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Jaws isn't a complicated character. He's a big, hokey shark who lives in a 36-year-old movie franchise, lurks in dark water and eats people in gruesome ways. When translated into videogames, however, Jaws continually winds up in ridiculous situations, pitted against evil corporations, overconfident scuba divers and giant undersea monsters. And the T-rated, mostly bloodless Wii version of Jaws: Ultimate Predator may be the most ridiculous situation he's found himself in yet.
Above: Stealth and aerial attacks require you to stop an arrow on a meter, just like the real Jaws!
Where the 3DS version of JUP is a comparatively realistic, bloody shark sim in which Jaws chews on swimmers and fishermen, the Wii version runs in the exact opposite direction, offering up a bizarre, linear, story-driven adventure. Instead of just snacking on swimmers, Jaws goes head-to-head against aquatic enemies that range from elephant seals, other sharks and (occasional) divers, to huge undersea robots, mutant leviathans and (presumably cloned) dinosaurs. It’s nothing on par with the open-world madness that was 2006’s Jaws Unleashed (you’ll never, for example, have to swipe a scientist across a card reader to open a door), and it’s disappointingly gore-free and entirely linear. But it’s nevertheless a jaw-droppingly ridiculous game in its own right.
Somewhere out there, there’s an alternate universe where Jaws was turned into a Saturday-morning cartoon. There has to be. How else can one explain the bright, cel-shaded weirdness on display here?
For starters, there’s Jaws himself (Herself? Itself?), a big gray horror who the camera follows way too closely, who attacks his foes with unlockable bite and tail-whip combos, and whose appearance can be continually changed and upgraded with new and tougher fins, teeth and skin textures. His attacks start out credibly enough, as he flails at enemies and stealth-chomps divers to death, but as you unlock more of them (with points earned from kills and by collecting shark teeth), they’ll contort him into increasingly improbable somersaults, twists and figure-8s. If you’re looking for a “serious” shark sim, this isn’t it.
His attacks, by the way, are almost completely blood-free (the only red stuff in the water appears in tiny, barely perceptible bursts), and are calculated to give the impression that he’s not actually, you know, eating his enemies (apart from schools of little angelfish, which Jaws gulps down to refill his health). Where Jaws Unleashed set new benchmarks for undersea gore and dismemberment, defeated enemies in Ultimate Predator simply drift away (intact) and disappear. Even when Jaws bites down and shakes the life out of them, the result is never anything more violent than a cloud of bubbles.
Above: This may look like blood, but don't be fooled. It's actually a camera filter brought on by eating a power-up jellyfish
Factor in a tinny rendition of the Jaws score and the game’s nominal storyline (related in still-image cutscenes with voiceovers), which pits Jaws against a sinister megacorporation with vague world-domination goals and a weird vendetta against him, and it begs the question: Just who the hell is this for? Who looked at the Jaws license and decided the best way to adapt it would be as a bloodless, aquatic brawler? As much as we (perhaps more than anyone else) can appreciate that the most absurd aspects of Jaws Unleashed have been blown out into a full game, we have to wonder why Majesco didn’t just turn this into “Discovery Channel Presents: Shark Adventure” and leave cinema’s most iconic shark to chomp his way through more appropriately bloody people-eating sims.
The silliness doesn’t end with the bloodless combat, of course. The levels Jaws visits are a seemingly random assortment of underwater locales that range from the Suez Canal and the Great Barrier Reef to a flooded Egyptian temple, a sinking research vessel and a remote mad-scientist facility filled with giant monsters and robotic diving suits. The developers deserve some credit for filling these with occasional secret detours and collectible fish to devour, but they’re still simplistic, linear, and above all goofy.
Above: Jaws also has "shark sense," which makes everything green and reveals enemies, objects and lines of sight (for stealth purposes)
The boss fights also deserve a mention. Every so often, Jaws will run afoul of something huge, whether it’s a creepy elephant seal with giant claws, a colossal squid, a sperm whale or a massive diving robot piloted by another, smaller diving robot (in turn piloted by a fragile scuba diver). And that’s to say nothing of the final confrontation, which involves a boat that hides more absurdly convenient guns than a six-year-old boy’s dream fort. Instead of being a challenge, these confrontations are simple, hard-to-fail quick time events in which you’ll just swing the Wii remote and Nunchuk in the directions indicated onscreen.
While that makes for prettier(?) boss fights, it also underlines Ultimate Predator’s near-total lack of challenge. There are occasional awkward stealth elements, but right up until the end, you’ll spend the game flailing away at interchangeable groups of sharks, seals, divers, orcas and alligators, and will only occasionally run up against something that represents a genuine threat. Given how repetitive the action is, though, the easiness actually works in the game’s favor, turning what might have otherwise been a miserable slog (with a few notable-but-clumsily executed set-pieces) into a breezy romp through varied, occasionally eerie settings as a big, mean sea-beast.
Jaws: Ultimate Predator isn’t a good game by any stretch (although it’s still more interesting than the bloodier 3DS version). It’s ugly, clumsy and buggy, and will hugely disappoint anyone who’s just looking to play as a giant shark that messily eats people. For all its faults, however, it’s still surprisingly competent, and its short run-time and lack of challenge make it worth breezing through once, for the weird spectacle alone.
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