Back Into the Deep
Before we rip into the juicy meat of this Maneater review, allow me to briefly reminisce on my history with this strange and wonderful game. At my very first E3, this crazed shark RPG got announced. My colleagues told me I had to check it out, but I couldn’t find the time. Then the following year, I attended E3 again, but this time with an appointment to check Maneater out. Though the game looked incredible, there was no demo opportunity, so I figured that was that. After all, at the time, Maneater was only for consoles I didn’t own. So the likelihood of me ever playing the game was slim. But after some time passed, I could make out a sharp object cutting through the waters. Maneater got announced for Nintendo Switch, and I knew I had to review it. Cause even though HPP has reviewed another console version of this game, I have one key question to answer: How does Maneater play on the Nintendo Switch?
The first thing I should mention about Maneater is the humor. I have a decidedly twisted and occasionally dark sense of humor. As such, me and the game got along just fine. Maneater never takes itself too seriously and loves to make all sorts of pop culture references. One of my favorites is a nod to Stephen King’s It. The humor also helps the copious bloodshed go down easier, which is smart. Cause any game where the protagonist is a hungry shark is gonna be a bit gory. It all starts after your mother gets murdered for sport by reality TV star Scaly Pete. He literally cuts her open, which is where you come in, bursting free from your now deceased parent. You’re a hungry young pup, and you get a hearty first meal out of Pete’s hand before frantically swimming away. Thus begins this tale of revenge.
A Long, Bloody Road
Maneater is all about gaining enough strength to take on Pete again and end his cruelty. And given that you’re a shark, your best way to get stronger is to eat everything that moves. This provides vital nutrients which not only levels you up but also allows you to upgrade yourself. As the game progresses, you’ll acquire new transformations you can toggle on or off at a whim. Nothing is permanent, so you have a lot of control. The only limitation is you can only do all this at hidden grottos peppered throughout Port Clovis. Additionally, you’ll go through various stages of growth, starting as a pup and eventually topping off at the behemoth mega-shark. Basically, these stages will enhance your overall capacity and even unlock new moves, but not much else.
Mix and Match Mayhem
I really adored the upgrade system in Maneater. The reason being, I’m a bit of a mad scientist and love creating horrifying chimeras. And you’ll definitely become a monster the longer you play the game. The upgrades you’ll acquire, usually by defeating powerful Apex predators or human hunters, are grouped into types. There are bio-electric, bone, and shadow parts. Depending on whether they’re equipped on your body, mouth, fins, tail, or head, they work differently. For example, bio-electric teeth have a chance to paralyze your prey. But if you have a bio-electric body, you’ll turn into living electricity, zipping away from incoming threats. Sure, it’s more than a little sci-fi nonsense, but I love that about the game.
Additionally, if you equip all the same type of parts, you’ll get a nice bonus to particular stats. I generally preferred to mix and match, though. By the end of the game, I used a bone body, head, and tail to shred boats; shadow fins to poison nearby foes; and bio-electric teeth to paralyze anything I chomped. You’ll also be able to equip various organs in grottos. These can do things like increase your health, scare weaker enemies away from you, or, my favorite, allow you to remain on land without suffocating for longer. Though there are only so many parts you can find, you can upgrade each of them up to Tier 5. So you’ll always have a reason to gulp down “nutrients” to power your evolution.
Traverse the Blue Expanse
None of this would matter if Maneater weren’t fun to play, but thankfully that’s not the case. Over the course of the game, you’ll progress in a linear yet open-ended world. By fulfilling specific missions with punny names, you’ll progress the plot. But there’s a lot more to the game than just reaching the ending. HPP’s previous Maneater review said the game should take about 12 hours to roll credits. By contrast, my tally was closer to 40 hours. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is simply that I got lost in the feeding frenzy of exploring this fantastic game world. The other is that my internal sense of direction leaves something to be desired.
Lost and Hungry
Now, technically the game does provide markers to indicate where you’re supposed to go next. You can even pre-empt your current mission to help find another. The thing is, I tend to find the shortest route between two points. And often, that meant crossing over dry land. Since you play as a shark, you can’t survive for very long above the waters. In fact, my first few hours of the game were mostly me trying in vain to reach a marker, suffocating, then respawning and trying again. I eventually learned that the fastest route was often the most dangerous and instead started searching for hidden tunnels and other ways to proceed. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the best thing to happen to me in Maneater was finally acquiring the Amphibious organ, which let me stay above ground for far, far longer.
Missions in the game are grouped into a few buckets. There’s Population Control, which involves finding and devouring a set quantity of animal life. Then there are Hunts, which have you finding and defeating (and then eating) more dangerous predators. You’ll also have Revenge missions, which basically involve turning humans in your path into fast food. Doing this will increase your Infamy rank, which attracts shark hunters. They’ll stay hunting you until you kill them all or find someplace to hide until the heat dies down. Some are run-of-the-mill, but the more challenging ones will make you earn that rank and reward you with new parts. Though many of them gave me grief, I lucked into devouring one whole within seconds of their arrival.
Bloody Good Fun
Besides these, which are often necessary missions to progress the story, you’ll also have more optional missions. Such as finding hidden underwater landmarks, license plates, or nutrient caches. Though you’re totally free to ignore all these, they were a lot of fun. Not to mention helpful, since beating all of certain mission types is how you unlock potent late-game parts. Last but certainly not least, there’s what the game considers boss fights. These come in a couple of varieties. You might have to take on a powerful and mutated Apex predator. And much later in the game, you’ll have a couple of occasions to take the fight to Scaly Pete himself.
Switching Up the Action
One of my most pleasant surprises with Maneater is how well it controls on Nintendo Switch. Not only did I spend most of the game without any noticeable slowdown or glitches, but the game just plays very well on Nintendo’s hybrid console, even in handheld mode. You’re basically an angry torpedo with teeth. You’ll use the sticks to maneuver around while the ZL and ZR buttons let you accelerate and chomp, respectively. L whips your tail, and R lets you evade. The buttons on the left Joy-Con bring up various screens, and the ones on the right control standard moves, such as diving, jumping, etc. Most noteworthy is pressing A to send out a sonar pulse, showing what may be hidden nearby. And though Maneater doesn’t have a lock-on, they do let you focus on nearby threats by pressing down on the right stick. I honestly felt that made sense since staying locked onto an object moving around you in 360 degrees would make any landlubber nauseous. Plus, once you get big enough, you can grab things in your mouth and thrash back and forth using the right stick to rip them to pieces.
Evolve and Destroy
While you start the game pretty weak, I was a boat-shredding, ravenous killing machine by the end of Maneater. I took special pride in beating missions that took place above water. One of the most ridiculous was leaping into a skate park, gobbling down skaters, and then finding a reprieve in giant puddles. It’s also really satisfying when you can activate your bone armor, spin like a blender and just destroy boats that had been causing you grief hours earlier in the game. Hell, at level 30, I was chowing down on hammerheads like they were just guppies. It’s a fun progression, but keep in mind you will face foes at a higher level than you. The highest you can get is 30 during the story, and you’ll face monsters at 40 and higher. The worst was a demented Orca that murdered me repeatedly in an aquatic park until I lucked into a handy glitch. It trapped the beast on dry land, unable to move. So I just did what any shark would do, and Fat Bastard’d it into my belly.
All Aboard the Glitch Galley
While I didn’t deal with many glitches in the game, I did find some late in the experience. Most of them helped me, such as a Mako shark getting stuck in stage geometry, not unlike the Orca. But there were also times when my shark completely lost all forward momentum and was sitting prone like a stone. This happened at the worst times generally, though sometimes I was able to get past the issue by evading. One time I got whacked so hard I flew into the air, and suddenly was stuck there, the world’s first flying shark. And though the framerate was pretty smooth most of the game, I noticed animals stuttering forward once or twice.
I can’t deny that Maneater is less graphically impressive on Switch, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an attractive game still. Sure the textures and lighting are simplified, but that’s not the same as ugly. I’m honestly a fan of any port that lets the game run smoothly on Switch. I especially like features like how all color gets drained from the screen when you’re near death. That dramatic touch made sure I always knew when discretion was the better part of valor and to hightail it away.
One area that Maneater is pretty unchanged is the tremendous audio design. Though there’s not a ton of voice acting, what is there is amazing. Parnell’s deadpan commentary as the narrator is often hilarious, and Scaly Pete brings both humor and occasional gravitas. Even the NPC humans you gobble up have some great lines. One of my favorite examples is when I attacked a beachside gathering and heard one person yell, “where’s the coast guard!?”. And though there’s not much in the way of music, the twang of the bayou kept me invested in exploring, while the heavy metal notes that play as you activate a body transformation ratcheted up the adrenaline.
Girls Get It Done
In summation, Maneater was worth the wait on Nintendo Switch. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s the murderous Ecco the Dolphin I didn’t realize I always needed. If you’re a stickler for graphics, you might prefer playing it on another console. But for playing a hungry shark on the run, there’s nothing better. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last we see from Tripwire in this delightfully demented new IP.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S; Publisher: Tripwire Interactive; Developer: Tripwire Interactive; Players: 1; Released: May 25, 2021; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $39.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.