Release date: May 25, 2021
Developer: Tripwire Interactive
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Perhaps no creature in the animal kingdom has as much of a publicity problem as the humble shark. Relatively docile toward humans in real life, sharks have become murderous monsters in public opinion thanks to sensational media and bloody shark thrillers. Tripwire Interactive’s open-world action game Maneater gleefully plays with this idea, letting players take control of an obscenely bloodthirsty creature on a gruesome rampage against every living creature nearby. Although its gameplay may feel as shallow as its freshwater levels at times, an emphasis on campy violence means there is still some brutal fun to be had in this Switch rendition of the game.
Maneater never takes itself too seriously, and that personality shines through in its approach to storytelling. The game frames itself as an extreme reality TV show following a Cajun shark hunter, effectively blending elements of Duck Dynasty with Deadliest Catch. The story soon turns its focus away from the hunters themselves. It turns toward a tiny yet ferocious shark pup, whose violent journey toward maturity is narrated by a comically over-the-top commentator who spouts satirical and almost entirely incorrect shark-related trivia over the story. Maneater is far from a narrative-focused game, but the tale it weaves nonetheless puts a humorous spin on its tale of constant bloodshed.
And what a bloody journey it is. Starting from humble beginnings in a remote bayou, players will guide their plucky little shark to become an unstoppable megashark by chowing down on a healthy diet of beachgoers, fishers, tourists, wildlife, and anything else foolish enough to get in the water near you. The gameplay is stubbornly straightforward, almost exclusively requiring you to roam through the game’s open-ended environments to find and consume your targets, with only a few variations along the way. Depending on the mission, you’ll have to mow down a dozen human targets, out-maneuver a fleet of hunter boats, or fight hostile wildlife like giant crocodiles and wrasses. In most cases, the goal remains the same: kill.
It’s a good thing, then, that its combat system can feel so viscerally satisfying. Its mechanics are simple: mash the right trigger to target and attack your prey. There are a handful of wrinkles thrown into the mix, such as wiggling the right stick to thrash your victims around while they’re entrenched in your jaws or leaping out of the waves to attack land-based prey, but the core loop remains the same. There’s no denying the brutal bliss of tackling your foes and hearing the crunch of your jaws sinking into them, giving the game an arcade-like appeal in its early missions.
However, after the first few hours of the roughly ten-hour campaign, the appeal starts to wear thin. It’s not long before missions begin repeating themselves – murdering coastal hillbillies can only be entertaining for so long. Maneater attempts to vary the gameplay loop by offering a handful of status upgrades and pitting you against stronger opponents, but none of these factors change the way you play. Even after you max out your stats and face the end-game missions, the gameplay will still require you to hunt and chomp just like you did in the first ten minutes of the campaign. Issues like these would have likely been mitigated had the game opted for a more linear, arcade-like approach to level design, but its open-ended environments mean that you’ll have plenty of downtime between missions and spend much of your adventure wandering through featureless oceans before finding your next kill. Maneater ultimately devolves from a constant adrenaline rush into a mundane grindfest as you wander around to kill your prey, level up your shark, and repeat.
Maneater’s moment-to-moment gameplay might feel repetitive, but paradoxically, that makes it a perfect fit for the pick-up-and-play nature of its Switch port. There’s undeniable fun to be had in picking up the console for a few minutes to terrorize a beach vacation or chomp on a violent gator for a few minutes before putting the game away for a bit. Then it’s only a shame that this Switch release, while impressive by the mere fact that it exists, leaves much to be desired. The resolution can become incredibly muddy to the point that it can be difficult to travel through its murky underwater levels. At the same time, the meager draw distance means that some characters and items only materialize when you’re right on top of them. Perhaps worst of all for an action game like this, the framerate tends to take a few significant plunges throughout the gameplay, turning some of the most intense moments into a slideshow. None of these are game-breaking issues, and Maneater remains perfectly playable on Nintendo’s hybrid platform. Still, they leave the overall package in a compromised state that makes it difficult to recommend unless you really value portability.
There’s a lot to love about Maneater. It has all the violent absurdity of the best summer action flicks, where its hammy storytelling perfectly complements its over-the-top gore-fest gameplay. However, its barebones gameplay loop means that its brutality and dark humor can wear thin quickly. A Switch port that complements the short burst nature of its gameplay yet compromises it with lackluster visuals and performance only muddles the package further. Ultimately, if all you need is the cheap thrill of beachy bloodshed, Maneater is a solid choice. However, players hoping for anything a bit deeper, varied, or consistently engaging than that should set out for other waters.
Review copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.