"Fish are friends, not food" is the motto of Finding Nemo's sharks, who treat their lust for fish like an addiction rather than the need to survive. The same can not be said for the sharks of Ubisoft's Hungry Shark World. Here everything is food, including you.
The latest mobile game from Ubisoft satellite studio Future Games of London, you take control of a shark and swim around devouring things in order to stay alive as long as possible. Fish, crabs, swimmers, other sharks, it's all perfectly edible. Don't eat for long enough and your health bar falls to zero and you die.
How do you play it?
You start things off with rather a small shark, and the goal is to keep eating until you die. Once you die the number of points you earned from eating are added to a progress bar. Once you fill that bar you can unlock a brand new class of shark, with three more sharks that are slightly bigger. Bigger sharks mean the chance to eat bigger prey and the ability to travel further through the in-game world.
Sadly the further you travel the bigger the aquatic life gets, and that means the predator you control has suddenly become the prey. As I said, everything is food - including you.
There's also another twist here; the longer you play the faster your health bar depletes and the more you need to eat to keep going. That can be tricky, and it's a little bit annoying since Hungry Shark World takes so much bloody time to load a new game. You get a chance to resurrect your shark after you die, but that involves watching a 30-second video advert for another app or spending an increasing number of premium gems, which can be grinded through play, but are more easily acquired with real world cash. Unfortunately after you die a third time in a single game, the advert option is gone and you have to start spending gems to continue. You can't hesitate at this point either, since you only have a few seconds to decide how you want to continue.
It's at this point I want to say that one of my favourite bits of this game are the beaches. If you feel daring, you can flop up onto shore and eat people on the beach. Jaws claimed that you'll never go in the water again, and if Hungry Shark World has its way you'll be staying clear of the beaches too. You do lose health more quickly that way, though, and it puts you at risk of the gun-toting beach police.
Is that all?
Not at all. Like many mobile games, Hungry Shark World is also home to a digital shop filled with power-ups and cosmetic items to improve and personalise the shark you're playing with. Cosmetic items might seem a bit useless at first, but each piece does offer a bonus to your gameplay. For instance my shark is currently equipped with a saucepan that increases how much health you earn from food, and a flower headband that increases the amount of gold you earn. So nothing too game-changing (at least, not until much later in the game), but handy to have around.
One of the more useful purchases you can make, however, is a pet. These are tiny little sea creatures that follow you around gobbling up things that while you play - earning you health and points in the process. Needless to say, that's incredibly handy to have. Especially since they are much faster at swimming about. Plus, like the items, different pets offer different power boosts to help you along the way.
And it's completely free?
It really is quite a lot of fun if you've got 10 minutes to spare, but make no mistake Hungry Shark World is another freemium game that' offers itself as a free title in order to try and make money selling you virtual currency. While it's not quite as bad as the games that makes you wait for weeks or pay an extortionate amount of money to jump ahead, there are obvious pay-to-win mechanics involved. For instance, unlocking new sharks, locations, and items takes a lot of grinding - especially when it comes to the items that can only be purchased with the premium gems. But, cough up some real cash and you can skip all the playing of the game.
It is possible to earn gems without paying, but that involves catching a special gem turtle in game. That's no easy task, since those bastards are quick. They also only dish out a single gem at a time, so grinding is going to take you an insane amount of time. Thankfully it gets easier once you purchase a pet, since they swim off ahead and catch the blasted turtle for you.
It's not much of an issue if you're willing to progress slowly, since most of the stuff you need to buy to actually progress is paid for with gold. Gold you earn in the main game by eating special gold things and beating challenges that are dashed out three at a time. You don't have to progress very far for it to take forever to earn the amount of gold needed to unlock new and betters things. Though, as expected, you can speed up the process by buying gold with gems.
Should you play it?
Despite all that, Hungry Shark World is strangely addictive. I found myself wanting to keep playing so that I could unlock bigger sharks, travel further, and get to the point where I can eat the big-ass whales I keep stumbling across. That's going to take one hell of a long time to accomplish, but it's nice to have life goals.
Each game doesn't take that long to finish, especially at the early stages when your shark is awful, so it's hardly going to take over your life like other games might do. The fact that there's no cooldown periods is also a bonus, so if you want you could just keep playing for hours. Just make no mistake, unless you are loaded and willing to cough up a lot of money, you are going to have to grind the hell out of this game if you want to get to the good stuff.