Astro Shark (99 cents on Google Play) is the story of a large, friendly shark whose best friend Laika—the famous Russian space dog—is captured and sent into space. Angered at the abduction, the Astro Shark takes to the skies in pursuit. This is where you come in, propelling the Astro Shark on its rescue mission by orbiting planets and stars.
All this is told in a cute animation at the beginning of the game (that you can skip if your heart is made of stone) and segues directly into a tutorial level where you learn how to tap planets to orbit, and use them to fling you onward. Don’t worry about smashing into one of these celestial bodies; the Astro Shark simply plows through them, adding points to your score but depriving you of things to orbit.
To complete each level, you must guide the Astro Shark toward a heart icon, where you find an animal pal tethered to a planet. Sadly, Laika remains beyond your reach in the early levels. In true Mario style, one of the rescued critters told me, “you are in the wrong location, your friend’s in another constellation.”
The game at first seems reminiscent of Tiny Wings, as both feature charming artistic design, unique controls, and a meditative soundtrack. The difference is revealed in the third level, where you’re first pursued by the murderous rockets bent on preventing you from rescuing Laika.
Because Rockets are faster than you are, you’ll have to use your orbital powers to gain speed and outmaneuver them, which is complicated by the fact that rockets can destroy planets, as can Astro Shark. Rockets will usually zoom in from off screen, so be sure to watch out for proximity warnings that tell you from which direction the rocket is approaching.
Each level has a different twist to it, and completing one unlocks the next. Some levels feature crumbling worlds that shatter as you orbit or ice-covered planets that freeze rockets—making them ripe for revenge. This keeps the play from becoming overly repetitive level to level;that’s a real trick considering the game has only one difficulty mode.
Each level also has three challenges, usually playing to the level’s gimmick. These score you extra points, earn you little stars for each level, but also suggest strategies. For instance, the ice planet level encourages you to freeze and smash rockets.
When reviewing a game, there’s a fine line between “this is too difficult” and “I am just bad at this.” Astro Shark rides this line very delicately. It has an enormous jump in difficulty between the second and third levels, and continues to challenge you from there (note: I cannot for the life of me get past the fourth level). At first I was annoyed at the difficulty, but the game only has 11 levels, and it’s the frustrating challenge coupled with easy gameplay that’s going to keep people coming back for more. It’s tough, but it wasn’t too tough to keep me from playing.
The bonus challenges for each level also push you towards different, and more challenging styles of gameplay. Simply powering through to the end of the level is much, much easier than trying to fulfill all the acrobatics the bonus achievements suggest.
That said, the pursuing rockets are tough cookies, known to suddenly change direction. If you’re not paying attention to the proximity warnings, you’ll get toasted.
Beyond the Game
Currently, the Google Play entry for the game advertises leaderboards—though I was unable to find them—and features Facebook integration that didn’t seem to do anything when I finally got it working. I’d like to see these features fixed up for future versions. The iOS version of Astro Shark uses the built-in Game Center for leaderboard tracking, but even here the major motivation to playing the game is unlocking levels and completing achievements.
The game also seems like a bit of a resource hog. Some commenters on Google Play noted that it wouldn’t play on older phones. In my testing I found that it was far more responsive on the Nexus 7 than the Samsung Galaxy S III .
Blast Off With Astro Shark
In its current form, Astro Shark is off to a strong start but I’d like to see a little more depth and options to the game. This could be as simple as an endless mode for planet-swinging, rocket-avoiding fun, or different difficulty levels. To return to the Tiny Wings comparison, it was a fun and challenging game right out of the gate but became even better when an update greatly expanded the game with different types of play.
In the end, Astro Shark is a fun mix of style and gameplay. It’s easy to learn, hard to win, and even harder to master. But the gravity-swinging play and charming style will keep you thumb-tapping across the stars, making it well worth the money.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc