-time favorites. Perfect to play on a hot summer day, the action takes place in the cool blue depths of the ocean, where you control a tiny yellow fish. Other fish of all shapes, colors, and sizes swim across the screen as crabs and lobsters creep through the swaying seaweed below. Your goal is to consume other fish of lesser or equal size, which gradually increases the size of your fish. Ominous tones indicate the approach of the large, menacing shark. He's an intimidating adversary, but he can
be defeated. If you nip at his tail enough times, he will eventually die and sink to the ocean floor. But don't toy with him - the shark will turn and snap you up in a heartbeat! As your fish grows bigger and more powerful, you become a larger target for other creatures like jellyfish and seahorses. Other fish will also eat each other, and shellfish even jump up to grab low-swimming fish. It's a challenge to grow your fish to full size, and after you die you return to your original size. The game is enormously fun and addicting, thanks to intuitive controls that allow you to dash ahead or stop on a dime. Audio effects include realistic bubble sounds and harmonized music. Shark! Shark! is a killer game, and it even features a two-player simultaneous mode.
As a huge fan of the original movie, I was hoping this video game might capture some of the tension and suspense that made the film so great. No such luck! Jaws plays like a second-rate shooter, and an annoying one at that. You begin by guiding your boat around an overhead map. Unlike the film where the characters were stranded in the open ocean, the sea is chock full of islands and rocky areas, making it look more like a maze. The controls that guide your boat are awkward, making it easy to take a wrong turn. Periodically you're alerted that "you've hit something", causing a "diver screen" to appear as your character is tossed into the water underneath the boat. Manta rays, jellyfish, and occasionally sharks move back and forth across the screen, and shooting these creatures yields sea shells and bonus points. Should you gather enough shells, you can trade them in for "power-ups" at the ports. In time, you'll gain enough power to face down Jaws, but it's a very lengthy and repetitive process. You'll have numerous run-ins with Jaws in the meantime, but he's not very intimidating and surprisingly easy to avoid. The most annoying aspect of this game is how it constantly kicks you back to that damn diver screen, especially as you're just about to reach a port. A bonus stage lets you drop bombs on jellyfish from a plane flying over the water, offering a nice change of pace. Jaws might hook you for a little while, but extended play will have you wondering if this game is really worth your time.
Oceans Below (3DO 1993)
An old 3DO magazine ad suggested that playing this game would cause the ocean to pour forth from your television set, flooding your living room and leaving you with an octopus on your lap. "It's the closest you'll ever come to diving without getting wet!" Not wanting to take any chances, before playing Oceans Below I put on a wet suit, snorkel, and flippers, only to look like an ass when my in-laws stopped by unannounced. As it turns out, the "interactive experience" is more like browsing the special feature menu of a DVD. You simply navigate graphical menus with a cursor and click on fish for more information. Sure, there are some videos of people diving or conveying safety tips, but these small, grainy video clips hardly convey the "20,000 leagues under the sea" experience I had in mind. You begin by choosing one of the numerous worldwide dive locations, and are presented with a composite photograph showing a static ocean floor. Then can then scroll around the picture and click on objects, which initiate short but informative videos explaining what the heck you just clicked on. There are over 200 clips, and thankfully they tend to be short, although the picture quality should have been better. Occasionally you'll stumble across tiny pieces of "not-so-buried treasure", but it's not too exciting. I suppose you could learn something from this CD, especially if you're interested in diving, but the loading time really ruined it for me. In the end, it's just another failed 3DO experiment.
Treasure Cove (Bally Astrocade 1983)
The third-party title boasts one of the best title screens you'll see in a classic game (granted, there's not much competition). It features a huge sunken pirate ship surrounded by fish, a shark, and an octopus. Treasure is scattered over the sea floor, and a submarine lurks in the background. A series of harmonized tunes play over and over, and most have a nice swashbuckling vibe. The game itself isn't bad either! Treasure Cove puts you in control of a diver who must fetch coins from the sea floor and return them to a boat on the surface. In the process you must avoid touching the multi-colored fish, turtles, octopus, crabs, and sea horses that swim across the screen. Each stage introduces a new form of aquatic life, and there are over 20 in all! It's fun to see what each new round has in store, but I find it odd how even the tiniest
fish are fatal to touch. Beware of the deadly sea guppy!
There's also a funny looking blue fish with a long nose that my friends affectionately refer to as a sea elephant.
Your diver moves slowly and has limited oxygen, but you can pick up the pace by holding in the fire button. Treasure Cove's gameplay is simplistic but encourages a degree of risk-taking. Be sure to stay near the middle of the screen, because new fish will suddenly appear a good inch or two away from the edge of the screen. Treasure Cove's colorful graphics features a blue sky and a green sea, with objects so detailed you can even make out your diver's scuba gear! The game moves along at a leisurely pace, but it's not a bad way to cool off during the summer.
Jaws Unleashed (Xbox 2006)
Poorly conceived and practically unplayable, Jaws Unleashed is an unmitigated disaster
. As a huge fan of the movie, I was licking my chops at the thought of a video game adaptation, but nothing could have prepared me for this abomination. The novel concept of controlling the shark
may have seemed promising on paper, but in fact it's no fun at all. What made the movie so great was the suspense and tension created by the fact that you never knew when or where the shark would appear. When you are
the shark, there's no excitement at all. Yeah, you can bump boats and bite swimmers, but that gets old the second time you do it! And the game's programming is as shoddy as its design. In terms of graphics, this looks like a first generation PS2 game. The default "behind-the-shark" camera angle makes it impossible to judge distance. A shark cage will appear to be 50 feet away, when in fact you're right up against it! The preponderance of tight spaces doesn't help either. The first-person view is equally useless, as you can never tell what the hell is going on. The game's tutorial actually made me feel nauseous
, and at one point my shark actually became stuck
in a pier! Apparently the programmers anticipated this predicament, and included a "restore from last checkpoint" option on the menu. But wait - it gets worse. The initial objective of the first stage is to "find an ID card to open the gate". Huh? Is this Jaws or freakin' Splinter Cell?! The controls are heinous. You can never direct your "tail-whip" in the proper direction, and the simple act of eating a person is utterly confusing. Did I swallow that guy, or did he just escape?! Your objectives are rarely updated, often leaving your shark lost and bewildered. Worst of all, you're saddled with an irritating "hunger meter" that causes your shark to suddenly die
if he doesn't eat something every two minutes. In general, you'll find your shark going belly-up all the time for no apparent reason. Does Jaws Unleashed offer any redeeming qualities? Well, the little factoids about the original movie that scroll by during the load screens are interesting. Also, the audio is quite good, especially when it comes to recreating those muffled, underwater effects. But nothing can possibly redeem this despicable mess. ET for the Atari 2600 may have been bad, but I'd prefer it to Jaws Unleashed any day. This may well be the worst video game of all time.
Shark Hunter (Odyssey 2 2006)
This previously unreleased prototype was only recently made available to the general public. Shark Hunter has caused a bit of a stir with its impressive graphics and rich gameplay. I don't believe I've ever played anything quite like
this before! You control a fisherman jumping between rafts in shark-infested waters, protected your "fishing net" (a grid on the right side of the screen). Sharks swim around and randomly chomp on the net, creating holes that allow other sharks to enter the screen. You can repair the net as necessary, and each wave is cleared by spearing all of the sharks. The controls are intuitive and responsive. Holding down the fire button while moving the joystick lets you "aim" at 45-degree angles, and releasing the button throws the spear. It's also easy to jump between rafts and run along the shore. Holes in the net are repaired by swimming over them, but obviously this places you in danger of being eaten, and you only get one life. I like how the sharks munch on the rafts, and it's suspenseful when your fisherman slowly climbs out of the water and onto dry ground. Ten skill levels are included. Shark Hunter is surprisingly sophisticated, but as is often the case, that doesn't necessarily translate into fun. The game is interesting but not especially addictive. The spear chucking is inexact, and once sharks break through the net, it's hard to complete the stage. Still, Odyssey 2 fans looking for something new to sink their teeth into should be pleasantly surprised by this newly unearthed gem.
Endless Ocean (Wii 2008)
I think I just discovered the perfect game for old people!
Endless Ocean is slow and plodding, with no elements of challenge or danger. As a bonus, the game features a lot of tranquil songs that would make Celine Dion proud. I can understand why Nintendo would want to offer a gentle, educational title for the Wii, but did they really have to make it so boring?
As a fan of undersea documentaries, I was totally psyched up for some deep-sea exploration, but Endless Ocean feels entirely too scripted. You play a diver on a boat in the South Pacific, accompanied by a very unattractive woman scientist. I find it a little ironic how this woman yammers away about "loving the outdoors" and "never wanting to work in an office", yet the first thing she tells you to do is go into the cabin to check your email! Email?!
I bought this game to experience the magic of the sea, not to weed through newsletters and spam! Ugh! And that's not the only contradiction in this game. The title would seem to imply boundless exploration possibilities, yet the dive areas are quite constrained and your activities seem regimented. Expect to see this message a lot: "You're leaving the target dive area. You must go back". The underwater graphics are semi-realistic, but not impressive. Instead of expansive true-to-life environments, you get a lot of artificial gorges that lead you by the nose to your next objective. Educational details are provided about fish you discover, but only if you feed them or fondle them repeatedly. Beautiful, serene music plays throughout the game, making it feel surreal at times. Staying awake can be a problem though. Occasionally you'll encounter something interesting like a whale or hammerhead shark, but when I tried to harass the shark, he completely ignored me! Where's the realism!? I just wanted to be eaten alive - is that asking too much?! Since you can't be devoured by sharks, Endless Ocean is a colossal waste of time. Did I learn anything? Only that the ocean is very small, and sharks are not dangerous.
Marine Fishing (Dreamcast 2000)
Sega Bass Fishing was an excellent early Dreamcast title, and this sequel improves on it in many ways. In Bass Fishing, all you could catch was bass, but in Marine Fishing, 15 different varieties of fish are available, including blue marlin, sailfish, tuna, and Mako shark! Unlike Bass Fishing where it was easy to catch a fish, these fish battle you to the bitter end, making it more satisfying when you haul one in. The scenic fishing spots are large and wide open. You can post your catches on-line, and even save your fish in your own personal aquarium. There are mini games and over 200 bonus items to unlock. Be sure to use Sega's Fishing Rod controller for maximum fun and realism. Marine Fishing may be the best fishing game I've ever played.
Shark Attack (Atari 2600 1982)
Looking like an underwater version of Pac-Man, Shark Attack is terribly unimaginative and its gameplay bites!
The visuals don't look so bad with inviting blue water and some nice tropical island scenery. The green "reef" maze is unusual in shape, with a lot of odd nooks and crannies. Your yellow diver must collect dots scattered randomly around the maze, but to score he'll need to return them to the "shark cage" in the center of the screen. If that's a shark cage, why do sharks swim right though it?
Most of the game's variations have to do with how the cage's doors open, which is totally inconsequential. The poorly-rendered sharks look like gray blobs swimming across the screen. But what truly kills this game are its aggravating controls. You are constantly
getting hung up on the walls and poor collision detection makes it difficult to squeeze through narrow openings. Sometimes it seems like an invisible wall
is in your way! The four corners of the maze are supposed to be "portals", but you'll have to wrestle with the joystick to get them to register. Occasionally you're chased all over the place by a "Loch Ness Monster" who looks suspiciously like a pink octopus!
The sound effects in this game are crazy. When a shark enters he sounds like a giant stomping around. Shark Attack had the makings of a respectable budget title, but it couldn't even get the basics right. Note: This game was originally released by Apollo as "Lockjaw" in 1981.
Shark Alert (Philips CD-i 1993)
I've had a fascination with sharks since I was a little kid. I still enjoy watching those documentaries on the Discovery Channel, although they always downplay the danger of sharks, spouting useless statistics like "more people are killed ever year in steamroller accidents than by shark attacks". Whatever. If you have any interest in sharks at all, you'll like this educational CD called Shark Alert. It's like a comprehensive, well-produced documentary that's been chopped into specific categories you can browse through. By navigating the DVD-like menus, you can view information about feeding habits, shark history, hydromechanics, and reasons why sharks attack. Naturally my curiosity took me straight to the shark attack section, but there really isn't a whole lot to see. Most of the material is narration over still photos. There's an occasional small video clip, but in general the lack of video footage is disappointing. Even so, there's enough information here to keep you "surfing" for some time. I was especially fascinated by the tiny Pigmy Shark and the hideous Goblin Shark. The CD contains a full index of all the different types of sharks, and there's also a "Food Chain" section that lets you see what might happen if any layer of the chain were eliminated. A trivia game is tossed in, but the cartoonish presentation makes it more suitable for kids. Shark Alert serves its purpose as an informative tool, but it could have been better.
Ecco The Dolphin (Genesis 1992)
Ecco the Dolphin was critically acclaimed in 1992, and hailed as the first of a new breed of games that would eschew violence in favor of constructive, thought-provoking gameplay (Ha!
). Ecco is more puzzle game than arcade game, with spectacular water effects and a brilliantly colorful undersea world. Your dolphin's movement is silky smooth, and swimming around in the open sea and jumping out of the water is fun in of itself. The goal of each stage is not immediately apparent, but you'll discover hints by "talking" to other sea creatures you encounter. You'll open passages, save other dolphins, avoid deadly sharks, and eventually destroy an "ancient evil" in the grand finale. Your 25-stage journey will even take you through back through time to the lost city of Atlantis. It's fun to see what each new stage has in store. The difficulty level is ideal, providing plenty of challenge but little in the way of frustration. A password is provided at the end of each stage. In addition to its gorgeous graphics, Ecco's music is also amazing, with sometimes ominous yet mostly relaxing undersea tones. Action-oriented gamers may find Ecco a bit tedious, but ultimately this is a very satisfying adventure.
Water Ski (Atari 7800 1988)
I spent literally years
trying to track down a copy of this ultra-rare title. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much. I mean, Froggo doesn't have the best track record as a game publisher, and rare games typically aren't very good. But Water Ski proves an exception to the rule with its innovative controls and highly original gameplay. The game opens with some of the worst noise ever produced by an electronic device. That's supposed to be a theme song?
Thankfully, once you start playing the audio is limited to the gentle hum of your motorboat. Water Ski's graphics boast a great deal of detail with oversized boats and grassy shorelines. Your water skier is a pale dude in green shorts whose feet appear that to be on fire
(oh wait, that's just yellow water splashing up). The river course is strewn with rocks, logs, and ramps. You'll use the joystick to steer the boat and press the two buttons to move your skier left and right. It takes some getting used to doing two things at once, but eventually I grew to like the scheme. Although jumping ramps nets you big points (10K a pop), finding a route through the debris-laden water is difficult enough! Your boat moves continuously up the screen, and while you can increase its speed by pushing up, I have no idea why anyone would want to do such a thing. Water Ski is relentlessly difficult, and just making it to the second stage (out of three) took all the skill I could muster. I lasted all of three seconds in the shark-infested waters of level two. The top score remains posted at the top of the screen at all times, egging you on to give it "one more try". Interesting in concept and hard as nails, Water Ski proved to be well worth the wait.
Name This Game (Atari 2600 1982)
This bizarre cartridge was released around the time of the video game crash of '83, and it gives some insight into just how disposable
video games were considered at the time. The full name of this cartridge is "Name This Game and Win $10,000". This goes beyond tacky. This is "guess your age" carnival stuff. It's the freakshow
of video games, and a permanent scar on US Games. How many people even remember the game itself? You play a diver swimming above the ocean floor with a huge black octopus and menacing sharks preventing you from returning to your boat. Dude, you are in a world
of hurt! Your buddy on the surface occasionally drops down an oxygen line, but most of the time he's too busy goofing off! Just look at him clowning around in your boat! The pixelated octopus has tentacles that "grow" towards you and these must be shot off. Chomping sharks move side-to-side down the screen (one at a time), and they are rendered nicely. You can fire rapidly at the sea creatures above, and I'd strongly advise holding down the fire button. This game may not sound bad, but there's minimal strategy and the gameplay is monotonous to say the least! Name This Game is just plain lousy, and all the gimmicks in the world couldn't help it.
Jaws: Ultimate Predator (Wii 2011)
A few years back I played a really bad Jaws game called Jaws Unleashed (Xbox, 2005), which was about as fun as being consumed by an actual shark. Ultimate Predator is equally unpleasant. The opening cut-scene has still pictures with voice-overs. The characters are real actors processed by computers to give them a "painted" look. It's a bizarre effect that screams "low budget". You view the action from behind your shark, not unlike Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future (Dreamcast, 2000). It seems reasonable that you can dart forward, bite, and swat with your tail. After all, this is the kind of stuff sharks do in their free time. Less convincing are moves like "block" and the ability to perform "combos". Umm... is this a fighting game?!
The bloated control scheme even incorporates a targeting system and a "shark sense" which transforms the entire screen into split pea soup (ugh). Short missions let you do stuff like maul divers, kill squid, and destroy boats. It sounds like a lot more fun than it is. Instead of ripping off limbs and ramming boats, you just kind of thrash around until your victims magically disappear. You wouldn't even be able to tell if you were dealing damage if the divers didn't blink red! The collision detection is pathetic, and the horrendous camera makes it hard to see what's going on. Where is the gore? Where's the bloody carnage?! Even kids will regard this as super lame. It's bug-ridden as well, as I discovered when I became hopelessly stuck in the opening tutorial!
Jaws Ultimate Predator is a bad game that preys on unsuspecting customers. Stay out of the water.