DreamWorks' Shark Tale Download (2004 Simulation Game)

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This interactive underwater adventure is based on the 2004 feature film of the same title, which tells the tale of two misfits -- a kind-hearted shark and a fast-talking fish -- who swim into trouble together when each tries to be something he is not. Players take the role of Oscar, the charming, colorful "hustler fish," who works at the local Whale Wash and spends a lot of his free time trying to live up to his own boasts. Oscar can show he's got room to talk, however, through a selection of more than 25 action-oriented missions that have him racing though the crowded city, dancing to the beats of the movie's hip-hop soundtrack, and fighting fin-to-fin against opponents who can talk trash (almost) as well as he does. When he's not proving himself in one of these events, Oscar can explore Reef City, which includes many locations featured in the film and a number of all-new environments.


For those rusty on their fish-film trivia, there have been two major theatrical releases in the last year. Pixar released the smash-hit Finding Nemo in May 2003, and now Dreamworks has just released its own brand of oceanic hijinks with Shark Tale. Here, you'll assume the role of Oscar, a fast-talking fish who ends up in trouble when he takes credit for the accidental-death of a mob boss's son. It goes without saying Oscar spends much of his time in the movie (and the game) avoiding behemoth mob sharks of the literal variety.

The latest film-to-game adaptation from Activision, Shark Tale, turned out slightly difficult to review. Not from any considerable challenge game wise, but because it does so many things right. It's a kiddy game that ended up being pretty good. This may come as no surprise to those who've been following Activision's recent string of big-license games such as X-Men Legends and Spider-Man 2. Shark Tale also appears to take advantage of all the voice actors from the movie, unlike the forgettable Bad Boys II, in which the characters didn't sound or even look like the real deal. Will Smith's patented Family-Friendly Hustler persona might still be an acquired taste, but I can tell you from experience that it's better than having some yokel get on the mic.

However, while Shark Tale escapes the fate of most big-license games (not to mention the fate of countless mediocre kiddy games), it still fails in a few key areas. The first of which is gameplay. Regardless of how polished a game may be, either visually or aurally or both, it's all for not if the actual game suffers from a lack of attention. Shark Tale feels like a series of mini-games, with only loose attention paid to the storyline. The game also continues the film's theme of materialistic consumption, prominent corporate branding, and the importance of being rich and famous, which leaves a bad taste in the mouth by the time you get to the credits.

And this is exactly what ends up poking holes in Shark Tale's otherwise mighty hull. It's pretty and it sounds great. But what's the point when the game itself lacks that certain dynamic separating a good game from a great one?

Instead of focusing on one style of play, Shark Tale adopts a far more eclectic approach. The game splits into a couple dozen "chapters," but don't let this fool you--someone with sufficient hand-eye coordination will be done in a couple hours. Each chapter falls under four basic modes: Race, Adventure, Fight and Dance. Each chapter in the game boasts three objectives: one primary and two secondary. Completing all three raises Oscar's fame, represented by a flaming bar on the upper left hand of the screen. As his fame increases he gets access to further chapters.

The game starts off on a race, where you'll need to guide Oscar as he attempts to escape the first of many shark attacks. Instead of swimming through the ocean depths at your fancy, Shark Tale glues Oscar on a predefined route. All you need to do is follow the green arrows that pop up on the screen prior to key moments to avoid being eaten.

Not entirely thrilling. Then again, it's just a starter sequence; an appetizer of what's to come. After escaping the shark, Oscar gets thrown out of his apartment in Reef City. His land lady decides to hurl all his belongings out the window. In order to save them, you need to swim around each item as it falls to slow them down. This section, thankfully, is a bit more interactive than the initial race. You need to dart back and forth across the screen saving lava lamps and various knick-knacks before they shatter on the ocean floor. It's fun, short and not too challenging.

One of the most hyped aspects of the game involves Dance Dance Revolution style dance numbers. The first of which comes early in the game, where Oscar busts out with an impromptu dance while being interviewed by Katy Current (Ha!) Just as in DDR, and more recently Donkey Kong, you'll need to press the appropriate directional pads in rhythm to the music, MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This" in this case.

The PC version uses the arrow keys for footwork, making the whole deal disappointingly easy. These segments seem a little shorter than the console version, but they're still a bit too long and get kind of boring. You're so busy watching the bubbles come up from the bottom of the screen that you can't pay attention to Oscar himself, who's dancing like a madman.

The racing sequences are much better, but you won't confuse it with an actual arcade racer. The console version offered things like, oh, traffic, while the lanes in the PC version are empty of all but a small handful of fellow racers whom you'll soon leave in the dust after hitting a few booster icons.

You'll spend the bulk of your time in Shark Tale playing through the Adventure stages. These stages take on different forms. The first (as mentioned above) sees you saving furniture. Other levels have you swim around Reef City hunting for specific items, all while dodging pesky crabs, angry puffer fish, jelly fish and other obstacles. Unlike the console version where you could enter virtually any building to steal someone's food or explore, you'll only have a few set pieces, and the food has been distributed across the area in the form of floating submarine sandwiches. You'll very rarely be hurting for health, though.

Adventure mode even features stealth missions. You'll need to swim behind barrels, crates and other obstructions to keep from getting caught. Unfortunately, it's next to impossible to get caught. Security fish or sharks will spot you as you make your way from barrel to barrel, but won't come investigating. They'll just shout "Hey, there's Oscar" and forget they saw you if you duck behind a barrel. Metal Gear it is not. If you do get spotted, it's pretty easy in most any situation to just race to the next stage of the mission and lose the tail.

Shark Tale escapes the fate of most big-license games. It offers fun through various different game play styles and retains the hip style of the movie, but the undercurrent of materialism is jarring. At one stage, you'll have a shabby apartment room which is basically empty, and you'll go from spot to spot clicking on transparent, placeholder objects, and buying them--but there's no point to it beyond just having the item. It's the same deal with the penthouse you'll buy later. Unlike, say, The Sims, there is absolutely no tangible gameplay benefit to owning the hot tub, television, wall decorations and such. But it gives you something to do with all the money you'll find floating throughout the game. If you're one of those folks that loved the movie, you'll appreciate the surprisingly high production values, but it clocks in at two hours, maybe three, and has a habit of promoting meaningless consumerism to the point of having little to do with the theme of the movie.

The Verdict

Shark Tale escapes the fate of most big-license games. It offers fun through various different game play styles and retains the hip style of the movie, but the undercurrent of materialism is jarring. At one stage, you'll have a shabby apartment room which is basically empty, and you'll go from spot to spot clicking on transparent, placeholder objects, and buying them--but there's no point to it beyond just having the item. It's the same deal with the penthouse you'll buy later. Unlike, say, The Sims, there is absolutely no tangible gameplay benefit to owning the hot tub, television, wall decorations and such. But it gives you something to do with all the money you'll find floating throughout the game. If you're one of those folks that loved the movie, you'll appreciate the surprisingly high production values, but it clocks in at two hours, maybe three, and has a habit of promoting meaningless consumerism to the point of having little to do with the theme of the movie.

 

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