Picture it! Scilly, 1922! OK, actually Andy Ross’s Childhood Bedroom 1993. I had been given as a gift the dream attachment for my beloved Sega Genesis, the amazing Sega CD. For those of you young children who have only grown up in the era of XBox and Playstation, it may seem strange that there was once a time when the idea of playing a video game off of a compact disc was mind blowing. But it was, and I was fully ready to have my mind blown. To use a slogan of Sega’s ads of the era, I was ready to enter “The Next Level.”
The Sega CD model I had was the second one, the smaller model designed to go with the slimmer Genesis that had been introduced to the market. I had the first Genesis, the larger one, but the Sega CD came with an extension block that allowed it to partner it on the original model. You attached the Sega CD to your Genesis by a special connector on the side of system. The Sega CD came with a game to get you going, as was the norm with gaming systems at the time. The game my Sega CD came with was called “Sewer Shark,” and I was fully ready to put this new game into my system and see what wonders were waiting for eight year old Andy.
“Sewer Shark” was a Full Motion Video game, in which instead of electronic graphics, most of the game is based on actual filmed footage of people and things. “Sewer Shark” wasn’t developed for the Sega CD. It was created for a project by the toy company hasbro called the NEMO, which was going to be a gaming system that used VHS tapes. This caused the developers to come up with the idea of interactive movie games instead of something like, say, Mario. The NEMO project was canceled and never saw the light of day outside of the company, so the development team bought the game assets and sat on them waiting to figure out how to use them.
With this background, let me tell you what the experience was like for eight year old Andy when he fired up “Sewer Shark” for the first time. The game begins, after the logos of the developers and game studio, the first thing I saw was video. Actual real life footage of a ship looking thing traveling through a tunnel. I was blown away. This followed by an ACTUAL PERSON talking to me “WHAT IS THIS!? THIS IS AMAZING!!!” Now, I should point out that this footage was super compressed and pixelated to a fuzzy blur. It shows just how far technology has come in the twenty four years since. Type “Sewer Shark Sega CD” into YouTube if you want to see for yourself, it looks primitive today, but at the time it was really impressive.
But things started to take a turn, shortly after this first person talked to me another one showed up. My “Co-pilot” Ghost, who immediately began yelling at me and insulting me. The premise of “Sewer Shark” is that you’re a pilot for the sewer system in the near future(??)--it never makes it clear. Everyone lives underground, but there’s an island paradise you want to reach on the surface, you do so by riding through the sewers of mutated creatures called “Ratigators,” giant scorpions, bats, and rogue robots, and eventually brain eating fireflies. Get all that? Now the way you rid them is by flying in your vehicle, the “Hole Hawg,” which looks like an X-Wing without the wings on it. You have a cannon gun thing and you blast these creatures.
Along with Ghost screaming at you for everything, you have a robot friend/scout called Catfish. Catfish looks like a metal beach ball with an antenna for a nose and rotating flashlights for eyes. Catfish scouts the sewers and opens the complicated door lock systems and tells you where the vermin are. You have to follow his directions or you hit a wall and die. Game over. Catfish--who has a southern accent like a reject from “Dukes of Hazzard”--also insults you by asking Ghost at the start of the game “What is that ugly thing in the pilot seat?”
You get directions from Catfish who will say “There’s a whole bunch of hungry critters at: NINE-SIX-THREE.” Variations on that. Twelve, Three, Six, Nine. Up, Right, Down, Left. So you have to--all at once--shoot mutated things, navigate correctly, and enter recharge stations so if you don’t you blow up and die. All while dealing with various people insulting you and yelling at you all the time. To this day I have never completed a game of “Sewer Shark” all I would do is blow up and die like 15 minutes into the game. I never made it past when Ghost changes your callsign from “Dogmeat” to “Ratbreath.” There are many ways for the game to end. You can have a score not high enough and it ends. You can suddenly be attacked by a robot and it ends. You can sneeze while thinking about your first love and the game ends. It sucks on toast.
So that’s it. You just keep playing this game and dying or shooting stuff and wining. Once you do win, that’s it too. There’s not any real replay value, you’ve seen all the footage the game has to offer. I was used to games with clear objectives. Mario: Rescue the princess. Sonic: Collect rings and defeat Dr. Robotnick. I was not used to a game where a bunch of dillweeds just scream and insult you while you wait to see how quickly you’re gonna blow up and die. Now, I will give them some credit. They did spend money on it, and the visuals of actually traveling through the sewers in your ship thing is kinda cool. But I still have such a feeling intense “WHY?” whenever I think about the game.
Should “Sewer Shark” come back around on the market as some other FMV games have, I would like to see the game more clearly, and maybe even track down the people who made it and ask questions. As I have many. I have a lot of question that’s been inside me for 24 years on this game that some executive at Sega decided should be the BUNDLE IN with the Sega CD, so every man, woman, and child across the USA could have a B-movie actor yell crap at them while blowing up after playing the game for 10 minutes.
I recently found my copy of the game in a box in my parent’s basement. I still have my Sega system and it works--but I’ve yet to have to have seen if a good number of years more of life has brought any new shine to “Sewer Shark,” or if it will still be an endless ragescape. It’s like someone took an awful USA Up All Night movie and let all the bullies from High School write it about you. OK, enough thoughts about “Sewer Shark.” I gotta go do something to get my mind off this mess. Let’s watch that dog in “Duck Hunt” laugh at me--at least he can’t tell me “your mother was a hamster.” See you next week.