Back in the mid-70’s, the country was gripped by shark mania. Jaws wasn’t just a major motion picture, it was a phenomenon that changed the movie business forever, and it still has a loyal and devoted fan base to this day.
With Jaws, Steven Spielberg indeed made the ultimate shark movie, and it has yet to be topped to this day.
Jaws was the biggest movie of all time before Star Wars came along two years later, and before Star Wars revolutionized film merchandising, there were some Jaws items that did very well in the marketplace, mainly the Peter Benchley novel, which sold millions of copies. There were also toys, beach towels, as well as several unofficial games, Killer Shark and Atari’s Shark Jaws arcade game.
Doing a shark video game seems like a no brainer, but for whatever reason shark games never really caught on. It’s also odd that Spielberg didn’t help develop a shark game because he’s been a big gamer since way back in the 70’s. While making Jaws, Spielberg had arcade games nearby to play on location, as well as in the post-production studios.
As the site Classicgames.about.com tells us, Sega put out Killer Shark in the arcades in 1972, a year after coin-operated games first debuted in arcades. I had completely forgotten this myself, but the game was even shown briefly in Jaws. As D.S. Cohen writes, there was also a sequel to the game, Sea Devil, where you get to fight a mantra ray.
After the incredible success of Jaws, there was also the Shark Jaws game, where the word shark was in small print to emphasize the word JAWS, and make people believe it was a true tie in to the film. (This game also made brief appearances in the Jaws take-off Piranha, and the ’78 musical Sgt Peppers, which had Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees and an all-star cast crooning the Beatles).
According to the game’s wiki page, Atari couldn’t get an official license from Universal, so Atari founder Nolan Bushnell created another subsidiary company, Horror Games, to put out the game, and protect the company from a potential lawsuit.
Some years back there was also an attempt at a new Jaws game, Jaws Unleashed, but it was a disaster. Again, it’s hard to imagine why we haven’t had a great shark game, or why sharks haven’t translated well into the world of gaming, but we’d certainly welcome it one of these days.
Sharks are an evergreen monster that will always be scary, and they’re a great untapped gaming foe as well. Funny enough, as this story was being finalized, we saw there's a shark in Grand Theft Auto V, and we're curious to see how a shark will ultimately work its way into the GTA franchise.