Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Sewer Shark (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1992
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Sony Imagesoft
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $0.87 (used), $20.00 (new) (pricecharting.com
Price: $3-$10 (used) – Since this game was a pack-in, almost never seen sealed outside console bundles
Other Releases: 3DO
Digital Release? No

Sewer Shark is another converted game from the canceled Hasbro NEMO console and was intended to be played using a VHS (just like Night Trap) although how they were going to do it is completely beyond me.  Most of the games I covered last week were good concepts that resulted in okay launch games that were flawed either by long load times or just not fully fleshed out.  I would argue that among the launch window titles, Sewer Shark is the exception.  It is a complete video game that utilizes the video functionality of the console and combines it with simple gameplay mechanics to make a solid experience.

sewershark1Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the surface of Earth is unlivable and creatures are forced underground to dwell in drab conditions.  Not only that but the creatures of the sewers have mutated, causing larger sizes (scorpions and bats) and hybrids (ratigators – a hybrid of rats and alligators) that make sewers a dangerous world to trek on foot.  As a result, little ships that can navigate the sewers, known as Sewer Sharks, navigate the tunnels to get people around, hunt for food, and offer a promise of the one haven left on the planet: Solar City.  In Sewer Shark you play a new pilot recruit (nicknamed “sewer jockey”) that has the overall goal of retiring in Solar City.  Unfortunately almost every jockey that attempts the trek dies in a sewer crash or by the hands of some mysterious danger in Sector 19, the final stretch before Solar City.  As best put by your co-pilot Ghost in the beginning, you receive, “a name, a boss, a friend, and a reason to live…a million pounds of tubesteak, that’s all you gotta deliver today hotshot!” in order to make it to the end.  This is important because the game has a very simple task – navigate the sewers, kill enemies to collect points (pounds of tubesteak), and once you hit a million you get the final encounter.  It’s a pretty decent setup and definitely a concept not overused in games at that point, unfortunately to collect all this information you have to read the manual and play close attention to the introduction that can be skipped by simply pressing start.

In terms of how to actually play the game, you’re basically given coordinates by various people that come in sets of 3 and give your required sewer turns in clock directions.  Here’s an example: six, twelve, niner – this means you need to take a down turn (six o’clock is straight down), an up turn (12 o’clock is up), and then a left turn (left is at nine o’clock) in that specific order.  This is the randomly generated safe path for the sewers, miss a turn or take the wrong turn and you will most likely crash and burn (in the first two sets you may live if you make a single wrong turn).  Turning isn’t as complicated as it seems, the indicator at the top of the screen will flash when a turn is coming up and when you see the turn you want, hold B and press that direction to turn.  While you’re juggling turns you also need to shoot enemies on the screen using the target reticule and in the later parts of the game launch CO2 flares when your levels get too high (you’ll be verbally warned, like seen in the video, and you just tap the C button once).  Later in the game there will be enemies that will kill you if you don’t take them out, enemies that drain your energy (which will also kill you if you run out), and there’s a twist that requires you to take visual cues from the screen for your turns.  To prevent your energy from running out, you need to jump into recharge stations (again, you’ll get a verbal cue) that are either at 3 or 9 o’clock and are indicated with a green light on the ceiling, you have to quickly punch in the direction (there will be no turn indicator) to take the side route and get more energy.  Like all other concepts in this game, you should be fine if you miss the first one, but after that you’re tasked with perfection.

sewershark2This game does a great job at following the basics of game design: introduce all of the mechanics and gradually make the game harder to test the player.  Unfortunately many people would find this upward battle to be incredibly boring (on a good day you’ll be doing this for at least an hour of consistent gameplay, but I’ve logged at least 10 cumulative hours to beat it), so you get an interesting plot with some mystery to it.  I will warn you that every explanation and plot point is dumb and you can actually guess the biggest mystery from the back of the box of certain versions, but until that is revealed it holds your interest well enough.  It’s really a game that tests your reflexes, memory, and ability to keep an eye on multiple parts of the screen at the same time.  By the end of the game I found myself getting a decent rush to see if I would make it to the end.  Apparently Sega also felt this game had good potential because it became the official pack-in game for the Sega CD Model 2 and is easily the least rare game on the console – you’ll be able to pick it up for a few bucks and is usually in stock at any used game store that stocks Sega CD games.  I just like that it was the first game that looked and played like a cartridge console game and finally gave hope that one day CD games would be indistinguishable between cartridge games.  Of course I don’t think we ever got there but CD games did become the norm only a few short years later.

Sewer Shark is among the many full motion video (FMV) games to be criticized and blamed for the negative connections to the Sega CD, but that is definitely misplaced with this game.  It may not be perfect, but it is interesting and well worth checking out if you ever pick up a Sega CD, especially since you’ll see hundreds for sale in your search for other games.  For those just curious, I’ve provided gameplay video below of the entire campaign from start to finish (roughly 40 minutes).  I should note that near the end I do die and I stopped recording because I never knew that simply pressing start during the credits would allow you to continue at the beginning of your current call sign section (there are four).  As soon as a cutscene allowed me to, I started recording again and I’m glad I did because for the first time ever, I beat the game.

Written by Fred Rojas

November 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm

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