Family-friendly food chain fun.

I can’t imagine there are many Nintendo reviewers old enough to have played Shark! Shark!’s original release on the Intellivision. I imagine there are fewer who’d want to admit it, but that was me. I owned the original release of Shark! Shark! in 1982, and now I’m playing its remake in 2023…although not where I expected to.

This version of Shark! Shark!, from BBG Entertainment, was originally developed for the Intellivision Amico. The story of that ill-fated system is a sad one for me as an “Amico Founder” (yes, I still have my receipt; no, I haven’t requested a refund), but a happy one as a Switch gamer now that some Amico titles are showing up elsewhere.

As with almost all video games from 1982, the premise of Shark! Shark! is incredibly simple. You’re a small fish who has to grow by eating even smaller fish. The larger you grow, the larger the fish you can eat. But there’s a shark.

You can’t kill the shark (although you can brave nibbling its tail for extra points), and it seems to have interest in you alone all Jaws IV style. It’s not on the screen all the time, and its appearance is prefaced by a warning sound, but you don’t know where it’ll appear and how it’ll attack once it does. If the shark does get you, you’ll become bones for a bit, then respawn at your original size. Lose five lives and it’s game over.

The shark isn’t the only danger. There are blowfish that puff up to get you with their spikes. There are jellyfish and electric eels that can sting you. Most of these enemies serve as a way to stun and/or trap you for the shark, and they do add a level of frustration, especially in multiplayer mode. But there are some helpful items, too. You can pick up a bubble shield, for example, that will protect you from a bite, and there are various pearls you can acquire for bonus points.

If the game sounds simple to play, that’s because it is. The remake of Shark! Shark! may have updated graphics and audio, but it doesn’t add much to the gameplay itself. You just try to work your way up the food chain while dodging things that want to use you to achieve the same goal. Like the shark. And the orcas. And the…kraken? Eat enough and you’ll start over in the next environment.

So, there’s not a lot to do in Shark! Shark!, but the difficulty ramps up nicely, and (slightly) different environments are unlocked as you proceed. More importantly, you can change with whom you play. The game’s single player adventure mode can be played by up to four people, and you get to determine whether players can eat each other’s fish. Turning that off will help alleviate some fights amongst the kids. Players can also go straight to multiplayer battles between up to four local or online contestants, with cross-platform play supported.

Gameplay is smooth and consistent throughout the remake, and it does get quite challenging as you push along. The presentation is fine, too, although I wish the developers had been a bit more adventurous with the visuals and audio. Both seem perfunctory. I understand the aim towards a family-oriented audience, but that doesn’t mean the game needs to look like a low-budget children’s cartoon. Also, the in-game menus are oddly hard to decipher. This isn’t a big deal since there aren’t too many options, but the process of selecting your game mode and fish type seems counterintuitive.

Finally, I’ll raise my unreasonable objection that the original Intellivision version is not included as a bonus. I get that few Switch gamers would care, but many retro remakes of late have included such a feature.

That would’ve been a nice nod towards the original developers, too, which is noteworthy because the dev team included the first female game developer: Ji-Wen Tsao. In addition, the original Shark! Shark! was selected by the National Game Preservation Board in 2009 for permanent inclusion in the United States Library of Congress National Game Registry.

I must also opine that the noise the shark made when appearing on screen in the Intellivision original is still possibly the coolest sound queue in the history of video gaming.

As it stands, the Shark! Shark! remake provides an engaging—if not a bit bland—take on this interesting bit of gaming history. Its lack of hyperactivity will prevent it from becoming a mutliplayer party staple for seasoned gamers, but kids and families will enjoy it…and wasn’t that the Amico’s very reason to (almost) be?