Posted by Morgan Sleeper
Jumping the Shark
The Nintendo Video service on 3DS has played host to a number of original series since its inception, including CollegeHumor's BearShark. These 3D animated comedic shorts tell the story of a rather unlucky man named Steve, doomed to be forever hunted by the most fearsome predators of both the land (Bear) and sea (Shark). The show's certainly found an audience on Nintendo's newest handheld, as it's now been adapted into a new endless runner game for the 3DS eShop.
The objective is simple: as Steve, you run automatically and forever to the right, avoiding obstacles and attempting to survive being chased by both a bear and a shark for as long as possible. Endless runners are somewhat repetitive by nature, and simplicity isn't necessarily a bad thing, but BearShark goes way beyond simple, and deep into the territory of bland and forgettable.
To begin with, there are exactly two sections of BearShark: a forest where you're pursued by Bear, and a lake where you're running from Shark. They alternate and loop endlessly, with Steve's movement speeding up every time you reach a new area. On land, you'll jump over rocks, as Shark tries to trip you up by dropping things from the sky, disguising himself as a (hopping) cupcake, or riding his bicycle towards you. Underwater, you'll dive to avoid mines and fish, while Bear will either fire torpedoes from a Soviet submarine or pop up from clamshells on the seafloor. These are interesting enough at first, but any novelty wears off very quickly as you keep passing the same obstacles over and over; you can see everything the game has to offer within minutes. The order of obstacles is randomly generated, but it actually took us quite a few games to figure that out, such is the monotony of the whole affair.
It isn't helped by the fact that, for being based on a comedy series, this is an singularly unfunny game. The closest thing to an attempt at a joke you'll find is the inclusion of a shark riding a bicycle and a bear wearing a bikini top as obstacles. It doesn't actually do anything interesting with them - they're just there, and that seems to be good enough for BearShark. Remove the bicycle and the bikini and there's nothing to suggest that Steve's life-or-death plight isn't meant to be taken completely seriously. Either way, the fact that there is a game called "BearShark" is more amusing than actually playing the game itself, and that's a shame considering the source material.
It might be easy to put down, but at least BearShark is similarly easy to pick up: it controls very simply, with any button on the 3DS - or a tap on the touchscreen - making Steve jump on land, or dive down in the water. It's responsive enough, though we found diving a bit more finicky than jumping, which offers a bit of finesse in that holding down the jump button will lead to a longer leap.
While the controls work fine, the gameplay is saddled with an interesting but poorly-implemented mechanic where running into a single obstacle won't necessarily stop you in your tracks. Each time you begin a new section, Bear or Shark will be right on your tail; if you don't hit anything for a certain amount of time, they'll back off a bit, and you'll ostensibly be able to recover from a minor mistake without being eaten. The problem is that whether or not that's actually the case seems entirely up to chance, and that leads to a lot of cheap-feeling deaths.
Steve's speeding up after every area is problematic as well, and gives the game an exponential difficulty curve. Shark's obstacles have audio "tells" that let you know when they're coming, but the rocks on land and the fish, mines, and Bear underwater all come at you without warning, and it gets almost impossible to keep track of four or five sections in. Worse, when they occasionally intersect, the trees in the foreground of the land sections can completely obscure the rocks you're supposed to be jumping over. There's also no way to pause the game, so if anything in the real world needs your attention, your run is pretty much over.
It's dull, tedious, and sometimes cheap, but BearShark isn't broken, and there's still basic enjoyment to be had in trying to best your previous runs. Distance traveled and the number of cupcakes picked up along the way both contribute to your score, and the game keeps track of one best attempt on the bottom screen as you play. The difficulty and frequent cheap shots mean that most runs won't last more than a minute or two, and that makes it well suited for quick portable play when you have a few in-between moments in the day.
In terms of presentation, BearShark scrapes by with minimum effort. Character animations are fine and the 3D effect works well, but the environments are incredibly generic and repetitive, and the overall feel is one of a Flash or mobile game on the lower end of the visual spectrum. The soundtrack consists of a jazzy title-screen number and two spy-film-lite selections, one for each area. The in-game pieces are nice tracks, but repeat so often and switch so jarringly that they wear out their welcome sooner than they might otherwise.
BearShark demonstrates what happens when an endless runner adheres a little too closely to the origins of that concept. This is a bland, uninspired, repetitive game, one that feels like it belongs in a browser window with flashing ads on either side. Players looking to run rightward forever have plenty of superior eShop options to choose from, and even fans of the show would be better off just re-watching their favourite episodes; there's so little content and personality here that the license doesn't warrant putting up with the mediocre gameplay. If you really want to honour Steve's legacy, do as he does: run from BearShark and don't look back.