WedNESday Review: Jaws (NES, 1987)
Let me say this up front: Jaws is not a horrible game.
No, it’s not a masterpiece for the NES. No, it won’t win many “favorite game” awards. Conversely, Jaws isn’t really LJN levels of bad. It’s a flawed game and it’s a very short game, but it’s also quite playable and even mildly enjoyable in spots.
The basic objective in Jaws is to take down the beast before it eats all of your lives. This is done by traveling between two points– ports, if you will– and exchanging conch shells for power-ups and increased strength which is necessary to have any chance against Jaws when you confront it in battle during the game. Once Jaws’ hit points are dropped to zero, there’s one final scene where you must spear the shark with the front of the ship.
During this back and forth travel between the two ports, you will randomly “hit something” and be dropped into undersea encounters with jellyfish, rays, and small sharks. These enemies are dispatched using a trusty spear gun, which fires as fast as your thumb can tap the B button. Some creatures will drop items after they’ve been eliminated, including golden crabs, starfish, and conch shells. Crabs act as a speed enhancer, while starfish score extra points. The conch shells are the most important commodity, as these are necessary to use at each port to trade in towards power-ups. If you don’t have enough shells at a port to power up, you’re turned away until you do. These battles are okay for awhile, but as you increase your Power level, the waves become tougher. Jellyfish travel in a more haphazard fashion, rays pick up speed, and small sharks begin engaging you in multiples. The increase in difficulty will definitely keep you on your toes.
These random battles are generally pretty easy, but when they occur close to a port, the battle zone is significantly reduced in size. This can have a negative effect in battle because, without much room to maneuver, it’s very easy to run into an enemy and lose a life. Losing a life is bad enough, but Jaws punishes players for doing so by taking away half of the shells collected, lowering the accumulated power level, and taking away the receiver used to track Jaws’ whereabouts. The receiver is always the first power-up obtained when visiting a port and costs 5 shells to attain, so losing a life means an additional loss of shells and a wasted port visit to reclaim the item. It’s also possible to lose a life in the larger battle zones, too. This usually happens if the player spends too much time near the sea floor, as jellyfish usually rise from the bottom and can be unavoidable if the player is combing the floor for objects like shells or starfish.
Extra shells can be earned via occasional bonus stages. Much like bonus stages in Galaga and Gyruss, the objective here is to take down as many enemies as possible. Players drop bombs from a plane that flies back and forth across the sky above the sea, while enemies travel in waves below. Timing and accuracy are essential to scoring a decent number of hits, and these hits translate into extra shells at the end. There are quite a few variations to the enemy waves in the bonus stages, and they break up the monotony of random battles that do become tedious before long.
Inevitably, players will run into the large fin of Jaws while traversing the open sea. This is a boss encounter, and unless you’ve managed to run your Power level up to 5 or greater, this battle is one that you cannot win. It doesn’t matter how many times you shoot Jaws, because hit points drop according to how powerful your spear gun has become. If you’re not at a high enough Power level, the stage will end and you’ll be transported back to your ship before you can deplete Jaws’ hit points. Aside from Jaws, players will also have to contend with the usual suspects during battle. Trying to avoid getting hit by the various enemies, plus trying to shoot what you can while doing so, tends to make these encounters pretty harrowing.
Once you’ve managed to drain Jaws’ hit points– likely after losing a life or two and visiting each port several times– the game shifts to a new perspective as you now have to finish Jaws off. This is done by running the shark through with the post located on the ship’s bow. in order to do so, Jaws must first be coaxed above the water. This is done using Strobes, which are dropped into the sea by pressing the A button. Once Jaws surfaces, simply run into him with the bow and you win! Of course, it’s not quite that easy to take Jaws down, and if you run out of strobes, you have to hunt down more conch shells and visit the ports again to earn more.
Beating Jaws earns you one of the weaker endings in the NES library, which I won’t spoil here (but can be seen on YouTube if you absolutely must know without experiencing it for yourself). All told, the game usually takes about an hour to beat on average, and two at the most. Deaths will set you back, but after a decent amount of experience and understanding enemy attack patterns, Jaws is very beatable for players of most skill levels. There’s not really a lot of replay value here, either. Scoring is generally pointless and the repetition involved is something that isn’t terribly inviting for subsequent playthroughs.
Jaws will set you back between $3-$5 for a loose cart, though it’s considerably more for a complete in box (CiB) set. If you see it while out retro hunting, it might be worth a few bucks to take to the high seas and see if you can take down the titular shark. The graphics and sound are okay and the game controls are pretty responsive. Just don’t expect this game to be one that you go back to playing often… instead, maybe it’ll be fun to pull out of your library for certain occasions, like I did for Shark Week this week.
Consoleation Report Card: C+