Published on August 4th, 2015 | by Sharang Biswas0
Grow Shark Review
When I was assigned Grow Shark, game studio Buzz Nuzz’s casual, minimalist game, my first thought was, “YES! Time to show off!” I was prepared to wax lyrical about Robert Ryman, Ian Bogost, and Mihaly Czikszenmihaly. I worked myself into a frothing tizzy of “minimalism,” “procedural rhetoric,” and “flow states.” I entered an almost Zen-like trance before beginning the game, prepared to grind the minutest details through the chomping maws of postmodernism, postcolonialism, postindustrialism, and basically any post-ism I could dream up, hoping to extract some grain of clarity about the philosophy of gaming culture, and perhaps the human mind itself!
Eh. Either I’m out of practice, or the game is just…well, not very deep. No enlightened truth emerged; no sweeping observations about human society were made. I really just tapped my screen and cursed a lot.
There’s not much to the game. Your stark, white fish perpetually swims through an endless, black ocean, and you tap the screen to accelerate upwards. That’s all you do. You avoid big fish, which chomp you up so fast they might as well have inhaled you, and gulp down smaller fish, growing as you feed. If you die, you get an epilogue-screen based on how big you managed to grow. Die quickly, and you might end up as a decorative (and macabre) skeleton in the heel of a stripper’s shoe. Last a while, and you might become the skeletal star attraction of a museum exhibit. And that’s all, folks. No fancy music (in fact no sound at all). No cutesy animations. No obstacles to dodge, powerups to collect, bosses to tackle. Just an endless coterie of fish engaged in a Darwinian struggle, where the large and strong prey on the small and helpless, and you either practice your rhythmic screen-tapping or perish.
And yet, the game is strangely addictive. Grow Shark hits the reward centers of your brain just right. Forget the lack of variety. Ignore the paucity of mechanical-to-conceptual mapping (I mean the absence of anything that makes you feel like a shark; you could be a bug or a ball of slime and the game would play no differently). Overlook the mental huh? that arises if you think too hard about the fact that you’ve just been eaten by a shark and still somehow manage to end up on a key-chain, or on a fisherman’s wall display. Because the game has no pretensions about being anything other than what it claims to be. All Buzz Nuzz expects from players is to fill their subway rides trying to grow a fish. Then die. Maybe giggle at the ending. Rinse and repeat.
You swim. You eat. You grow. It’s a metaphor for life really.
Sorry, had to sneak in at least one philosophical gem.
No frills attached. But strangely addictive.