Wednesday, December 07, 2011

In Depth Review: Jaws: Ultimate Predator for the 3DS (with Pics)

     So, I’m at the Toysrus register picking up the only copy of Jaws: Ultimate Predator. I’m thinking to myself that I’m not surprised that they only ordered one copy. Just then, the guy at the register interrupts my train of thought to ask me if the game’s supposed to be any good. He tells me that lots of people have been picking it up. This review is for him and all the other people who have yet to pick up the latest Jaws opus. 

The Shovelware Challenge:
     I guess the real purpose of this review isn’t really to find out if the game is worth getting. I think we all know it won’t be worth the money we spend on it. This review is to find out if Jaws is the kind of flawed yet fun game that fans can get enjoyment out of (like Hellboy: Science of Evil) or if it’s the kind of flawed yet more flawed game that even fans can’t find pleasure in (like Todd McFarlane’s Evil Prophecy). In short, is Jaws shovelware?

I don't remember Jaws looking like this...

First Impressions are Important:
      I gotta say, just looking at the cover has me pretty worried. For starters, Jaws isn’t on the cover. Instead, Majesco has decided to put just a regular old Great White on the cover. Why did they do this? Did they not get the rights to the Jaws shark? Are there zero art assets that they could have used? Were they just lazy? Covers like this reek of shovelware. They even give off the impression that one could  have created the boxart by simply doing a Google image search and ….. uh oh

Google Image Search Page 1


Second Impressions are also Important (Sound):
     Upon loading the actual game, the first thing you are greeted with is the Jaws Theme. Mind you, this isn't a midi-fied version of the Jaws Theme. This isn't even an abridged version of the Theme. No, this is the full Jaws Theme. It has all the wonder and magical awe of John Williams' original (because it is) and it is not hacked off after the theme's recognizable climax. This is a good sign. It means that this game might not be shovelware.
     The rest of the game's music is largely forgettable. The music sounds very close to that of John Williams and may even be from the actual movie. It sounds, to me, like merely a close approximation. If someone knows for sure, please correct me. That said, the music is appropriate enough for the game, but never really stands out. Except, of course, for the aforementioned Jaws Theme, which, sadly, is repeated a few too many times throughout the game's length.
     Jaws’ sound effects are, much like the music, effective yet mediocre. Most everything sounds muddled. In earnest, I was hoping that the sounds would be muddled because of the underwater nature of the game, but the muddling seemed to be the result of poor quality and not done for effect. The only stand-out sound effect is the dying scream that comes from the mouths of hapless swimmers whose virtual lives are coming to an unfortunate end. Sadly, only the recreational swimmers have the impressive death scream and there are very few such swimmers.

     The ocean can be a very diverse environment. The ocean can also help to showcase some of the most visually impressive graphical effects (namely, water). This game squanders what could have been a major selling point. When the camera is looking down on the water from above, it is clear that no effort was made to make the water move convincingly. It seems, instead, like the developers were content to just put a garish transparent texture at the line where the ocean stops and the sky begins. I realize that the 3DS is not the most powerful piece of tech on the market, but games like Wave Race 64 and Crash Bandicoot 3 had better water effects more than 10 years ago. 

Hideous Water Texture? Check!

     The underwater sections fare much better. Even though the water still has no “life” and objects seem like they are floating through space that happens to be blue, the developers put a few graphical effects in to help the illusion of a liquid environment. Bubbles follow quick movements. Clouds of red fog mixed with entrails appropriately mask the screen after a successful kill. And best yet, there is a convincing distance fog applied, which sells the reduced visibility of an underwater environment. 

Good Distance Fog

     The game has competently-modeled characters that do not stand out as being either very good or very bad. The sea floor, however, does show more detail than I was expecting. Sunken ships and U-boats are periodically seen and the ocean floor is rarely a flat surface. It’s a nice bit of variety that keeps things from getting too boring. One stage, that takes place in a compound of sorts, sports a very different visual aesthetic than the rest of the game and makes good use of spotlights and darkness.  

Sunken U-Boat puts the U in U-boat

     The shark itself is the best part of the game’s graphics. It is well modeled and animates convincingly. When the shark jumps out of the water to take down a ship, it looks as cool and breathtaking as it should. Likewise, attacking divers in shark cages is so well executed that it almost makes you feel bad for the virtual divers. Minor clipping errors are the only visual blemish on the title character’s graphical representation. 

We're gonna need a bigger handheld!

     There’s a story of some sort. It’s told through a series of text screens that precede every stage and small in-game cinemas are interspersed throughout the level. The story is incredibly bad. There is a villain that is poorly fleshed out and has motives that are never fully explained. None of this is surprising considering that the protagonist is the “Ultimate Predator.”
     On a positive note, the text screens are part of a journal being written by Jaws’ Hooper character. One text note even mentioned the events of the first movie. I think that was the highlight of the game. 

Quint and Brody??? I know those guys!

     The game comes with two game modes. There is a campaign mode and a challenge mode. The campaign is broken up into 16 chapters and there are 20 levels in the challenge mode. The challenges are unlocked by finding treasure chests in the corresponding campaign levels. In fact, the challenge levels are almost exactly the same as the campaign levels but with arbitrary timers or goals attached to them.
     The campaign is dreadfully short at a little over 3 hours in length. The are structured in one of four different ways: Attack quotas, chase levels, sneaking levels and boss levels. Of the four, the attack quota ones are the most prevalent. The chase levels are simple but do well to break up the monotony. The sneaking levels are not fun because it’s hard to judge where exactly the enemy spotlights are in the 3D space. Lastly, the boss levels are fun but woefully anticlimactic. The game allows you to go back and replay levels for either fun or to find any missed treasure chests. Given that the game is so repetitious, there isn’t much incentive to go back. Likewise, the challenge levels are simply not fun to play as they only serve to outline the control issues that the game has because getting a good score is at odd with the difficulty there is in making precise well timed attacks.

Best Chase Level in the Game

     Jaws is always on the move. This was a smart decision. By ensuring that there is an ever-present forward momentum, the 3DS doesn’t need to worry about the lack of a second analogue stick. The one that’s present is used for shark/camera control and wherever the camera points is where the shark moves. This even helps to keep the camera from becoming a problem. At least that’s true most of the time. The camera, will at times get caught on background geometry and stutter around until the geometry that’s causing the problem is out of the way.
     Actions are controlled via either the touch screen or the face buttons. As I dislike touch controls, I used the face buttons. This was a terrible idea. The game was obviously designed for touch control and the face buttons feel like they were tacked on at the last second. They are unintuitive and difficult to use. The touch screen controls are exactly the opposite. They are clever, creative, intuitive, and, save for one major problem, fun to use.
Any action that you press (regardless of whether you use the touch screen or the buttons) comes with about a half second delay. Your finger is well off the input by the time the shark does what it was told to do. This makes timing attacks very difficult. Compounding that problem is that some attacks can only be used during a specific window of opportunity. For example, dragging a swimmer underwater has an action that can only be done when you are directly under the swimmer. This is made very difficult by the half-second lag. It almost breaks the game. 

Cool? Yes. Annoying to time? Also, Yes.

     It only almost breaks it because there’s an odd unintentional perceived weight added to the lumbering shark due to the lag. It’s almost amusing how slow witted this makes the killing machine seem. That said, it’s obviously bad control and bad control is bad control.

     Along with the challenge levels, the game comes with postcards that you can use with the 3DS’s cameras to inject your head onto them. They only use the inside facing camera, though, and that limits their versatility. Even so, they are an amusing addition and it’s nice that the developers have allowed you to save them to the 3DS’s SD card for transfer to your computer. 

Actually pretty cool...

     At the start, there are two postcards available out of a possible four. The other two are unlocked via the street pass functionality.
     When you pass someone else who has Jaws, the 3DS’s will compare challenge room scores. If you did better than the other player, you will be awarded shark teeth. After you acquire a certain number of teeth, you will unlock the other postcards.
To think that the developers actually thought enough people would buy this game to legitimize a street pass function like this as being necessary for unlocking content boggles the mind. I can easily say that I will never unlock the last two postcards.

     The 3D is well implemented in this title. I was able to have it on pretty much the entire time with the slider all the way up. Things like clouds of blood in the water really come alive in the 3D mode and the entrails have an almost pop out effect as they rush toward the screen. It’s not all good, though. The 3D helps contribute to the empty feeling of the ocean. It also, strangely, makes it more difficult to judge Jaws’ distance from an object.


• Jaws Theme Song is included
• Jaws is well modeled and animated
• Swimmers screams are to die for
• Postcards are a neat addition
• 3D is well implemented
• Hooper’s Journals are a nice touch for the fans

• Terrible box art
• Control lag
• Face Button control is a poorly implemented after-thought
• Ocean lacks substance
• Camera can get caught on stuff
• Levels are repetitive
• Challenges are difficult due to poor control
• Street Pass functionality is not well thought out
• Story is not good
• Game is too short

Epilogue (The Shovelware Challenge Part II):
There’s no doubt about it. This game is riding a line of almost perfect mediocrity. For every thing it does well, it seems adamant to do something poorly just to make up for it. A perfect example of this is the control scheme, which could have been excellent if not for the half second of lag. As such, there is no way that I could, in good conscience, recommend this title. Not even fans of the series should pick this title up. It’s simply not good. That said, if it ever gets clearanced for a clean 5, and you are a huge Jaws fan, then you MIGHT want to pick this one up. Otherwise, never buy this game.

…Which is sad. It often times feels like it could have been good. 

Guess it's Game Over for the Ult. Predator

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very detailed review, sadly game not available in EU