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Shark Attack (Atari 2600) artwork

Shark Attack (Atari 2600) review


"It was clear that [the developer] didn't put much time, attention or care into their product, especially when you consider the oversized scuba sprite. A move like that bespeaks lazy and cheap development. In the end, you're left with little reason to play Shark Attack over the piles of more effective Pac-Man clones."



Shark Attack asset
Up from the depths...


For every big hit and revolutionary game, there exists a plethora of clones and cash-ins. Dig deeply enough under the piles of Pac-Man knock-offs and you're bound to happen upon 1981's Shark Attack (alternate title: Loch Jaw), a scuba diving adventure involving man-eating sharks and savage marine reptiles. Most gamers seem to think clones are inherently bad. Digging through scores of clones has taught me that they vary in quality, from better-than-the-original to red-headed stepchild. Shark Attack is latter, and it's no wonder why the game is obscure.

The Pac-Man maze is now a tangle of kelp, each dot is now a piece of treasure, and the pursuing specters are gone, replaced by a pterodactyl from Joust painted gray. We'll just call it a shark for short. You know the drill: collect all of the treasure and advance to the next maze, which looks exactly the same as the first. There's a twist, because you don't actually score any of the treasure unless you bring it to the cage in the middle of the maze. This is assuming you aren't munched in the process.

Shark Attack screenshotShark Attack screenshot


Unlike the ghosts, the shark doesn't chase you about the maze. Instead, it appears on one side and swims to the other, moving through walls. Anything in its path, namely you or treasure, will slip into its belly and suffer a slow, horrible fate in its digestive system. You will rue this fish's presence, but not because of the threat it poses. The game subjects you to a grating noise for every second the shark remains on the screen, like a lawnmower making love to a vacuum cleaner.

The shark is nothing compared to this game's Evil Otto. Poke around in the depths for too long and you're bound to piss off the Loch Ness Monster, represented by a poorly rendered swastika that races around the maze. Until I played this game, I was not aware that a plesiosaur could emit an ear-splitting wail like the most annoying car alarm on the planet. Suffice to say that you'll probably play this game with your TV muted.

I'm sure you can feel it now, that this game is slowly sinking with every paragraph. Were auditory irritation the worst of Shark Attack's transgressions, it would have gotten off easy.

Just moving around the maze is problematic. You'll encounter a gamut of impassible areas that look passable: corners where you'll become immobilized, passageways that appear wide enough but aren't, walls where you'll get stuck. Bump into a wall and you'll notice part of it turns blue. This is because your sprite is actually larger than it appears. The developer crafted a blue rectangle--same color as the watery background--and "painted" a scuba diver over it. It's tough to tell at first how large the intangible border around your diver is, and you'll needlessly struggle to traverse the maze.

You're left having to stop and reposition your sprite every time you round a corner. Traveling around the labyrinth is a slow, clunky process where it should be quick and intense. Pac-Man games utilize such a basic core concept that it requires a fast pace, lest it become a tedious, frustrating, and completely uninteresting affair.

Deep in this loch of flaws lies one little piece of treasure: that the game has a few tense moments. There are times when a shark or monster will approach you and there appears to be nowhere to swim. You can't afford to die because you have a ton of treasure. You try to round a corner to escape, only you snag and panic as the murderous sprite draws closer. You wriggle free, reposition, and miss becoming lunch by a pixel. You sigh and realize this tense moment could have been avoided had the collision detection issues been properly addressed, and in the end you don't feel as satisfied as you should. In other words, the one perk this game has is accidental brilliance.

Clones like Shark Attack might cause you to ponder how someone could biff it on such a simple game when the formula was practically written for them. It's admirable that developer Apollo decided to start from the ground up rather than copy and paste, but at the same time they probably would have been better off had they fully cloned. It was clear that they didn't put much time, attention or care into their product, especially when you consider the oversized scuba sprite. A move like that bespeaks lazy and cheap development. In the end, you're left with little reason to play Shark Attack over the piles of more effective Pac-Man clones. Just leave it at the bottom of the loch and move on.

Rating: 3/10

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (May 03, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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qxz posted May 03, 2012:

From the review:

Unlike the ghosts, the shark doesn't chase you about the maze. Instead, it appears on one side and swims to the other, moving through walls. Anything in its path, namely you or treasure, will slip into its belly and suffer a slow, horrible fate in its digestive system.


Yeesh! You'd think that, with a steady diet of golden doubloons and bouillon, a shark wouldn't even be able to stay afloat, let alone swim.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 04, 2012:

Yeah, well, plausibility isn't this game's strong suit. Just the idea of a man-eating shark or a reptile living in Loch Ness is questionable. Maybe less so in the case of the former, as a bull shark might be able to get into Loch Ness via River Ness. I'm no marine biologist, though.

They could have gone with something actually found in the loch, but Sturgeon Attack just doesn't have the same ring.

EDIT:
Scratch that. Loch Ness is too cold for bull sharks.
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overdrive posted May 04, 2012:

I've always thought that plausibility never was the 2600's strong suit. Most of the time, I got the idea that designers kept a room full of first graders on hand to get their ideas from.

LEAD DESIGNER: "Billy, what do you think would be a cool game?"

STUPID KID: "Getting goodies from a lake while sharks and stuff get you!!!!"

LEAD DESIGNER: "Hooo-kayyyyy...we'll work on that one. Now, Sally, how about you?"

STUPID KID II: "I wuv E.T.! Make E.T. a game!!!!"

LEAD DESIGNER: "Oh boy, with this system, this isn't going to turn out well... *sigh* Whatever, we'll give it a go after we rush out these 15 shoddy arcade-to-2600 ports..."
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zippdementia posted May 04, 2012:

More accurately, the ET conversation went like this:

"Hey guys, what can we spend almost no development dollars on and yet hope to make back millions?"

ANSWER: Anything with Steven Speilberg's name on it.

"Right, get on that."

IRONIC REALITY: They didn't secure the rights until five weeks before delivery and it ended up costing them 125 million dollars to make. That's high even today.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 04, 2012:

Implausibility isn't exactly friends with retro gaming in general, considering the moments where you have to:

-Kill a giant octopus with a yo-yo
-Fend off entire armies of gutter punks chiefly using your fists and feet
-Contend with bats and raptors so powerful they can blow you back a full twelve feet
-Defeat enemies by jumping on them or throwing rocks at them

I could go on for ages...
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zippdementia posted May 04, 2012:

To be fair, if somebody literally JUMPED ON MY HEAD, I would probably be out for the count, too.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 04, 2012:

Yeah, true. Especially if the guy is a heavy set Italian wearing big black boots.

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