Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shark! Shark! for the Intellivision (and Feeding Frenzy for the Xbox 360)

I was reading through some more old gaming magazines and I came across an old review for the Intellivision game Shark! Shark! in the November 1983 issue of Videogaming and Computer Gaming Illustrated. For some reason I always enjoy reading the reviews of these old games that were written when they were new. Here is a copy of the review if you care to check it out (summary: they quite liked it).

I had heard of Shark! Shark! but never had the opportunity to play it back in the day. But the article included a screenshot of the game which immediatey made me think - hey that looks a lot like an old-school version of Feeding Frenzy - a fun little Xbox Live Arcade game I bought dirt cheap on a used compilation disk (it cost me around $2 for 6 games).

Shark! Shark! screenshot

Feeding Frenzy screenshot
My curiosity was sufficiently piqued that I decided to give Shark! Shark! a try. This was one of those lower-tier curiosities that didn't quite spur me to hit eBay for the original game to play on my Intellivision II, but with the Bliss emulator and an Intellivision controller-to-USB adapter that I bought from Retrozone a few years back it emulates the original experience very well.

It only took a minute of playing Shark! Shark! to conclude that yes indeed, Feeding Frenzy is pretty much an uncredited ripoff of the Intellivision original. In the game you control a fish swimming around in the ocean eating smaller fish for points. After every 1000 points you grow in size which allows you to eat even bigger fish for more points. If you touch a fish that is bigger than you then YOU get eaten - makes sense - so you are constantly swimming around to avoid larger fish, sharks, jellyfish, seahorses, lobsters, and crabs that would love nothing more than to excrete your undigested remnants through their waterproof ani.

I don't know if you ever get large enough to eat the shark straight on but you can sneak up behind him and bite his tail and if you can manage to bite him at least three times (more as the levels progress) without him chomping you then he dies and sinks to the ocean floor (Feeding Frenzy stole this exact same gameplay mechanic too).  Also you can eat the lobsters that jump up at you from the sea floor, but only if you bite them on their way back down. If they hit you on the way up you're sushi and you start over as a small fish. You start the game with 5 small fish and you get a free small fish for every shark, crab, or lobster that you manage to kill. You also get 3 "darts" where you are able to kick in a burst of speed to either catch your prey or avoid your predator. The overlay shows 3 different darts but they all seemed to be the same speed so I don't think there is any difference.

Shark! Shark! Overlay
At the end of the game it plays a nice little song and displays the high score. One bit of trivia - Mattel was going to play "Mack the Knife" when the game was over (with the lyric "Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth dear...") and even put together a nice arrangement for the prototype but when their lawyers tracked down the song owners to obtain the license they discovered it was owned by Warner Communications - the parent company of their arch-rival Atari.  So they trashed that idea and wrote an original tune instead.

The graphics were decent for an Intellivision game and I thought the sound effects, although simplistic, did a pretty good job of simulating an underwater experience. Also, it offers a cool 2-player simultaneous competitive play where you can eat smaller fish to grow but can also eat your opponent if he is smaller. That is a nice variation that I don't think is even offered by Feeding Frenzy.

Overall I enjoyed the game and think it would make a good addition to an Intellivision collection. I only have 2 complaints - 1) the action is a little too slow to develop in the early parts of the game and 2) the gameplay is virtually 100% based on 360 degree movement and that damn circular control pad on the Intellivision controller has always driven me nuts. So it makes it a little tough to control sometimes - for me anyway. But that is a system controller issue rather than the fault of the game itself.

If you don't have an Intellivision and don't care for emulators - Shark! Shark! is included on the excellent Intellivision compilation - 'Intellivision Lives' which is available for the PC, XBox, Gamecube, Playstation 2, iPhone, XBox 360, and Nintendo DS. I have it on the original XBox but I am rather intrigued by the DS version which uses the bottom touchscreen to simulate the original overlay controller action and the upper screen for the monitor.

Intellivision's Utopia on the Nintendo DS
One last note.  Writing this I discovered that the original design for Shark! Shark! was created by Don Daglow while he was Director of Intellivision Game Development. Daglow, along with Eddie Dombrower, wrote my absolute all-time favorite baseball video game (and one of my favorite PC games of any genre) - Earl Weaver Baseball.  He also wrote the first ever baseball computer game on a PDP-10 mainframe in 1971, the excellent Tony LaRussa Baseball in 1991, and a number of other Intellivision classics, but for me Earl Weaver Baseball is the true feather in his cap!  Daglow's design for Shark! Shark! was enhanced and programmed by Ji Wen Tsao, one of the first female video game programmers in the industry.

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Fallguy40 said...

I've extremely impressed by the DS implementation of Intellivision games. That is easily the best yet.

I've only played Shark Shark on the PC version of Intellivision Lives. It was a fun game that would have gotten a lot of play time from me had I gotten it back in the day.

MadPlanet said...

Yeah it looks pretty nice. I didn't have much interest until I saw the picture with the overlay on the bottom touchscreen and thought - well hey that's pretty cool. Whenever people are tired enough of their old DSs to sell them on Craigslist for around $20 I will get one and a copy of I.L. for it.

MadPlanet said...

oh - and I know you aren't quite as retro-oriented as I am Fallguy so for a new-gen makeover of S.S. you might want to check out Feeding Frenzy. I think it is available for download on PSN now as well. Fun little game. Feeding Frenzy 2 is out now too. Just consider it an homage instead of a ripoff.

Paradroyd said...

It's the review they tout the uniqueness of the game, and I guess at the time, it was. It was probably one of the first, if not THE first games of it's type, but the concept has been reused many times since then. As MadPlanet said, there's Feeding Frenzy. Also there's a game called, "Doodle Fish" that's in a game compilation called "Gamebox" for the iPhone/Ipod touch that's almost identical. Then there's a wiiWare game that I picked up for the Nintendo Wii a few months ago that's almost the same (can't remember the exact name of it at the moment). I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones I've personally run across recently.

About the DS version of Intellivision Lives.. I'm actually a bit disappointed with it. I have an original Intellivision, which I practically played to death back in the day. It's one of my favorite systems of all time. I've bought many different Intellivision compilations on many different platforms over the years, and I've played all of the emulators I could get my hands on (incidentally, I like Nostagia for Windows the best). Anyway, the point is, I'm very familiar with the feel of the games, the system, the whole bit. The concept of the DS version is absolutely freaking brilliant, using the touch screen for overlays. The in-game manuals are excellent too. Unfortunately though, the emulation itself is a bit off. There are bugs in many of the games that aren't in the originals, but are consistently reproducible in the DS version. One of the big ones off the top of my head is that when you're playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (called "Crown of Kings" in the DS version)you'll be running along through the maze and all of the sudden you're uncontrollably passing though walls. I've hit that one quite a few times ONLY in the DS version. There are a few other weird little things like that. Not huge stuff, just weird little bugs. The other thing is that there are a lot of weird and somewhat crippling interface changes and omissions. For example, when you're playing Advanced D&D, Treasures of Tarmin (renamed Minotaur), when you're walking around the dungeon, there's no way to see what's in your right or left hand! (unless I'm missing something) The icons are just missing. Another curious omission is that there's no way to count your arrows in Crown of Kings. On the harder levels, that can be a big deal. I just don't see why they left it out. It's not like the DS couldn't handle it.

None of this stuff is a show-stopper on it's own, but it all adds up to hobble what really could have and should have been one of the most awesome Intellivsion emulator products ever, especially with the dual-screen overlay coolness.

I really was looking forward to Intellivsion Lives for DS, but I find myself using other emulators because of it's issues. Seriously, if they acknowledged the issues, did a fixed second version of it and re-released it there's a good chance I would buy it again. I loved the original system that much. They got so close too...

MadPlanet said...

Well since I got that USB adapter that let me use my Intellivision II controllers (since the first ones were not detachable) I prefer to use the PC emulators too since it is closer to the real console experience. But I did think the DS emulation of the overlays looked pretty darn cool. Bugs would definitely be annoying though. I'll check it out one of these days after DS prices drop down to what the GBAs go for these days.

Oh - and actually I agree with you on Nostalgia. I like it better as a standalone emulator, and meant to mention it in the post but I forgot. I just use Bliss because I run all my emus through the Hyperspin frontend and I had fewer problems setting up Bliss than I did with Nostalgia. And since it bypasses the Nostalgia FE I didn't get to see the box art and screenshots that Nostalgia offers anyway.

Fallguy40 said...

That is disappointing to hear that the DS version isn't that great as it should easily be the best with the overlay recreation.

MadPlanet said...

That's what I thought too. That is the one drawback of my emulator setup is that I don't have any of the overlays. A lot of games I tried don't even use the keypad buttons or maybe just 1 and they still work fine. Well the original cart with the real overlay and console is always the way to go if you can. And I always loved that Intellivision box art!

Paradroyd said...

I took a look at retrozone, which I didn't know about before (thanks, Madplanet). Sadly, though they have adapters for a lot of old systems, there's no mention there of an Intellivision USB adapter now. It looks like it's been discontinued long ago.

I have a slightly unusual variant of the original Intellivision. It's the Sears super arcade, which is a re-branded version of the Intellivision 1 with different coloring and detatchable controllers with non-coiled cords. They have the standard 9 pin connector on them, so chances are I could use them with an adapter too if I could find one.

I might have to take another look at Bliss, too. I have a couple of installations of XBMC on small PCs hooked up to out TVs here. In addition to using them as a front-end for media I have on a server, theres a plug-in called "launcher" for XBMC that I use to launch emulator based games. Launcher takes care of the presentation of games with box art and all of that, and mostly hides the guts of the underlying emulators. I have it set up with MAME, WinUAE, and Vice so far, but I haven't been able to get Nostalgia to launch reliably with ROMs as command line parameters, so I haven't gotten Intellivision integrated into it yet. Bliss might be the ticket to make that work.

As far as Intellivision Lives for DS.. don't get me wrong.. it's not terrible by any means. It's still more than worth the money. It's just not as perfect as it could have been and should have been for a somewhat delayed-to-market commercial product. If your not an emulator-head like me, it's probably the best Intellivision emulator out there that you can just switch on and use out of the box without messing with ROMs and configurations. If you weren't as hard-core into the games as I was you may not even notice a lot of the problems and omissions. I just think they could have done better.

For what it's worth, when I was looking for Intellivision Lives at a local Gamestop, they didn't have it yet, but they had a similar Atari emulator product called "Atari's Greatest Hits, Volume 1" for DS. I bought it on the spot, and I'm glad I did. While I didn't like the Atari 2600 system as much as the Intellivision, they really got this product right. It's polished in a way that the Intellivision for DS isn't..rock solid, and it includes a few Atari arcade machine emulations. Among them, it includes Battlezone, which was one of my early arcade favorites.

Paradroyd said...

In looking back at my recent comments, it's occurred to me that I'm really wordy. It's a wonder that I can use twitter at all..

MadPlanet said...

I heard that Gamestop originally refused to carry Intellivision Lives since it did not appeal to their target demographic. Although it looks like they have it now so I guess they relented on that stance.

Yeah - passing command line parameters properly and exiting the games back to the FE was what I was getting hung up with on Nostalgia. Give Bliss a shot. You'll have to google it to get the setup files though, it hasn't been updated in forever and I think they even took down the main website.

I typically use Stella for 2600 games I don't have and MAME (of course) for arcade, but I do have a couple of decent Atari compilations too - Atari Anniversary Edition on PC and Atari Classics Evolved on PSP which is decent. Both are cheap and pretty good.

MadPlanet said...

oh - yeah, unfortunately Retrozone stopped selling the Intellivision adapters shortly after I got mine. I even bought a couple of cheap used Colecovision controllers off eBay intending to buy some of their Colecovision adapters and they stopped selling them too. I e-mailed them one time asking when they might have some more and they said never because they just couldn't sell them.

And fear not Paradroyd - all comments are welcome at the Gameroom, from the longest musing to the shortest tweet!