Shark Tale Review
If you've been playing videogames for any length of time, you know that games based on movies, and movies based on games, generally stink. Throw a kid's movie into the mix, and there's a good chance you'll end up using a word like "craptacular" to describe the game. Fortunately, there are exceptions to every rule, and Shark Tale, which is based on DreamWorks' film of the same name, is one of those exceptions. It combines several different gameplay styles, nice graphics, above average music, and the same charm found in the movie, into one rather impressive package. Keep in mind the game's designed for kids so anyone old enough to be interested in the opposite sex (or the same sex, we don't discriminate) might want to find something a bit more challenging. Of course, if you've got a younger sibling, it is fun enough that you'll end up stealing the controller every now and then to "help out".
Shark Tale the game, follows the events of Shark Tale the movie rather closely. You play the role of Oscar (voiced in the film by Will Smith, but not in the game) a fish that's down on his luck. Oscar's got money troubles, and nothing seems to be going his way, until he is mistakenly credited with being a shark slayer, after the death of a member of the shark mafia is attributed to him. The game takes the different scenarios from the movie and turns them into several different styles of gameplay - which really keeps the game's pace moving, and keeps you from getting bored. Shark Tale features over 25 chapters, and the main types of levels are:
Adventure: Here you'll do a wide variety of things, including chasing down troublemakers spraying graffiti, and honing your stealth skills. These levels take place in various locations from the movie, like the Whale Wash and the Seahorse Racetrack. The stealth themed levels will have you maneuvering your way through a level while hiding from patrolling sharks or even worse than a shark, your boss, Sykes, who's looking for any reason he can find to can your tail. These chapters aren't too difficult, and the guard's patterns are fairly easy to recognize, but they're still pretty fun.
Race: Oscar's often got to get from point A to point B faster than somebody, so in the race mode, your job is to follow the stream of bubbles, collect pearls, avoid obstacles, and find shortcuts to beat your opponent to the finish line. These races take place from a third person perspective, and don't involve much more than keeping Oscar on the path.
Chase: The first level of the game starts with Oscar facing the screen, fleeing from a giant shark. Here, using simple button presses like the QTE sequences in Shenmue, you've got to keep the game's hero from becoming a Great White's snack. As the chase is in progress, a direction will pop up on screen, and all you've got to do is press the corresponding button as quickly as possible. There's not much to these levels, but they're pretty intense.
Fight: No, we're not talking stringing together combos and fatalities, just some simple boxing. Like the rest of the game, the concept is simple - you need to dodge your opponent's attacks, and then put together a few punches of your own. One button throws a punch, two buttons at the same time performs a special move.
Dancing: Throughout the movie, Oscar shows off his dancing skills, and the game puts you in Oscar's dancing shoes on several occasions. You can use the controller, or a dance mat and jam along to hip hop songs like "I Like The Way You Move" from OutKast. Similar to Britney's Dance Beat, a series of arrows move clockwise around a ring, and you must hit the corresponding button at the right time. The better your timing, the better your score - it's as simple as that. Unfortunately, a few things keep the dancing from being as fun as it could be. First is, if you're using the dance pad, you're really doing nothing more than hitting buttons - they don't really have a dance pattern. Now if the arrows mimicked a dance like the "Hammer Dance" in "U Can't Touch This" it'd be one of the coolest things ever, but alas, they don't. The dancing levels also don't increase in difficulty at the same pace as the other levels, and while they aren't terribly difficult, they can get frustrating, especially for rhythmically challenged gamers.
There's not a whole lot of depth to any of the different styles, but the sheer amount of things to do more than makes up for it. The controls are simple, and with the exception of being a little loose, work just fine. Perhaps some of the lack of depth in the game can be attributed to the developers recognizing that they had quite a few different control schemes for people to learn and they would be better suited keeping things simple. There are also three different goals to beat when playing each level, and the better you perform, the higher your fame will be. Earning fame is the key to unlocking the plethora of extras in the game
If you've seen the movie's gorgeous visuals, then you'll be pleased to know that the game achieves a similar high standard with its graphics. The levels look just like they did in the movie, and they are all bustling with life, from bubbles flowing, to dozens of fish swimming around. The game even uses a cool visual effect to convey the sense of being underwater, and a smooth framerate adds to the illusion. The character models are top notch, and some of the animations you'll see, particularly in the dancing chapters, look like they were ripped directly from the film itself.
Will Smith brings Oscar to life in the movie, but he didn't provide the voice-acting for the videogame. Instead, a Smith sound-a-like does all the dialog, and he does a good job at that. All of the acting is solid and you're likely to never know the difference between dialog from the movie and dialog from the game if you've yet to see the film.
The game's soundtrack is awesome, but since many of the songs are old and/or obscure, some of the charm may be lost on the target audience. Sure, kids know OutKast, but I'd venture to say that there are very few eight year olds who are familiar with The Fat Boys and The Beach Boys rendition of "Wipeout" or the 70's tune "Carwash". That's not to say that the soundtrack isn't good - cause it's actually one of the best game soundtracks out there. You simply can't go wrong when you've got Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" and Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince in your game. Unfortunately, the developers saw fit to have one song loop endlessly per level, so instead of enjoying the game's extensive track listing, you get to here the same song over and over again, 'till you beat the level.
By no means is Shark Tale a classic, but it does what a game based on a kid's movie should do. It follows the film's story, it's got the same charm and feel, the gameplay is simple and straightforward, and it's nice to look at. If you're a parent with a younger child, Shark Tale is a good game that you could play together, and the same goes for anyone with a young sibling. If you don't fall into either of those two groups, and you're just a fan of the movie, pick the game up as a rental and beat it in two days, but don't pay full price to purchase it.
11/8/2004 Aaron Thomas