The Shark Game
The Shark Game is one of the best idle games available to play. It’s free, has cute art, solid puns, and some interesting design choices. It’s also possible to experience everything the game has to offer within a day or two if you if you play efficiently. For these reasons I encourage anyone interested in game design or idle games to give this game a spin.
For those that find the discovery element of idle games very important consider this a minor spoiler warning, go check it out and come back here in a bit. The next section discusses some of the mechanics and the reasons I think it’s a game worth playing.
First spoiler warning If you want to go in completely blind stop reading now.
In Shark Game you take on the role of a shark in a strange blue sea. You start game manually catching fish by clicking, from there you recruit more sharks and other aquatic friends who will help you collect more resources. As you gather more and more of a variety of resources you will eventually unlock technologies and the ability to reset and move to a new world where you can reset the game with a persistent bonus.
There are two reasons why I think anyone interested in idle games, particularly from a design perspective, should play this game.
First is the how well coordinated the setting and atmosphere are. The UI is easy on the eyes and the art is adorable, the simple colors and shapes work well with the theme. There is also a lots of humor slipped into the text of the game, be sure to toggle descriptions on. Also be sure to check out the options menu, there are some good UI options that aren’t enabled by default.
Second is the complexity of the resource system. The game dozens of resources when you can collect, some of those resources can be used to buy things directly while others can be process into other resources or will generate new resources. Importantly there is overlap in the things that produce resources. As an example sharks generate 1 fish per second while rays only produce 0.2 fish but also produce 1 sand.
Worlds will give varying bonuses and penalties to resource. This combined with the persistent upgrades the player will purchase forces the player must continually reevaluate their build paths.
This resource system is compounded by the reset system. Once you get sufficiently deep in the tech tree you unlock the gate. The gate lists 6 randomized resources you need to feed it in order to move to the next world. The quantity of resources needed tends to be very large, it’s enough that you will want to adapt what you are producing to focus on meeting the requirements.
From here on I’ll be talking about the problems with the game as well as the most efficient way to play the game. If you haven’t played the game yet I encourage you to do so and come back to this once you have gone through the gate a few times.
Second spoiler warning, if you don’t want to be told how to min/max the game or want hear my opinions on the game stop here.
I think there are two main problems with the game that could be fixed without altering the feel of the game.
The first is the ability to recycle resources. This ability takes all the variety of the resources and the gate and throws them out the window. Your goal is to create as much as possible of the resource you can efficiently convert into residue, you then convert into the 6 resources bypassing all the interesting bits. There are also some loops with the recycler that net more resources than you put in letting generate them at an exponential rate.
The second problem is the game doesn’t really change as you progress. Once you get past early game and especially once you figure out how to speed through worlds there is no real variety to the game play. There is no noticeable difference in play between a level world at climate level 1 and 100.
Playing the game efficiently is unfortunately fairly straightforward. On every world the early and late game is pretty much the same, only the middle part differs.get crystal and turn it into science and research the early technologies. Once you get to shark machines build them as they allow you to move past the crystal bottle neck. From there the builds split depending on the world, they are all focused on producing as much as you can of the thing you can produce most efficiently, generally but not always it’s something that produces another producer, that lets you get two sets of multipliers on the final resource. However it happens at the end you feed all of your resources into the recycler and turn it into the resources you need to get through the gate.
For most worlds going all in on Berry Sprayers is the way to go, it gives you two levels of multipliers like breeders do but dodges the penalties a few worlds put on them since they are a machine. Just tech till you hit them and then recycle clams and sand into more Sprayers until you get enough to recycle into whatever you need.
Once you go through the game you will be offered three worlds to go to, their climate level determines how much essence you get and is a random amount based on the current world. Always choose the highest number to maximizes the essence you get.
If I were updating the game myself these are the things I’d look at doing.
- Remove the ability to recycle things. This will force people to adapt to the world they are on. And add diversity to gameplay and force people to explore new parts of the game.
- Have the game end at world 100. By the time the player gets to that level they will have seen pretty much everything the game has to offer. A cute splash screen at the end and some words would complete the experience of play the game.
- Throw in some additional modifiers to each world so the game plan on each world is slightly different. It’s less fun when you know exactly what you will be doing as soon as you see the level. Things to do could include adding or removing technologies, additional bonuses to various resources, have resources producing new things they didn’t before or removing resources.
- Add a little bit of clarity for the upgrades. Some of them are a bit unclear on what exactly they do. Include in the description a list of the things the upgrade unlocks. Similarly it might be useful to also have things you are close to unlocking appear grayed out to give a hint of where to go next.
- Either remove the whalesong upgrade or expand on it. I like the concept of potentially having a cool thing that helps out people that want to play slower or are going on vacation but as it is it’s just a trap. If I had to choose I’d drop it, this game doesn’t need it.
- Add variety to the upgrades. Having the upgrades be shuffle around or not alway available would add some unpredictability in the run. Going a step further there could be upgrades that you have to choose between, something like Master of Orion 2 techs.