It’s hard to remember now but Jaws was a theatrical phenomenon along the lines of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. The movie preyed on everyone’s fear of the ocean’s depths and was thrilling. It was also both terrifying and hilarious to see people die in gruesome ways. Personally I was more afraid of Freddy Krueger but that was because I saw a Nightmare on Elm Street way too young. I also didn’t go to the beach that often so Freddy was more likely to get me than a random shark. With the popularity of the films it should come as no surprise that there is a Jaws video game. It also shouldn’t be surprising that the game is terrible as well.
Despite its name Jaws is not based on the first movie. This was released around the same time as Jaws the Revenge, the fourth film and is (extremely) loosely based on that movie’s events. A game about a giant shark devouring the family that killed its parent would certainly have turned out better than this. But I’m sure it wouldn’t have been kosher with Nintendo of America. Instead we wound up with….this.
As bad as the game is Jaws shows the power of a strong license. Growing up everyone had this stupid game which in retrospect was baffling. No one quite understood its mechanics yet they had to have it. Even when I went to college I ran into many who expressed fondness for Jaws. If you’ve ever wondered why video game companies would pursue even the most obscure licenses this is the reason why.
Surprisingly the best description of Jaws is as an action RPG. You pilot your boat to points of interest on the map to collect items. Every few seconds you’ll collide with something, initiating a brief action sequence. Here you kill sea life to collect items; conch shells (currency), stars for points, and crabs that boost movement speed. Occasionally a shark will appear; killing these grants access to the bonus round where you can earn extra shells. There is one other item, a submarine that has rapid fire and faster movement. It rarely appears however and is gone after a single hit.
The game follows a simple loop. The first time you reach the opposite port you’ll receive a radar to find Jaws. Each successive trip to port will increase your attack power in exchange for shells. Jaws can appear at any time and you are given a small window to damage him. At first you will barely damage the bastard. But with more power that changes. It will take a few encounters to finally put him down as Jaws is a sturdy beast. In between each battle he heals some damage depending on how long since you last fought. I wish I could say fighting Jaws is epic but it barely differs from the regular shark battles other than him being a bullet sponge.
Even after you manage to defeat Jaws there is still some bullshit left. Once you’ve exhausted his life bar you are taken to a first person sequence. Here you must harpoon an approaching Jaws and ram him with your boat. You only get three tries and if you fail you’ll have to kill Jaws all over again. This segment is frustrating since it is never obvious how close the stupid shark has to be for the ship to hit. Nearly everyone will fail the first time at which point they’ll more than likely turn the game off rather than go through the whole process again.
Despite its interesting design the problem with Jaws is that it is a few minutes of content stretched out to a full game. Granted the game can be completed in less than ten minutes but still. There are two locations on the map with little in between. The only reason it seems to take so long is because of the random encounters every few seconds. There are four enemies in the game, including Jaws. It’s incredibly tedious shuffling back and forth between both ports to power up to kill Jaws. Somehow they managed to make a ten minute game incredibly boring. That is a feat in and of itself.
I can see the kernel of a decent game here. Emphasis on decent. But at the end of the day Jaws wasn’t worth bothering with back in the day and especially not now. How this game ever became so popular will forever remain a mystery to me. Jaws is one of the worst games in the NES library. There are plenty of other games that will allow you to kill sharks if you are really into that sort of thing.