Sharks get a bad rap in video games. Clover Studios positioned them as bosses in Viewtiful Joe and Okami, they'd devour Tony Montana if we went for a swim in Scarface: The World is Yours, and more recently Batman punched one in the face in Arkham City. Even games that let you play as the toothy predators like New York Shark or the infamous Jaws Unleashed portrayed them as fiends terrorising the land. Thankfully, Shark Dash is here to er, dash expectations of sharks.
You see, when a shiver of sharks have been abducted by malevolent rubber duckies and imprisoned in enormous bathtubs, their salvation lies in doing what they do best; solving physics puzzles. Each stage tasks you with eating all of your waterfowl overlords by flinging sharks around like rubber bands.
In true Angry Birds fashion, a dotted line gives a rough idea of a shot's trajectory and power, but much is still left to your estimation. Extra medals (used to unlock chapters) are awarded for collecting coins and completing levels in a certain amount of moves. It's a bit like golf, only with sharks (which is the sort of thing I'd expect Bond villains would do if they ever succeeded at world domination).
Lining up a shot that swoops up desired duckies and coins before winding down in the optimal position requires precision, however this is a primarily cerebral game. Stages are comprised of various obstacles that can be manipulated to trigger Rube Goldberg-esque sequences helping your fish find their way to glory.
Rubber rings grant speed boosts, inflatable blocks pop on contact, green soap blocks sink, purple salt blocks disintegrate in water, mines kill you, and sponges are immune to mines. The list goes on and on, suffice to say that you need to think carefully how each move will affect the scenery.
The going gets tougher when new types of sharks are introduced. Sawy's serrated snout can cut chains, while Hammy can alter his dash midway with a vertical boost. Some stages include juggling multiple characters to achieve your objective.
If it sounds complicated then that's because it is, though the solution is often easier than it seems. Most stages can be completed in one to five moves, but deducing what they are can be tricky. Once solved it's often still a challenge to perform, as the best laid plans of fish and men oft go astray. It's never as unpredictable as something like Angry Birds, however, and the meager par goals ensure that it's rarely frustrating to try again.
My only criticism with Shark Dash is that you earn in-game currency at too slow a rate. Redoing a turn or skipping a level is a costly concession, which is too bad as a more forgiving model would improve the pace. While you can purchase in-game currency with real money, the cost is exorbitant. After all, sharks aren't known for their generosity.
Aside from its punishing economy, Shark Dash is a near perfect puzzler for its platform. Flinging fish around is a relaxing activity, befitting of a game set in a bathtub, while there's plenty of room to scrutinize its more sadistic systems if you're looking to ace a stage. Shark Dash may be lacking in casualties and skimpy co-ed snacks, but that doesn't mean this shark doesn't have bite.
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