I actually saw Clarence Darrow one time on the Game Show Network. Yes—that Clarence Darrow, the one who legally represented schoolmarm John Scopes during the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. This television show—To Tell the Truth—aired a scant thirty years before Shark! Shark! was released for Mattel’s Intellivision, and so I wonder: Was Clarence Darrow around to play the game that so well depicted what he defended in court?
Like any other Darwinian video game from the 1980s, Shark! Shark! is all about survival of the fittest: your tiny fish must eat other tiny fish, so he can “evolve” (if you will) to greater sizes and eat larger fish, all in the name of outliving the other sea creatures. The bigger you are, the less likely you are to be eaten by those around you. There’s no true end to this title, no princess to rescue or evil wizard to vanquish; like life, Shark! Shark! ends only with death.
But also like life, there’s powerful fun to be had before your inevitable demise. Besides preying upon the weak and defenseless, your fish can also harass the titular shark, an adversary that can never truly be defeated. You rack up points in this game by nipping at the shark’s tail and by cannibalizing your peers, and every 1,000 points nets your fish a size increase. When you die, your size resets but your points don’t, meaning that if you die with 900 points, you’ll only need 100 to grow up in your next life.
It’s funny how the Intellivision’s controller has more buttons than most universities have sober students, and yet the majority of its titles use only a few. Shark! Shark! is no different, using only the metallic disc for movement and a few of its buttons for an entirely useless dash-like maneuver. Swimming is about as precise as you’d need it to be, with most hiccups due to sub-par hardware.
The game itself is lacking musically, with tunes played only during the title and “Game Over” screens, but that is to be expected. Sound effects are appropriately aquatic and graphics are, much like a Big Show/JBL matchup, bowling-shoe ugly; but you’ve only got so many bits to work with. Due to the poor visuals, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether a fish is larger or smaller than your own, which can result in many an accidental death. Be careful.
If nothing else, Shark! Shark! certainly deserves an award for “Best Use of Exclamation Marks in a Video Game’s Title.” I can’t say whether or not Clarence Darrow would have been (or was) a fan of the game, but I certainly am, and I fully intend to make other people play the title’s two-player mode with me, even if it means threatening them with viewings of The Brain that Wouldn’t Die on DVD. If you don’t happen to own the aged console, fear not, for Shark! Shark! is featured on the recent Intellivision Lives! tri-console release. Plus, if you buy that tile, you’ll also be getting such classics as Thunder Castle, Tower of Doom, and Thin Ice. So check it out if you’re a fan of Darwinism, cannibalism, or just plain death.