So far this year, the Wii U eShop has allowed us to submerge our imaginations in the ocean with titles like Squids Odyssey and Abyss, two games we found to be rather charming and worthy of your investment. Yet, as we all should know, the ocean and the eShop are also filled with predators ready to take a big juicy bite out of your wallet, while you attempt to fathom why you left yourself vulnerable to such a perceptible attack in the first place. Even though the cheery-looking aquatic racer, Jett Tailfin, may appear to be docile and harmless on the surface, but be warned: it’s a shark in sheep’s clothing, looking to take the biggest bite of all – don’t let it.
You see, Jett Tailfin has been available on mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) for a while now, and it sells for just a couple of dollars. For some reason, though, the Wii U version – at the time of writing – fetches a much, much higher price. This doesn’t factor into how we score a game, but it is something that the consumer needs to be aware of, especially when you consider how poorly this port has been handled. When a game looks and performs better – and is more financially reasonable – on an iPhone, something’s very wrong.
This is an underwater racing game that doesn’t provide the player with much freedom. In a way, the action feels as if it’s on rails, pulling the character through narrow tunnel-like raceways with boundaries that aren’t always clearly defined. There are weapons that help introduce a bit of chaos into the mix, but they’re the usual kart racing suspects masked in sea-themed skins, and they aren’t always reliable. Much of what happens in Jett Tailfin either feels out of your control or left to chance, and with a camera that seems to shift slightly with every curve of the environment, participation can be rather disorienting.
There are so many problems that it’s hard to know which to dig into first. The controls are sluggish and unresponsive; the button mapping is unintuitive to the point where it feels as if someone went out of their way to intentionally confuse/annoy players; also, because the poorly-tuned motion controls stay active even when using the analogue stick for movement, it’s rare to feel like you have full command over your racer. Referring to the gameplay as “completely broken” might be almost too harsh, but labelling it “shoddy” would be something of an understatement. So let’s put it this way – Jett Tailfin just isn’t any fun to play; it’s a mess, and feels like work.
It doesn’t matter which mode you’ve decided on – Quick Play, Challenge, or Multiplayer – as the results are the same. While Challenge does add respectable cutscenes and minor context to the proceedings, it’s probably not captivating enough to lure players through the detestable gameplay. It doesn’t help matters that the fishy AI opponents perform in an erratic fashion. One minute your perfect racing manoeuvres won’t be enough to stay ahead of the pack, and then the next minute — even after a few mistakes — you’ll be out ahead with a commanding lead. It’s incredibly frustrating to experience and nearly impossible to anticipate; if you want to unlock all of the stages in Quick Play, they’ll need to be conquered in Challenge mode, which, we presume, few will have the patience for.
Technical issues and perplexing design choices also surface to muddy the waters even further. Whether it’s the unstable frame rate chopping up your race or a random glitch that forces a restart, Jett Tailfin is ripe with abnormalities sure to lower your already-low opinion of it. When you consider the sub-par quality of the visuals, the poor voice acting, the absence of key sound effects and the many control discrepancies, it’s almost impossible to conjure up a single reason why this download might be worth your time or money.
In the transition from mobile marketplaces to the Wii U eShop, Jett Tailfin has been ported so carelessly that it's borderline broken: the controls are abysmal, technical complications are in abundance, and, even when things are running at their smoothest the gameplay is extremely bland. When you combine those devastating shortcomings with the offensive price point, you have a game that should be completely ignored. In fact, pretend that you didn't stumble upon this review and convince yourself that you've never heard of Jett Tailfin. There are plenty of other — more talented and deserving — fish in the sea.