From the Finding Nemo-esque logo and the bulbous eyes of the sharks, you might get the impression this is a family-friendly romp where you munch through the ocean like a sea-faring Pac-Man, accruing points and combos as you go. Which is pretty accurate, apart from the ‘family-friendly’ bit – Hungry Shark World is gleefully, ridiculously blood-thirsty.
This side-on gobbler is the latest in a successful mobile series from Ubisoft studio Future Games Of London. Originally released in 2016, it’s been reworked for consoles to remove microtransactions with an XP system. This works well enough, although it takes longer than you might expect to get to the newer environments. Your goal is to survive as long as possible, complete missions and score points to unlock bigger, badder sharks and move around the globe to four different feeding grounds.
Controls are simple – the left stick moves your shark and ‘ZR’ activates a brief speed boost linked to a meter that recharges after a few seconds. A life meter steadily depletes when you’re not devouring marine life, forcing you to eat continuously. Swimming into smaller fish is enough to ingest them, but larger prey – such as harpoon-throwing divers, dolphins and even other sharks – require a little more mastication, activated with ‘ZL’.
Movement feels somewhat imprecise at the beginning and we occasionally wished we could zoom out a tad to get a better view of the surroundings – it can be difficult to make out your position when things get busy. The touchscreen would have been useful on menus, but at the time of writing, there’s zero touch support on Switch – strange considering the game’s smartphone origins. It’s hardly a visual showcase either, but environments look pleasant enough.
You’ll find the ocean teeming with life, human and otherwise. There’s a whole host of collectables, from treasure chests and maps to floating letters and fossils. Hitting ‘Y’ brings up a map with important locations highlighted and a list of missions for your current shark – each one has ten to complete. These vary from things like ‘Survive for four minutes wearing a pirate cravat’ to ‘Eat 30 dolphins in a single swim.’ Fulfilling these requirements unlocks more accessories for purchase and new, larger sharks which can destroy underwater barriers enabling you to explore further.
Upon selecting our starter porbeagle (nearly all the sharks are based on real-world fish, although the realism stops there), we dived in, immediately encountered an idle bather and started gnawing on him. It took a while but soon a cloud of blood appeared as he wailed “I don’t wanna die!” in a cod-Australian accent and we shot off for our next meal.
Soon we were purchasing comedy moustaches, clown noses and hula skirts using in-game gold and recruiting baby sharks to accompany us on our deadly sprees. All this gear comes with perks giving percentage increases to speed, bite radius and other stats.
But why stop at the ocean when there’s a veritable buffet of delights to devour above the surface as well? Nowhere is safe from your mindless eating machine and the developer doubles down on the game’s glorious absurdity in the name of score-chasing fun. A meter gradually fills as you eat, eventually initiating a Gold Rush that turns tough, chewy prey to butter and earns you big points. Every so often a Mega Gold Rush will trigger, enabling you to scoff down entire whales in mere moments. Keep going and you’ll turn giant and eat everything on screen.
Fun as it is, optimisation problems spoil the experience. Load times are lengthy – over 40 seconds from menu to gameplay. More egregiously, upon death you’re sent back to the main menu via another loading screen – 15 seconds this time. Instant retries aren’t available which, for a quick-fire score-chasing game, utterly destroys your momentum.
Unfortunately, technical issues don’t stop there. We experienced several crashes throughout our review. This is obviously infuriating when you’re in the middle of chasing a big score and again it highlights not only the crippling load times, but also the repetitive nature of the gameplay. When you’re in the middle of a feeding frenzy, each multiplier is enough of a dopamine hit to keep you playing, but being pushed out to the Switch’s main menu makes you wonder if ‘just-one-more’ is worth it. The obvious optimisation issues with the port are disappointing – Switch should handle this with no problems whatsoever.
If you find Ecco the Dolphin a bit dull, Hungry Shark World is an ideal antidote – what it lacks in finesse it makes up for with vicious energy. The gated content is doled out a little slowly, but the base gameplay is fast and satisfying, if a little repetitive. However, it's the interminable loading screens that truly destroy the pace and hamper the arcade-style fun, making this one hard to recommend.