Shark Tale Review

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Publisher: Activision
Developer: Know Wonder (Amaze Entertainment)

Platform: PC, Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 450 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 16 MB video card, Windows 98 or more recent

Much like Shrek 2 for the PC, Shark Tale is completely different from its console brethren, but still enjoyable for the little ones.


Kevin Rice

The people at Know Wonder have a great racket going. In what has to be a development cycle of 6-8 months or less, they get to churn out movie tie-in games that are nothing like their console counterparts, and they do it all with the Unreal engine. While none of this is geared toward adults, the result is usually a game that will keep the kids occupied for a long time and surprisingly, it's mostly quality work. Not only do they use licensed engines and tools, they get to borrow a lot of assets from the console versions of the games, which are typically at least twice as long and more complex. Much like Shrek 2 for the PC, though (also by Know Wonder), Shark Tale is a fun romp through familiar territory for anyone that's seen the movie. It's not a great game by any means, but at $20 less than the console versions, and the fact that it'll run on older hardware, Shark Tale is a perfect stocking stuffer.

First-Person Fishing

As mentioned earlier, the Unreal engine is put to yet another inventive use: recreating the environments of a children's cartoon. Anyone familiar with FPS games will instantly recognize the control setup, since it's all done with the mouse, the WASD keys, and an occasional press of the spacebar. You play as Oscar, the leading fish from the movie that undertakes a quest for fame and fortune. Mixing a variety of gameplay styles, Shark Tale will have you adventuring; collecting coins and other power-ups; swimming in races; playing a pseudo-stealth type of game; and even dancing. Coins can be used to purchase things for Oscar's apartment (and later on, his penthouse), although it's basically window dressing. A success in each of the play modes gives you fame points, that open up new areas and provide you with more followers (although followers really don't change the game).

The goals are simple (as is the entire game for anyone over ten years old). Giant arrows point you to new challenges, and each new type of game is introduced by an often funny-to-adults newscast provided by none other than Katie Current. Exploring is extremely simple as there are no enemies to get in your way. The races simply require you to move the mouse through a predetermined path. The chases provide more big arrows, telling you what direction to go. The dancing is simply tapping the arrow keys in time to the music.

If this all sounds like child's play, that's because it is. While any semi-casual gamer should beat this in under five hours (it took me just under three, and that was while watching playoff baseball at the same time), the younger crowd should be pleased by the colorful environments and quality voice work, even if they won't get most of the jokes. While there's nothing in the game that will scare kids, there is enough challenge to keep them busy for a bit. The developers did a good job of making sure that all the goals are obvious, so even the youngest first-person fisher shouldn't get stuck for more than a minute or so. The multifarious game styles should also hold the interest of most people, keeping the boredom factor to a minimum.

A Few Fishy Items

While the game is pleasant and non-violent enough, there are a few issues with its execution. First, none of the controls can be remapped unless you know how to work with the DefUser.ini file associated with the Unreal engine. This may make the default WASD setup a little difficult for those with small hands. (You can setup a gamepad to mimic these keys, of course, but then you lose the ability to mouse-look.) Second, while it's nice that Know Wonder can share a lot of assets with the consoles, some of the graphics came over without any tweaking, making them blurry and generally unattractive. It's also strange that the resolution is limited to a maximum of 1024x768, considering the engine that's behind it all. Finally, the save game system is a little wonky. Shark Tale does an extremely good job of automatically saving progress and even marking checkpoints should you happen to die, but just where that save file is located is anyone's guess. There's no load/save screen per se; rather, it just says "Saving" or "Loading". While there are multiple profiles for multiple players, not knowing where any of this is stored can be a little unsettling.

As a whole product, Shark Tale is another success for Know Wonder. Compared to the console versions, it's shorter and easier, but it's also almost half the price. It's a shame that some features just aren't ported to the PC (for example, you can use a dance pad on the console versions for the dance portions of the game), but the freeform environments and colorful graphics are a treat for most children. Parents looking to keep their little ones entertained for a while will appreciate the collectibles and secret areas in the game (which warrant some replay value), and children should appreciate the simple charms of yet another weird Unreal engine total conversion.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 16, 2004 9:39 PM.

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