Reviewed: October 17, 2004
Released: September 27, 2004
With recent games like Spider-Man 2 and X-Men Legends the curse of the movie-license game might be on the verge of being broke. Shark Tale is another title that can go on the growing heap of movie-inspired games that donít suck. It even manages to outshine last yearís Finding Nemo, another game inspired by an animated fish.
Shark Tale succeeds for several reasons, most of which have nothing to do with the game being based on one of this yearís most successful animated films. There is some solid gameplay lurking in the depths of this enchanted ocean, and it comes in several variations so there is something for everyone, young and old alike.
For the kids, you have wonderful graphics that mirror the movie, charming characters that you can control and interact with, and one of the best soundtracks of any platform game to date, thanks mainly to the inclusion of a rhythm game that rivals Dance Dance Revolution.
For the older gamers, there is a list of unlockables that dwarfs most other titles in the genre. For every primary challenge there is an expert secondary challenge that will test the mettle of most adult gamers. And adults will certainly pick up on all of the ďsophisticatedĒ humor and references that were in the movie that will go over the younger kidsí heads.
Shark Tale offers several distinct styles of gameplay, all integrated into a retelling of the basic storyline from the movie. You start off in a nightmare dream sequence playing as Oscar and being chased by a massive shark. This part of the game plays out like the old Dragonís Lair game where you get a prompt telling you which direction to move. You have a couple of seconds to move in that direction before the shark snaps at you. Move too slow or in any of the three wrong directions and you lose some health.
The next section of the game has you swimming around Reef City in search of some hoodlum fish who are spray painting graffiti on the walls. The city is massive and affords plenty of opportunities to collect pearls, talk to the other undersea residents, and erase any graffiti you find.
This part of the game plays out like a side-scrolling platform game, much like Finding Nemo. There are some clever dexterity puzzles like having to catch items by swimming completely around them. You also have to avoid hazards like speeding fish taxis and busses, an electric eel, or snapping clamshells. As you might expect from a platform game, there is always an underlying collection quest; in this case itís pearls and to complete those secondary challenges you are going to have to explore every last inch of Reef City.
Oscar can and will take damage, but it is very hard to actually die in Shark Tale, especially when you are exploring the city. Oscar can go into any of dozens of doors and get some health along with a delightful line of dialogue from the occupants.
The game then moves into a dance section. This is one of my favorite parts mainly due to the outstanding music selection, but I have to admit, this rhythm game is hard; probably way too hard for younger kids. I consider myself an above average DDR player, with or without a dance mat, and this game seriously kicked my butt.
When you are done busting a move you are off to work, but you have to beat your boss to the whale wash where you work. This is basically a race on rails where you follow the general path and try to stay in the slipstream as much as possible for a turbo boost. Naturally, there are all sorts of items to collect along the way if you want to risk falling behind your boss.
Once you reach the car wash there is a nifty stealth sequence where you have to swim from the entrance to the time clock without being spotted by any of patrolling supervisor fish. You basically swim and press A to hide behind any nearby object until the other fish are looking away then swim to the next object and hide again. Itís certainly not Splinter Cell but kids will get a kick out of the hide-and-seek tension this part of the game delivers.
And thatís about it. These elements repeat themselves with a few slight variations as you play out the story through all 25 chapters. It gets a bit repetitive at times, but the great music, charming characters, and authentic graphics compel you to keep playing. The game is divided into bite-sized chapters, so you can dive in for a few minutes or a few hours.
I think we all know what to expect when a game is made based on a CG movie and Shark Tale delivers exactly that; outstanding, colorful, computer-generated models that are a pixel-perfect match to their movie counterparts. Even if you havenít seen the movie, these characters are delightfully entertaining simply as game characters. And I still find it amazing just how much of the actor actually comes through in the animated characters. You can easily spot the subtle features of Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, and Robert De Niro in the main characters. The character animation is flawless whether you are swimming or shaking your tail fin on the street corner.
The levels are wondrous, perfect recreations of all your favorite locations from the movie and they make great game levels, even though the city does get a bit repetitive after an hour of exploration. There are all sorts of clever details like the painted taxi fish, the sudsy whale wash with all of the moving parts, and some truly breathtaking underwater vistas unlike anything I have seen since Finding Nemo.
The designers opted to go with voice doubles for the character dialogue in Shark Tale; a choice I think we can all be happy with. While I certainly have nothing against the real actors doing video games, most of the time they simply seem a bit uninspired. The talented cast assembled for this game delivers a great performance that not only sounds every bit as professional as the movie, they also sound like the actors they are mimicking.
When your game makes heavy use of dancing sections you had better have a solid soundtrack and Shark Tale has one of the best. With fresh hip hop and rap tunes like Outkast - "The Way You Move", Rose Royce featuring The Waters Family - "Carwash", DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - "Summertime", MC Hammer - "U Can't Touch This", Wild Cherry - "Play That Funky Music" (Swizz Beatz remix), and perhaps my favorite, Fat Boys - "Wipeout", just to name a few, youíll be playing this game just to hear the music. I actually had to go and track down an MP3 of Wipeout by the Fat Boys after playing this game.
The sound effects are all in place and mainly consist of bubbles, gurgles, and other underwater sounds. I was a bit surprised that there was no Dolby support, but the game is primarily in 2D most of the time so nothing is really lost, but still, this is a major licensed title. It should have something.
With 25 chapters, and a primary and two secondary objectives for each there is about 8-30 hours of gameplay here depending on how old you are, how good you are, and how dedicated you are in your desire to unlock the massive collection of bonus materials like character info and movie extras.
This is one of those games that could have benefited greatly by having a movie ticket in the box. Iíd have a hard time recommending Shark Tale for a purchase at its initial $50 price tag. The good news is that this game will certainly hit $30 by the holidays, and by the time the movie is released on DVD the game should easily be in the $20 budget bin, so there will be plenty of opportunities to get a great deal on this title.
Shark Tale is a wonderful game that will delight children and parents alike. There is a unique and clever mix of various game styles that keeps things fresh (always good when fish are involved) but there are a few difficult hurdles that might stump the younger crowd and require some parental or sibling assistance.
If you loved the movie, enjoy funky retro dance music and contemporary hip hop, and want to experience some of the best computer generated undersea graphics to ever grace the Xbox, take Shark Tale for a swim. Itís definitely worth a rental and even earns a spot in your permanent collection when the price drops.