Sewer Shark

One thing that you should probably know about me before we start this review is that I work in the entertainment industry. Therefore, I have been known to talk about a lot of useless shit that impresses me, but doesn’t matter to normal people, especially on the subject of the screen. Sewer Shark is an interactive movie made before interactive movies had much of a reputation (did they ever?), so there’s a whole badass element to this game because it is directed and overseen by John Dykstra. John is the special effects supervisor for the recent Spider-Man movie, Battlestar Galactica, and a little movie you might have heard of called Star Wars. This is not some project of a pissant little indie film peckerwood, this is a game made by John freakin’ Dykstra.

Now that may not mean a hell of a lot to you, especially considering that this is the very game they gave you for free with your second-gen Sega CD. Fair enough. But now that I got it out of the way, we can focus on the review.

“Your new callsign is… Ratbreath! Turn and burn, Ratbreath!”

Sewer Shark takes place in the underground tunnels of a major city in the future. The tunnels are so expansive, and filled with such toxic nastiness, that mutant sewer vermin are crawling around en masse. Municipal workers are hired to pilot flying weapon pods known as Sewer Sharks through the tunnels and eliminate them. These workers are a little too proud, considering they’re just glorified janitors, and the frequency of accidents, (i.e. smashing into the walls) as well as payment by the number of pounds of sewer meat killed, make them an overly competitive bunch. You play as a new recruit coming down to earn fame and mad coin.

I’ll be the first to admit that this concept sounds amazingly stupid. However, the game pulls it off, because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Many of the video segments are actually funny, and there are some quote-worthy lines from the game. Huh? Wha? An interactive game with clever dialogue? I don’t believe it!

There are two great characters in this title. One is your backseat pilot “Ghost”, played by David Underwood. He knows exactly what to do here. Sewer Shark borrows a whole lot from Top Gun, so Underwood plays Ghost like the kind of smartass hotshot pilot you’d find in that film. When you first meet him, he gives you the callsign “Dogmeat”, points out the “not all strictly legal” modifications on his Shark with maniacal glee, then gives you a rallying tour of your job/briefing, complete with projector and pointer. Ghost is WAY over the top, and Underwood seems to be enjoying every minute of it. About the time that he instructs you to test the weapons by shooting open a docking hatch, then grins into the camera and gleefully growls “Ya just took the door out, ace!” you realize that this guy is all right. He’s supposed to be your best and only friend in the game, so it’s a good sign that he comes off as somebody you’d like to hang out and have a few drinks with.

Stenchler calls from Solar City to goad you

His foil is Commissioner Stenchler, played by Robert Costanza – that guy who looks like Danny DiVito but isn’t. He was in Total Recall and played Dennis Franz’s brother in Die Hard 2. Stenchler serves to taunt you on from the tropical beaches of Solar City, where you are promised a vacation if you slay one million pounds of vermin. He’s always eating, and his office is literally on the beach. He has a bimbo assistant who always finishes his lines for him. At one point, he’ll call you from a jet-ski with a large wave cheesily chroma-keyed in the background. Like Ghost, you have to see his performance on the screen to truly appreciate the character and the game’s brand of humor. But they both help make the plot aspect of Sewer Shark lighthearted and genuinely enjoyable.

The game aspect is something of a different story. You view the game through the cockpit of the Shark, watching Dykstra’s sewers (all built in miniature) race by. The ship drives itself, while the D-Pad moves a gunsight around the screen. Your task is to shoot things. This lasts about a minute or two, then you are given a set of three vocal coordinates based on a clockface, such as “three, niner, six”. You’ll pass by different path changes, and you must hold down the B button and press the correct direction when the path is available. So in this case, after you’ve turned right, left, and down, you shoot more creatures for another two minutes. Then you’re treated to a cutscene and a new set of coordinates. Repeat.

Shoot sewer rats, don’t die.

That’s the entire game. Aside from a few minor plot-related changes, such as different creatures to shoot, this is all you do. It’s entertaining for a while, and you must make precise turns or you’ll end up dead, but it all gets pretty predictable fairly quickly. Creatures will only appear on certain areas of the screen, and sections of the sewer are constantly rehashed, so you’ll recognize and learn where creatures will appear for each section and have your guns ready.

It’s not a bad thing, especially if you’re used to rail shooters. Challenge gets kicked up with new things to shoot and tighter windows of reaction time. Your pod’s energy becomes an issue later, and missing recharge stations will be a death sentence. But really, seeing the next funny cutscene, and not the gameplay, is what will drive you to keep playing. Basically, it’s a great short film, but a mostly average game.

Technically, the game is sound. The graphics still show the usual pixelation and blurriness rampant in Sega CD games, but it seems a little more manageable here, as they are shown in small windows and aren’t stretched to fill the full screen. Dykstra’s sewers look fantastic in motion, especially considering this is one of the first full-motion video (FMV) games. Controls work great, and the effects and music are just fine.

However, the game itself isn’t a particularly enjoyable shooter. As you get tighter and tighter reaction times, you’ll wish you weren’t steering the gunsight with a D-pad. It’s worth playing through once for the story and the characters, but there’s not much here worth returning for. If you can’t find this game, you’re missing some legitimate laughs, but nothing else.


The Good

Great characters and chuckle-worthy moments; if it were a full film I’d watch it.


The Bad

Otherwise a pretty average game built on some quality video clips. The usual “aiming with a controller pad” issues.


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4 thoughts on “Sewer Shark

  1. Wow this brings back memories. I’m the only person I know who ever owned a sega mega CD. My well-meaning parents bought it for for me one christmas because the guy at the games shop said it was “must-have”. Still, at the time I thought it was great. I remember giving up on this game because I couldn’t figure out what to do – I didn’t realise I had to follow the directions and I kept dying! (I was a young, dumb kid). I also got many hours of enjoyment out of Star Wars: Rebel Assault (again, I was a dumb kid who didn’t know any better). I did enjoy the cobra command/sol feace double pack for many years as well but they were too hard for me. Might dig out the old mega cd again one day…

  2. I remember working my butt off for a summer doing odd jobs (lawn work, scraping wallpaper, etc) to save up for a Sega CD. I feel like a lot of people forget how revolutionary it was (or at least *seemed*) at the time. I remember I wasn’t disappointed with the technology, but the games library over time didn’t keep up. And while the FMV was neat, those driving levels in Batman Returns, or the rockin’ CD soundtrack in either The Terminator or Final Fight CD were some of the best advantages of the console.

    I actually dug my console out of the basement a few months ago (a second-gen side loader model). It’s been through… five or six moves now, done nothing but sit in a box for about ten years, and what do you know – it still works! They don’t make them like they used to!

  3. I also started up my Sega cd again. It’s been lying around in a box for about 20 years. Switched thw button and it works. Still great. At Sewer Shark I constantly die when the dude on the waterscooter comes up. No idea what I have to do, hè has to kill me he says and that’s it.

    1. It’s been a long time, but I think you had to hit point targets throughout the sections to keep from getting killed. I forget if they tell you the target directly, or if it’s part of the HUD.

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