Jaws isn’t a bad idea for a video game villain. He’s big, he’s tough, and he likes to eat people, which is always a plus. Even the idea of hunting the killer shark through the deep expanse of the ocean sounds like the potential for good gaming. The problem is that this hunt is the entire game, resulting in a short arcade-like challenge that is artificially drawn out by an increasingly ridiculous difficulty level.
As you would expect, this game has you tasked to seek out and slay the Great White. You start with a boat, some diving gear, and a “Level 1” speargun. It’s your job to earn better and better equipment until you can drop Jaws’ life bar completely, then spear him with the front of your boat. It may not be a very good plan, but it’s a plan.
Graphically, Jaws presents you with a nice overhead map of the ocean, and a suitable little boat icon for your position. There are some good-looking underwater scenes with deep blue ocean that turns lighter to closer into shore you get. The shark himself is appropriately large and menacing, and his classic theme is recreated well in NES form. Some other nice “diving” tunes round out the auditory side.
You’ll spend most of your time puttering around the map in your boat, trying to avoid the swimming fin of your prey, and waiting for the randomized announcement that you’ve “hit something.” Unlike most boat scenarios – this hitting part is good. It means that you’ll dive out of your boat and go fishing from a side view. You’re locked into an area the size of one screen, and must avoid and spear jellyfish (which move vertically), manta rays (which move horizontally), and little sharks which chase you. Occasionally they will drop items when speared, either shells or extra points.
You’ll stay stuck in this diving screen until you kill a randomly-decided number of sea creatures, after which you’ll return to the boat. Should you actually hit the shark himself, or should he just decide to show up in one of your other diving adventures, he will chase you lazily from alternating sides of the screen. You can slow his charge by pumping him full of spears of any power level, but he’s still amazingly easy to dodge no matter what. Really, the only time he will ever get you killed is if he routes you into one of the other deadly sea critters.
Collecting shells allow you to buy upgrades at the two harbors on the map. These include more powerful spear weapons, a “Jaws tracker,” and a mini-submarine. Collecting enough points gives you access to a minigame where you bomb jellyfish from an airplane. Who knows why, but you’ll get half the number of jellyfish you explode payed out to you in shells. The obvious intent here is to hunt and trade until you’re strong enough to take on those great white teeth, who I should add, are coming after you the whole time.
But this is the whole game, perhaps a total of 30 minutes of content. Even back then, companies obviously preferred that you buy the game over renting it, and who would buy a game that lasted 30 minutes? Hence, the difficulty scales far to the extreme. The seas start to fill with more and more creatures at once, the shark becomes harder to dodge, you start encountering more and more of the random “hit something” events – even when you just want to make it to harbor to dump off the mass of shells you already have. And finally, here’s the killer – if you get tagged by the big guy or any of your sea enemies, you lose ALL of the powerups you earned and a full half of the shells you were carrying. Essentially, you’re back to starting the game over again, but while retaining the increased numbers of enemies.
You have three lives, but you start at such an enormous disadvantage after dying, especially if you’re pretty far into it, that it makes no sense to continue. So pretty much, you have one shot in which to nail the game perfectly – and that will indeed take a hell of a lot longer than 30 minutes. Whether you’ll want to put up with it, however, is doubtful.
Not a terrible way to make a Jaws game, in concept.
You’ll take more damage from everything else in the sea than the shark itself. Takes a while to build up enough power to scratch him.