Game Over, Man! – Jaws

In our Game Over, Man! series, we explore the history of video games that are based on movies, one game at a time. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1987’s JAWS for the NES…

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1975’s Jaws was a landmark in cinema. It introduced the world to the concept of the “Summer blockbuster”, launched the career of Steven Spielberg and made a generation of moviegoers afraid of the ocean. The film was even selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Despite its massive success, it didn’t receive a video game tie-in for over a decade after its release, by which point another three films had been released in the series. Part 4 of our “Game Over, Man!” series takes a look at the giant shark’s first foray into the world of gaming.

Primarily based on Jaws: The Revenge (the fourth film in the series), Jaws was released on the NES in November 1987, developed by Atlus/Westone Bit Entertainment and published by LJN. The game sees players control a boat travelling across the sea, being stalked by a huge shark, and randomly encountering groups of hostile sea wildlife.

When the player’s boat hits something on the overhead map, players are then taken to a screen where they control a diver, firing harpoon projectiles at enemies to collect shells, star powerups. The shells act as a currency to spend at different harbours situated across the map, upgrading your gear and generally making the game a bit easier for yourself.

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The game encourages players to move quickly while they are on the overhead map though, as the titular character can show up at any point, forcing an encounter with it. How difficult this section is completely depends on how much you’ve upgraded your inventory.

There isn’t anything too exciting about the gameplay in Jaws. The repetitive levels are easy to get through and somewhat forgettable. While the point of the game is to hunt down and kill Jaws, the RPG elements feel like they’ve been forced into the game in order to pad out the experience.

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Another frustrating element of the game is the fact that every time you go underwater there’s a time limit that’s never visible onscreen, which means if you’re fighting Jaws, you must kill him very quickly or else he’ll regain his health and you have start all over again. Every time you die in the game, your experience level decreases by one (unless if it’s at the very minimum), and you lose half your shells. This becomes a major issue when you take into account that you only have 3 lives at your disposal, and that a single hit from an enemy can end a run instantly.

A bonus stage pops up randomly throughout the game that sees player dropping bombs on several waves of jellyfish from a plane that quickly crosses the top of the screen. While the initial playthrough of the level is a welcome change of pace from the normal stages, having to play the exact same stage again at an undetermined point makes things feel very boring indeed. Considering how these stages feel a bit tricky to get the hang of anyway, the reward for completing these bonus stages isn’t too satisfying either, as you only gain a few shells and some points to add to your score.

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Jaws‘ graphics are pretty basic across the board. The character sprites are recognisable, the backgrounds are detailed enough to help differentiate between shallow and deep water, and the overhead map that players constantly revisit isn’t too shabby either.

The game’s music doesn’t really bear any resemblance to the iconic John Williams score of the original movie, but Shinichi Sakamoto (known for his great Wonder Boy in Monster Land and Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap soundtracks) does an admirable job of representing water movement through the music volume. The same technique is used whenever Jaws is approaching your boat on the overhead map; the closer he is, the louder the music is (thus rendering the Tracker item pointless). It’s not a perfect transition, but considering the NES cartridge limitations at the time, you’ve got to give him credit for attempting something as innovative as this.

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As far as LJN games go, this is far from the worst movie game out there. It’s a repetitive, bare-bones (and, at times, pointless) experience, but still has enough charm to keep you invested in the 10 to 15 minutes it’ll take you to complete it. While there’s little to no replay value in the game, its visuals and audio are perfectly reasonable, so it’s worth a look at if you have a few minutes to spare.

Have you ever played the JAWS game for NES? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!

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