Shark Tale is a charming tale of a loud-mouthed fish with delusions of grandeur who meets a vegetarian shark (Lenny) who just wants to live in peace; they help each other out, hilarity and shenanigans ensue. Animated feature films tend to spawn a lot of merchandising, and DreamWorks’s latest foray into CG animated kiddy flicks is no different. A video game based on the license was inevitable, but does it hold the same appeal as the movie? Simply put, this is an attractive looking game. There is a nice blending of 2D and 3D that’s almost seamless, with lush backgrounds, and excellent modeling and animations. I imagine that the development team had access to some of the assets of the actual film as the cut scenes were nicely produced and nearly matched in quality. In fact, the graphics were very, dare I say it, immersive…
Typical of a game based off of a children’s film with star-studded voice talent, none of that talent actually portrays their character in the game. While the ‘stunt doubles’ do an adequate job of mimicking the original voices, it is still quite jarring to hear someone else speaking through these character’s mouths, which lends a sort of second-rate stigmata to the experience. Sound effects are appropriately cartoonish and don’t really have much of an impact in either direction.
Possibly the most offensive aspect in this game lies in the soundtrack, and to be fair, it’s not the game’s fault. What is unacceptable is that you are forced to endure much of it over and over and over. I really could have done without hearing MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” 5 times while trying to slog through the first dance chapter, and it’s not a good portent for a game when you would rather turn down the volume of your TV rather than endure another strain of “Wipe Out” by the Fat Boys.Each chapter of the game conforms to four basic gameplay types, with four corresponding sets of controls. Racing and attacking adhere to a very simple button-mashing scheme while adventure and dance modes require a more delicate and complex series of actions. The dance chapters use the typical pattern-based button and d-pad combinations, requiring intense concentration of the cues on screen (These levels can be played with a dance pad if you have one.) A good chunk of the game relies on visual cues onscreen, so if you pay attention to the little arrows and letters instead of actually looking at what’s going on in the game, you’re set!
As I said before, there are four basic types of gameplay. Let me address these individually:
Adventure- This is probably the most open ended style of gameplay, with goal oriented levels that have you saving your belongings from your landlord, to busting a number of graffiti happy small fry, to sneaking past guards in the shark lair. This is mostly hand holding here, with visual cues and hints guiding you through the linear plot. Sure, you could collect a ton of pearls which you can use later to unlock special features in the game like music (ugh) and production art, but generally you just want to get through the level because you want to see how pretty the next one is.
Race- Once again, another spoon-fed play mode. Consisting of either running away from something (such as a shark) or chasing something (such as another fish), these levels tend to get irritating because of a weird timing between the actions that you are prompted to do and the results on the screen- there’s just not enough ‘snappiness’ to it and it seems rather jarring. These levels are fun, though, as long as they don’t last very long.
Fight- certainly, the most fun of the game styles, but also the least represented. Fear my “Fish Fu”! While there is less of the hand holding, the combat system is by no means complex, so enjoy the button mashing.
Dance- This follows the standard dance game paradigm where a pattern of visual cues float onto the screen toward a target, whereupon reaching said target the button or direction is to be executed, which usually corresponds to the beat in some way. Two things seriously mar this experience; first, all attention must be focused on the visual cues to play through these levels. I’d like to tell you that Oscar and his occasional back-up dancers were gettin’ jiggy with it, with moves corresponding to the pattern I was executing, but I wouldn’t know, as I could only focus on the visual cues- there was a desperate need to finish each level as the music was HORRIBLE. Which brings me to my second problem- The music was HORRIBLE. Having to listen to the same music over and over until completing the level gave me all the focus I needed to plow on through to (hopefully) less aural torture.
Each chapter consists of three levels of goals, with higher level goals yielding more fame points, which ostensibly is the driving motivation for our hero Oscar. Generally, I just whizzed through the levels with the lowest necessary score to get to the next level. The other goals just weren’t very compelling.
The thing that struck me the most about this game is that I couldn’t imagine kids actually playing through the game without getting help from some other game savvy friend or relative during certain levels. I could see a lot of children getting frustrated with certain parts of it, and considering the game’s target audience, that’s not a good thing.Shark Tale fans might feel compelled to replay through the game, but I doubt anyone else would. You could always go back and try to get better scores on each level, but the prospect of additional exposure to “U Can’t Touch This” is plenty of reason to move on.