Who wants to accept blame for the lack of stand-out shark characters in gaming? In a world obsessed with sharks, it’s surprising that game designers apparently don’t like basing characters on sharks—in particular, few exist of the anthropomorphic sort. They’d make great villains, protective older siblings and cutthroat business executives. But in the spirit of counting blessings, non-fishing game NPCs like Sushi and SharkMan.EXE give hope that one day we’ll see more shark-based characters infiltrate videogame waters. Failing that, they can always serve as visual fodder for motivational posters and warning signs, as one shark did in the arcade version of DDR Extreme.
As this is Shark Week, assembled here are sharks and shark-esque characters that remain obscure entities of the past or have otherwise gone unrecognized for boosting shark representation in games. And yes, many of them do bite.
Snacker want a cracker?
If he were any other fish, Snacker would probably be a snapper, for uncontrollably munching on anything that finds its way into the sea. But for all his bite, he’s still no match for Clanker, who would swallow him whole—undigested. Despite appearing in the game before Clanker, once you do meet Clanker, you all but forget Snacker’s mild threats in “Treasure Trove Cove.” Good thing Snacker doesn’t make a business out of patrolling the water’s edge or it would quickly cave to the presence carried by the mechanical shark. Still, Snacker does have his own frightful arrangement to chase away Jinjo saviors and unintentional divers, which is something not many enemies can boast.
Link had many perils out at sea in this unique series departure, with aimless navigation leading you into trouble with whirlpools, guarded watchtowers and giant sea monsters. And the purple-finned Gyorg was just another habitual hazard to add to the list. Gyorgs were a persistent bunch awakened by encroaching on their parts of the Great Sea, essentially serving as Wind Waker’s equivalent of Moby Dick. But unlike the unbreakable whale, these creatures could be tamed simply by staying on course and not stopping to endure their hard-headed clashes.
Sorry, Gyorg, but time doesn’t wait—especially when you’re trying to rejuvenate withered trees.
Look at you go, you speed demon, you—inspiring water-bound sharks to leap beyond their walls and ingratiate themselves into society. Sure, it loses the use of its tail in the process, but it needs to get around on land somehow. Diamond City is an abnormal place to be, and a shark on wheels is one of the least wacky suspects—even if you include the miniaturized version. But, paradoxically, it’s also among the most iconic representations of the loopy and uncivilized happenings in WarioWare, Inc.: Mega MicroGame$!, hence why it re-appears on the WarioWare stage in Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS.
That car won’t impress any self-respecting shark, but it sure has fooled reflex-sensitive players in its time.
Coco always did get the best levels—the space fight against N. Gin, ducking and leaping across the Wall of China, and riding a jet ski in open lagoons that were surprisingly fun in a game with more guided level designs. The shark enemy made appearances in these water levels, although they were less of a threat on their own than when in close proximity to pirate bombs and Nitro Crates. In actual fact, sharks had a stronger association (and role) with Crash’s underwater levels, where you would sometimes need to launch torpedoes from a distance for chain reactions with TNT Crates that would allow access to tight passages.
Aside from being slightly top-heavy, these sharks were rather unremarkable and less threatening than what appearances suggested, considering they could be defeated with basic moves. Though it makes me wonder what Cortex would do with a souped-up shark for a minion.
Years later, Donkey Kong Country’s underwater levels still resonate with many gamers, even those who typically find themselves repulsed by the setting—when mood and design are executed this well, it’s a worthy exception. And I guess when there’s so much else going for them, Chomps gets overlooked. It’s not an enemy thing, either—we all remember the spinning octopi who taught us timing and pattern observation. Groups of Chomps demanded greater precision from you to wade through tight areas, so they did bring a measure of tension in those parts. But it’s hard to comment on Chomps’ chops beyond that.
The shark does re-appear in Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast (I’m still in the minority in saying it’s a misunderstood game), albeit in a far more imposing form. If you plan your Wild Moves well while in the underwater section of “Open Ocean,” colliding with Chomps will further your combo. It’s actually quite satisfying.
Also known as: Nightmare fuel. The ahead-of-its-time Dreamcast adventure game wasted no time in shifting the homely tone and light dangers of the debut level to an atmosphere of life endangerment and surprise, which was only amplified in successive levels. This hulking creature was the main reason for that shift. Little did I know the threat of this easily-outsmarted foe would pale in comparison to the later shock of witnessing Ecco get devoured in the dark by a well-concealed creature. Goosebumps.
If Ironhead isn’t foreign to you, chances are you’ll pinpoint the memory to Cave Story. But this plate-wearing shark first served as the boss brute in an earlier creation by Pixel called Ikachan, a game about the oppression of vulnerable aquatic life. Ironhead’s not much for talking, with the most notable statement to come from his mouth being to threateningly address Ikachan as a “puny squid”—which is not only true of the character, but enough of a blanket statement for the short-lived experience. If not for its red eye (and, to a lesser extent, the stoic expression), Ironhead would not make a particularly menacing foe. In another world, you might even call it “cute” because of its plumpness.
A robotic shark with a torpedo for a headpiece, Johnny was left behind in Sonic Rush Adventure as Sonic’s friends continued to have experiences as knights, hoverboard riders and esteemed party guests. (In fact, the same can be said of Marine and Captain Whisker.) But he played his one-time, evil sidekick role by engaging Sonic in water races for Chaos Emeralds when he wasn’t trailing his partner on a path of thievery. The tag-team battle against Whisker and Johnny in Sonic Rush Adventure’s back half was a highlight, the active dual-screen use and thumping, horn-infused music making it all the spicier. And you know, with his smack talk and forest-green color palette, you might even say he takes after Jet the Hawk—animal differences aside.
A complex case during Apollo Justice’s tenure involved a musical performance by the Gavinners that turned deadly. One of the musicians in the five-member band, guitarist Daryan Crescend, sports a navy-blue jumpsuit with an open neck that features shark teeth along the rim and red material on the inside. Kudos to the designer on that piece! His shark-inspired ensemble takes second-place to his floppy, white-tipped, torpedo-like hairdo, which has got to be one of the most wicked variations of a mohawk. Just imagine the maintenance on that thing. Not to mention the difficulties of batting away devoted fans. Too bad the jumpsuit doesn’t come with fake shark sounds for that purpose—maybe putting him on vocals would be enough of a deterrent?
Though jellyfish, piranhas and great white sharks all made for unsteady diving expeditions in Endless Ocean: Blue World, Thanatos especially had a bone to pick from you (err, with you). The creature would enter with an entourage of sharks, who no doubt also feared their leader’s ruthless demeanor as he followed you over the course of the game’s storyline. Is it the most fearsome sight? Not if you witnessed the rare altercation between a Sperm Whale and a Giant Squid. But is it the most fearsome beast in the sea? Quite possibly. With dark eyes, a full load of pointed teeth and a large, scarred body, it leaves no doubt for other sharks as to who reigns in the deepest waters.
A diving simulator with a ferocious, aware creature for an adversary made for quite the story.
Look at that smug grin on his face, reminding you of the water-shy jumper who trusted you to take care of their landing arrangements. A misguided plan, as far as their personal safety is concerned, for someone’s bound to get left to the shark when the rate of falling targets comes down to picking favorites and minimizing your rowing action. Thankfully, the justice system that governs aquatic life gave it a restraining order so this on-the-water landing site is the only shark-friendly zone where it can roam freely—in Game & Watch Gallery 2, the creature gets replaced by an eager Cheep Cheep. So if you were hoping to catch the shark in a no-smiles mood, that really means catching him in no mood at all…because of him not being around.
Having his territory commandeered by a lesser fish must be the ultimate insult in shark circles. But I can think of worse fates, like trying to dominate in the same sea space as a certain treasure-guarding octopus.
Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is a game purely its own in the context of the series, due in large part to its style of sidekick-driven gameplay. Among the many animal critters that contribute greatly to the world’s charm and wonder is Joe, a rather unassuming shark with a propeller for a tail, who roams the underwater passages of the game’s second world. It’s actually rather easy to miss its defining feature if you swim by in a hurry. Even when Joe appears in twos, he’s hardly the most threatening enemy there is, which is probably why few pay attention to him these days. And Kirby’s Dream Land 3 being his only appearance solidifies that, similar to some of Kirby’s lovable friends who at best make a later cameo in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards.
There is, however, an unknown shark that appears in a brief cutscene when you visit Orange Ocean in Kirby’s Adventure. Could that have been Joe chasing a frantic Kirby? The fins all look the same to me.
Casual SpongeBob watchers will likely have a face of puzzlement when they see this pick, but anyone who has sampled the series’ assortment of videogames will know that it’s not uncommon for new characters to be introduced while not actually having a role in the show (remember Prawn?). Gil is one of those folks, and he is to Lights, Camera, Pants! what MC Ballyhoo is to Mario Party 8. He wasn’t particularly charming on the whole, but he did have his moments with series regulars like Old Man Jenkins and brought small doses of humor to the party. And as a talent scout for the Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy production and a (hands-off) game host, that’s all you can hope for.
Did he bring anything to the hammerhead name—aside from when he smashed his head on a desk? No, not really. Although he was voiced by Nolan North, who did a spot-on impersonation of Sid (Ice Age) for the role. ...Come to think of it, doesn’t he almost look like Lyle from the Animal Crossing series?
Pen Pen TriIcelon is a complete oddity, like no other foot racing game before or after it—an off-kilter escapade that defines “obscure.” Most Dreamcast owners would’ve instead opted for Power Stone or Sonic Adventure at launch, because no one was ready for this bizarre game or its bizarre cast of Pen Pen creatures. Among them was Jaw, a purple anthropomorphic shark bearing a strange eye, jagged teeth as well as red body scars. No fin, though.
In case you have any lingering doubts that Jaw could be a gentleman, he was first shown in the introductory movie biting the backside of a fellow Pen Pen… And like his friends, he’s not a graceful creature either, no matter what unlockable accessories you try to stick on him. While he’s also not a penguin (that’s Sparky’s role), he certainly moves like one with wobbly movements…although as I recall, the controls played like you were perpetually on slippery ice, so maybe that one can’t be used entirely against him. As far as sharks go, Jaw’s an altogether unusual fellow.
Hilary was one of multiple shark-type characters you could play as in this gleeful, super-fun take on Capture the Flag. The animal-infested firecracker party featured planets with colorful terrain you could explore by land, air and sea, your choice of character affording you different advantages. Possessing skis for feet and a propeller for a tail, choosing the aqua-blue shark allowed you to cut through water, perform jumps and glide unhindered over the land, unlike the goldfish Arne who floundered outside of its element. Hilary may have a wide set of teeth, but rather than that making her a scary foe, she’s one of the most distinctly happy of the bunch. Her counterpart, Tony, is what you might call a true shark, as he didn’t have the same tools—nor Hilary’s cheery grin, as his smile was more antagonistic. Plus, he packed less color, favoring a black and grey color palette.
In the sequel, Pop Island: Paperfield, the shark family was represented with a submarine named Lou, with a similar set of teeth as Hilary but no other discernible facial features. It also featured something resembling graduation hat for its top—cute, but perhaps not as lovable as Hilary. She wasn’t abandoned, though, as she did make an appearance in Rising Board 3D, a surfing game set in the same universe. Best of all, the time jump between games gave Hilary a slanted mohawk for an even snazzier look.
Jose Cardoso is a freelance writer who’s prone to exalting words above people. Fascinated by game design, he has a knack for covering the quirky, niche and overlooked on Nintendo platforms. His writing has appeared in Unwinnable, BeefJack and other publications.