Maneater is a game where the player is a shark. This shark is hungry, eating up anything in its path to grow from a little pup to a big behemoth. From paddling in little swamps to gliding through wide streams, the game gives the player a playfully recreated Gulf Coast to explore, rife with collectibles and edibles for your scary shark mandibles. And the best thing about all this is that it is just great fun.
Framed as a Shark Week-esque reality TV show, the player is the scourge of tourists and hunters, roaming the water and climbing an evolutionary ladder beyond the realms of real life. Becoming this beast allows a surprisingly effective revenge story to play out, giving the game depth beyond its silly premise. But with a noticeable downgrade to get it onto the Nintendo Switch, do all these aspects still hold up?
Story – Bloody Vengeance
The game opens as a reality TV show, following this gnarly shark hunter called Scaly Pete. His aim is to catch a bull shark that has been terrorizing beaches, the same bull shark that killed his father. This is the player’s introductory zone, playing as this shark until Pete manages to capture her (and realizes it isn’t the shark that killed his father). It’s a surprisingly engaging opening, with the shaky cameras of a sea-faring film crew making the conceit work. Pete then sees that the shark is pregnant. He cuts out her baby, marks it with his knife so he can recognize it, then chucks it back into the water. This is the shark the player will spend the rest of the game as.
The player is then basically given free rein, eating everything in its path to ready for the inevitable showdown with Scaly Pete. The story works really well, even if it’s barely there for much of the game, with a good message on the damage humans are doing to marine life and an interesting generational story between the old, rugged Scaly Pete and his young, caring son.
There are interjections from a narrator throughout gameplay, but they feel slightly forced, uninteresting tidbits that can only occasionally garner a smirk. It’s good that the story doesn’t over-encroach on the gameplay, though, as the basic exploration and combat at the foundation of Maneater can be so engaging on their own that it lets the player build little miniature stories in their head.
Gameplay – Monotonous Munching
Maneater’s core gameplay is akin to a Ubisoft collectathon, à la Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, bringing with it the same issues of monotony and repetitiveness. Still, in other games of this ilk, going from A to B can rarely be engaging, but here, for the most part, it is quite nice to swim and chew your way to the next objective. The monotony is counterbalanced by a charm in movement and animation, making the shark feel good to control. This is, of course, a novelty — but it doesn’t wear as thin as you probably expect.
What may wear a bit thin to people is the variety in the collectibles and quests on offer. Because there isn’t that much that a shark can actually do (it’s basically either eat or swim), everything the player does in this game comes down to pretty simple actions. This was my main issue when I played Maneater on Xbox when it came out. It is still an issue here, of course, but the Switch is a more natural home for this kind of mind-numbing munching.
Because the Switch can be sat in a player’s lap while they listen to a podcast or watch TV, Maneater‘s main issue becomes less of one. Instead of feeling like these same repetitive actions are in the way of any enjoyment, they can just become background noise. Then, when the shark has leveled up enough, and something interesting happens, stick the Switch into the dock and enjoy it on the TV. There are just some games that make more sense on a handheld console, and Maneater is one of them.
All this collecting is in aid of the shark’s evolution. This leads the player up an evolutionary ladder that increases the sharks’ size and their abilities. On a fundamental level, watching the player-creature grow is excellently satisfying, making every action feel like it has a palpable effect. But then also getting electric jaws that stun the enemy is ridiculous and fun as well. The game is set up to make the player want to see all the different things that the shark could be, making climbing the ladder incredibly engaging and rewarding.
The basic attack system can sometimes be good but is probably the weakest part of the game. The player can dodge, bite, bite and hold, thrash, and stun their enemies, but all these aspects don’t really work that well together. Because they all feel like separate, cumbersome actions done one after the other, they don’t have the fluidity to work well against most enemies. The game is supposedly influenced by Dark Souls‘ combat, which is noticeable, but learning enemy attack patterns isn’t enough to make the combat any good, and defeats often feel unfair, a key feeling not present in the Souls games.
And this is the sad thing about Maneater: it is a super fun power fantasy that puts a lot in the way of making the player actually feel powerful. Sure there is a load of power in chewing up a beachside bather and endless charm in just gliding through murky waters as a rugged beast, but any hostile encounter in the first half of the game feels like a slow, weighty slog rather than a slick, powerful challenge. It is by no means game-ruining, but the lost potential is very noticeable.
Visuals & Audio – Muddy Waters
Visually, Maneater has taken a hit to fit onto the Switch. It has the classic Unreal Engine playdough issue, making everything feel a little too blurry, a little too distant, and just a bit too hard to actually see. For reference, it isn’t as bad as WRC 9 and definitely better than The Outer Worlds. I think it’s actually really good-looking when compared to other ports of big console games, especially in handheld mode, but it does feel like the game loses a lot of its believable, gory charm in the process.
Something I feel like I write with every other Switch game I review is “the visuals are rough but does it really matter?” This same trite phrase applies here. On a personal level, I don’t really care. When I play a game on my Xbox Series X, I do, but if I want a game on Switch, I always know what sort of experience I’m in for. But if you are the type of player who really wants this game to look its best, there is absolutely no reason to pick it up on Switch. The game’s monotony fits better on a handheld console, but whether that’s worth the visual hit is up to you. You can see a gallery of screenshots highlighting some issues at the bottom of this review.
The audio is fine: there aren’t any noticeable fidelity downgrades nor compression of the voice acting. The music is still as good as before, making the whole game feel like a TV show, helping a stealthy glide through deep, muddy water feel tense and dangerous. A lot of the time, I didn’t really think about the music, which I think is a good thing, a testament to the cohesive nature of the game’s narrative. Overall, this is definitely a good Switch port of a very good-looking game, but the downgrade needs to be considered.
Maneater was reviewed on Nintendo Switch and a code was provided by ONE PR Studio.