Hope you're hungry.
While many games have used sharks as a way to keep players out of the water, very few games have actually let you take control of the sharks, come on land, and eat the unsuspecting humans tanning on the beach. Maneater from Tripwire Interactive is that game, filled with campy humor and a plot that starts and ends at being derivative of Discovery Channel’s Swamp People, while offering insanely satisfying action. Even though this shark-RPG adds mechanics you wouldn’t expect from a title that’s so ridiculous, Maneater fails to make its base gameplay interesting for longer than a short while.
As the orphaned bullpup of notorious shark hunter Scaly Pete’s last catch, you’ll find yourself small and alone in a world filled with bigger fish. As you munch your way up the food chain, you’ll get to sit back and relax to the exceptional narration skills of Rick and Morty’s Chris Parnell, while seeing snippets of documentary-style takes from the cajun crusader Scaly Pete’s boat. In a story that mimics that of Moby Dick, Scaly Pete is following in the footsteps of his father as a sharkhunter. But beyond Scaly Pete and the narrator, there isn’t much in terms of story available for your shark protagonist. I mean, it’s just a newborn shark, so the story wouldn’t be extensive, but in comparison with other RPGs on the market, plot points are pretty light.
Gameplay in Maneater is a lot like eating a super rich and decadent chocolate cake. Of course it’s great at first, and you’re excited about what you’re getting yourself into, but as you continue to eat, your stomach starts to hurt and it turns into a miserable slog to try to finish it all. Button mashing is the name of the game here, where besides your directional controls and a tail whip attack, you’re stuck just spamming the right trigger to continue biting and eating prey. Since progression is tied to your size, and gaining size is accomplished through eating things, this is what you’ll be doing most of the time. To be fair, is it exciting at times when you jump up on a beach and start mowing through people or when you trigger some mega-sized boss fight? Sure, but the monotony of chumming through fish and turtles gets really boring, really quickly.
The RPG mechanics add an interesting twist to what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward experience, but they don’t go deep enough to make up for the dull, repetitive action. Adding mutations to your shark is neat, from color changes to effects your shark takes on, such as improved organs or electric attacks—it’s all interesting. But, it really is a stretch to even call Maneater an RPG due to the shallow attempt at a “skill tree.” I mean, you do grind a lot to gain levels, which is similar to some RPGs, but that’s about it.
The performance of the Nintendo Switch port is simply alright. While frame rates never seemed to be much of an issue, the lowered resolution and occasional bugs are a bummer. Resolution differences are something we’ve become accustomed to on the Switch, so that’s only really an issue depending on if you play handheld or on your TV, but I regularly encountered visual bugs that affected immersion.
With all of this being said, I still think Maneater might be the best shark game ever made. Controls are smooth as butter and keep things simple, which makes underwater traversal a breeze. When you’re starting out, the animations and visceral action on offer is extremely satisfying. And the growth pattern as you take your shark from baby to adult is a quest of revenge worth undertaking. Collectibles also make things interesting, where landmarks and a ton of other items give you a break from the incessant trigger spamming to allow you to explore a bit. I definitely enjoyed portions of Maneater, without a doubt.
While Maneater isn’t the best RPG or action title I’ve ever played, it very well could be the best shark game I’ve ever encountered. Smooth controls, collectibles and exploration, and top-notch animations make ruling the water as a great white shark all the better, but a middling, campy story with monotonous gameplay and light RPG mechanics sink this otherwise visceral shark-action title.