There have been various incarnations of Jaws in video game form over the decades but one particular release in the late eighties brought excitement to many home computer users of the time and in particular, computer magazines. Competitions, previews, reviews and even a magazine front cover were all devoted to a Jaws game released by Screen 7 Ltd (their first game) in 1989 for various home computer formats.
What did you have to do in the game? Well you were actually Chief Brodie in the game (not Brody.) Of course it was your responsibility to stop a deadly shark from killing residents of Amity Island. There’s a bit of a problem though. The weapon you need to kill the shark has broken into four pieces and is lying in various places on the sea bed around the island. You must go out and retrieve the pieces by exploring the 150-plus screens, dodging nasty local wildlife that seems to have a vendetta against you and even kill them if you feel it necessary. While all this excitement is going on, to make matters worse you have that pesky mayor who is keeping an eye on you and making sure you do the job quickly, discreetly and as cheap as possible. Much to the annoyance of the mayor, you do get to close the beaches down. I only wish they had a digitized speech of “twenty fours hours is like three weeks” every time you did close them down.
The game was heavily previewed in the relevant magazines of the time and in particular the Sinclair Spectrum magazines. “Your Sinclair” even had a shark breaching out of the water complete with bloody teeth on their July ‘99 front cover.
A couple of magazines ran a Jaws themed competition. “Sinclair User” had a rather crude drawing of three fishermen in a boat and you had to figure out which line led to the shark. The prize? Ten lucky winners would win swimming trunks and a snorkel. Exciting stuff!
Another magazine, “Your Sinclair” had you having to match up the name of the shark with the cartoon depiction. The winner would be enjoying a shark fishing trip with the gang from the magazine while there was runner up prizes of rubber sharks and strangely, rock candy!
But how was the game received I hear you ask? Well, not too bad which is surprising as video games based on movies had (even back then) a bad reputation and were notorious for being below standard. The most popular Speccy magazine of the time, “Crash” gave it a rather impressive 80% saying “gameplay is of high standard and should prove a real delight for experienced cartographers...Overall Jaws offers some good blasting fun.” Another magazine continued the trend of respectable reviews, “Your Sinclair” gave it an even higher score, 88%. They said “a tasty mazey shoot ‘em up game with lots of other elements besides. A biting good game, buy it!”
Not all the reviews were good however with the Atari ST version being reviewed in “Computer and Video Game” or “C+VG” for short. They gave it a disappointing 43% saying it lacked addictiveness. Oh well, you can’t please everyone I guess and maybe the 32-bit gamers were a little bit more spoiled when it came to high-end games compared to us 8-bit gamers of the time.
It’s easy to look back now and wonder how we spent hours playing these type of games but in an era where there was no Internet, no on-demand TV and if you lived in the UK then you probably only had four TV channels, then having a game such as Jaws from Screen 7 was invaluable and welcomed. Being able to combine your imagination with a computer game and make up more stories from the island of Amity was something special. Even with the crude graphics (although I thought they were amazing at the time) it was nice to see characters from one of my favourite movies come alive on my portable TV and being able to interact with them, even if it was in a simplified form.
I have to wonder how a triple A video game based on Jaws would like today? Imagine an open world game in the style of Red Dead Redemption where you get to do various missions around the island? You could have a side quest where you have to catch those hooligans “karate-ing” those picket fences. Or even an episodic game very much like the Walking Dead games that the now defunct Telltale Games brought us? Wouldn’t that just be amazing?