In Shark Tale, Activision has put together an adventure game for the XBox that is based on the recently released Dreamworks CGI movie of the same name. Forgive the water metaphor, but on the surface this game appears smoothly assembled with graphics and audio that look and sound fantastic. Yet, dive beneath the surface, and you will find a game with some major gaping whirlpools in its gameplay.
You play through the game as Oscar, the animated star of the Shark Tale film. Oscar is a little fish who likes to talk big. You basically follow him through the ensuing adventures that transpire after he wrongly takes credit for the death of a shark – that just so happened to be the son of the local mob boss. These adventures take form through four basic types of gameplay; you have adventure levels, races, fights, and dance challenges that have a distinct Dance Dance Revolution feel to them.
The opening level begins with a race, where Oscar is basically trying to escape from a great white shark that is chasing him. You have limited control over Oscar during the race, he is on a preset course and your only responsibility is to quickly push left, right, up, or down when an on-screen green arrow prompts you to do so. Doing this causes Oscar to dodge the onrushing shark trying to take a rather large bite out of him. Although this level progressively gets harder the further you advance, it is still fairly easy and lacking in worthy gameplay interaction. Race levels in latter sections of the game are much more fun and involving thanks to increased player control over Oscar – but, sadly, they are still rather easy.
Shark Tale’s adventure levels are decent enough, they consist of various things including sneaking stealth missions, item collection, and locating certain characters or items. In these levels the environment is three dimensional, but you are stuck in a 2D side-scrolling viewpoint. Oscar has the ability to utilize bursts of speed by pressing the ?X’ button, and he can interact with characters and items by pressing the ?A’ button. The controls are relatively simple, and that’s probably attributed to the fact that most of the gaming demographic actually playing this game will likely be young children. In that respect, the extremely simplified controls are certainly a good thing.
After playing around with the character movement controls for quite a while, it became clear that they are impressively fluid; Oscar swims in a smooth and natural way, undoubtedly reminiscent of a real fish. This is important for a lot of the adventure levels, because Oscar must swim a full circle around certain items that need collection. For example, in an early level, Oscar has been kicked out of his apartment and his landlady is throwing all of his belongings out of the window. Meanwhile, Oscar is on the street, and must catch as many of his abruptly departing belongings as possible. This is done by swimming in a circle around the flying object. A pretty yellow circle is drawn around the item as he swims, so you can see how close you are to completing the loop and saving/collecting the item. This circular swimming action is used a lot in the adventure portions of the game, and is actually one of the better aspects of the gameplay in Shark Tale.
Personally speaking, I stink like rotting fish when it comes to dancing games, and Shark Tale was no different. In the first dance challenge, you have to make Oscar dance to the musical genius of MC Hammer’s ?Can’t Touch This’. Yes, that’s right, folks, it’s Hammer Time! (That’s nothing to be proud of, Brandon – Ed). Oscar stands in the center of a ring that has a cursor at the bottom. The buttons you must press float all the way around the circle and, when they reach the cursor, you press the appropriate button. Of course, you should be doing all this to the beat of the song, too. While it is strangely enjoyable to hear Hammer over and over again, if you’re like me – and suck at this type of gameplay – then these levels can become tediously long. If you love dancing games, however, then you will be glad to know that you can plug a dance pad into your XBox and actually dance your way through these levels.
The graphics and audio are definitely what stand out in this game. The movie’s colorful underwater world is reproduced perfectly here, along with all of its aquatic city-dwelling inhabitants. The animation work done on the swimming for all of the marine life in Shark Tale is also top notch. You can actually bump into and knock over other characters, as the streets are packed with fish, marine reptiles, and crustaceans all on their way to one place or another. The water effects are also a major visual plus, which is rather fortunate seeing as the entire game takes place underwater.
Shark Tale’s voice acting is well implemented too, it adds a great deal to the cinematic ambience of the game, and makes the characters seem more tangible, much more so than if the developers had opted for subtitles. However, the strongest part of the audio is the soundtrack, the game is packed with all sorts of upbeat urban music that really boosts the authenticity of the underwater city’s atmosphere. The music really sets the right mood for this game – I mean, come on, they have MC Hammer!
Overall, Shark Tale looks and sounds great, but it has some troublesome issues in the gameplay and difficulty departments; it is targeted for younger children though, so the reduced difficulty is perhaps understandable. Periodically, the gameplay can lapse into the watery realms of repetitive, though it does splash around with innovation through the inclusion of the dance levels – but that doesn’t save the game.
The replay value on offer in Shark Tale is very low. Once you pass through the entire game you probably won’t want to go back and experience it again, unless you’re a fanatic follower of the movie. Nevertheless, Shark Tale is certainly worth diving into for a wet and welcome visit, but you’ll probably want to step from the surf and towel off before too long lest your skin takes on that weird prune-like texture.