If you have a smartphone, you've probably played or at least heard of the Hungry Shark series of games. They're insanely addictive and fun, similar in nature to those old flash games where you play as a small fish and eat things to grow larger, eventually dominating the entire screen.
Except in this case, you're a badass shark eating everything from fat tourists to blue whales.
The basic gist of the games is this: eat everything you can before you die. In addition to the inexorable, endless march of time depleting your life meter, obstacles and hazards like mines, police officers, jellyfish, and other sharks all want to end your feeding frenzy before it even starts. The gameplay is frenetic, requiring quick reflexes and twitch reactions to keep up your combos while avoiding damage. It's highly addictive and fun. And for those of you who cut your teeth on Hungry Shark Evolution, now there's a sequel.
The Hungry Shark games are made by the Ubisoft studio Future Games of London, so it's no surprise that they have a good amount of polish to them. Hungry Shark Evolution features a wide selection of sharks, a large map, and even some customization options so that you can deck your shark out as you see fit. Plus, the graphics are vibrant and colorful, and decently advanced for a mobile title. The general feel of the game is enough to transport you from your living room or the bus to a sunny beach crawling with menacing sharks. Wonderful!
The player's ability to progress in Hungry Shark Evolution largely comes down to their ability to collect 2 things: experience and gold. As you gain gold, you can buy upgrades and customization items that boost speed, bite power, boost power, growth rate, health recovery, and more. As you gain experience and level up your shark, however, more sharks are unlocked. Unfortunately, for a pick-up-and-play game where most players will want to jump right in and lay waste to the oceans with a Great White Shark, this progresssion is painfully slow, and the only way around it is (of course) in-app purchases. It's almost nonsensical.
Yeah, all that awesome stuff up there? You'll need to either grind for weeks or shell out some of your hard-earned money. Again, it's not ideal for a game like this, built for fast pick-up-and-play action.
The way the game plays is simple yet effective, a hallmark of most popular mobile games today. The controls are solid-- the touchscreen joystick works surprisingly well. It's responsive, and insanely satisfying to plow into a school of fish or unsuspecting tourist and see your score skyrocket, and that's not even taking into account the Gold Rush mechanic that allows you to rack up gigantic gold bonuses after a long combo. At higher levels, and after unlocking larger sharks, the gameplay can get very intense since the life meter drains faster for larger, more powerful sharks. It's an interesting give-and-take, with the most destructive sharks in the game also offering the most risk.
Now, the good news for Hungry Shark fans is that everything that made Hungry Shark Evolution great is present in Hungry Shark World, and in almost every case (with a few very notable exceptions we'll get into below), Ubisoft and Future Games of London have improved upon the formula.
The first thing the series faithful will notice is that the game has gotten a massive graphical overhaul. The visual style is playful and over-the-top, and is actually reminiscent of the cartoony, expressive art style found in the Rayman games. The developers deserve a lot of credit for not resting on their laurels artistically, and bringing new things to the table.
The only caveat to mention here is that this graphical update seemed to mess with the previously-tight controls. The shark's movements now seem stickier, making twitch reactions awkward or impossible.
Unlike the sharks in its predecessor, the cast of playable sharks in Hungry Shark World are based on real-world species, which is a nice touch. Each shark in Hungry Shark World feels distinct in how they play, from speed to head and mouth shape, to the shark's size and style of movement, so there's room for different methods of play. It's still not strategic by any means, the game play still boils down to eating everything on the screen as fast as you can before you die, but Hungry Shark World's cast of characters gives the player a couple different ways to go about that task.
Hungry Shark World offers 3 large and wildly distinct maps as opposed to its predecessor, allowing for more exploration. It's another nice touch. To incentivize this exploration, the developers have added HUNGRY letters, gem fish, and other collectibles that the player can hunt down for various rewards and bonuses.
Of course, there are premium maps on sale that show you where all these items are, if you're willing to pay for them-- which brings us to the in-app purchases in Hungry Shark World. They're largely the same as they were in Hungry Shark Evolution, and none are absolutely necessary, which is a nice touch. Plus, any in-app purchase will remove ads from the game-- a good thing because they are present in spades in Hungry Shark World. Unskippable trailers often play right after your shark's death when all you want to do is jump back into the action. It's pretty frustrating. The flip side of this is that gems and coins can be earned by watching these trailers as well. More and more games are doing this-- allowing players to earn in-game currency by watching ads, and it's a nice alternative for those of you who want to avoid paying for some extra coins or gems.
For all the strides the sequel has made, however, the most frustrating thing about Hungry Shark World is that the progression system is still painfully slow. The sharks here are separated by tier, from extra small to extra-extra-large, and unlocking the next tier of sharks requires you level up a shark in the previous tier to level 10. It's time-consuming, especially for a game that sells itself on arcade-style action, and the ability to instantly wreak havoc. Compounding this is the fact that much of the game's content, the maps, and even the daily challenges, are locked behind progression walls. Sure, once you've played for a month or so (or shelled out some cash), this is a non-issue, but it seems counterintuitive that the developers would make you wait to play the game the way it was essentially meant to be played. It's just odd, and it's maddening that the developers are making players wait to fully enjoy the game for no reason.
Or, well, I guess there is a reason-- players can pay ridiculous amounts of in-game currency to unlock sharks early, and since in-game currency can be bought with cash, maybe that's the strategy here.
Which is kind of gross.
At the end of the day, like most mobile games, and for that matter, mobile sequels, if you liked Hungry Shark Evolution, you'll like Hungry Shark World. There's a plethora of content here, from sharks to customization items to maps and beyond, and the mindless fun of munching on unsuspecting ocean-dwellers never gets old. So if you're willing to overlook some of the game's flaws, and more importantly, if you're willing to put in the time required to fully enjoy the game, there's no reason not to download the sequel. There are few games that get you in the mood for summer better. And by "get you in the mood for summer" I mean "scare you into never going to the beach again".
What do you think? Have you played Hungry Shark World yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments! In the meantime, I'm going to be happy that I live in Chicago and that they haven't discovered any sharks in Lake Michigan...yet.