To The Bitter End

Sewer Sharks

Jumping The Sewer Shark

Promised lands were never this promising.

By Drew Toal • September 12, 2012

The idea of a “promised land” is as old as recorded history. Ever since Moses led the Israelites out of slavery and into a 40-year Burning Man party in the Sinai desert, people have dreamed of greener pastures—far-off places where their current humdrum existence will be exalted and easy.

It’s a trait that remains common in contemporary fictional tales, especially ones that detail life following the apocalypse. There is often no evidence for these distant Edens—they exist more as a beacon for survivors in need of a mutant donkey upon which to pin their hopes. In Cormac McCarthy’s super-bleak The Road, a man flees with his young son across the gray, scarred country, avoiding cannibals and bandits and all kinds of perverse obstacles. Survival instinct and the understandable wish not to end up in the digestive tract of some irradiated hillbilly can only take you so far. The man is leading his son to the coast, but we all know the beach holds no sunny egress, instead just one less available direction to flee.

The 1992 Sega CD “rail shooter” Sewer Shark appears at first to follow similar tropes. When the game begins, humanity has already been driven underground by some unspecified environmental catastrophe, as I’m sure our political leaders were calmly assuring us that climate change is just a theory and that the 140 degree heat and extreme weather patterns are just “summer” as usual. The only solace from the stench and potential run-ins with Ninja Turtles comes in the form of an impossibly nice, post-apocalyptic beach community called Solar City—a surface-level escape that might be a myth, but serves as good-enough a destination as any.

The good thing about humanity being forced to abandon large swaths of the surface world is that it has created a new industry. (Thanks, global warming-denying job creators!) Well, it’s a job, anyway. The underground world is apparently connected by a web of sewers, and in these sewers are loads of mutated creatures that you need to exterminate. You do this by shooting lasers out of your sewer ship, which flies mostly on its own, although you sometimes have to make turns based on coordinates provided by Catfish, your googly-eyed flying drone, and heeding advice from your surly copilot, Ghost.

The plot makes about as much sense as snacking on bath salts. Commissioner Stenchler—played by irritable Die Hard II cop Robert Costanzo—broadcasts to your craft periodically, complimenting you on your skills in vaporizing ratigators (mutants with a catchy name). He’s up in Solar City, ostensibly paying you to clean up the sewers for the benefit of this surface one percent. His title suggests that he’s your boss, and his slovenly good nature at the game’s start reinforces this impression. Your new comrades teach you the ropes of sewer sharking, as they call it, but are simultaneously searching for a way out.

A number of matters remain unclear. First of all, how does Commissioner Stenchler survive on the surface, particularly at a beach community populated by sycophantic bimbos and conga lines? We know that the sewer jockeys can’t go to the surface just anywhere, or they would’ve done that already. Solar City is apparently safe to inhabit, but nearly impossible to access from the subterranean labyrinth, except through the dreaded Sector 19. And what’s with Stenchler’s vested interest in keeping the sewers safe? He doesn’t live there and has no reason to visit. Apparently the mere existence of glowing orange mutant rodents somewhere is enough to end his veritable bacchanalia.

The video communiques from Solar City look like something out of Blue Hawaii, not the radiation-ravaged, polluted wasteland that drove people below ground in the first place. Clearly, this is all a mind game implemented to motivate the underground class to continue the dangerous, unsavory job of hunting overgrown, glowing predators—a Hunger Games-style reminder to people like you and fellow dweller Falco.

So there’s no telling what you’ll find once you get to Solar City, since Stenchler’s reports can’t be trusted. Falco claims to have found the way out, but her last transmission had her going down in Sector 19. You and Ghost have no choice but to try and find her. These last tunnels are more harrowing than early levels—you’re beset by more enemies, and must navigate by following an odd, tethered light-ball. Meanwhile, Stenchler appears again, this time with Falco tied up to a stake on the beach. Unless you give up, he means to turn Falco into a “mindless tool of the commissioner” using concentrated sun beams and fruity drinks with umbrellas. At this point, Ghost dubs you “Beach Bum,” the highest honor a sewer jockey can earn, and certainly a step up from your old name, “Dogmeat.”

Stenchler unleashes some improved monsters into the sewers to stop your advance, suddenly giving off the impression that he might have had something to do with the infestation. “Better hurry, Beach Bum. Falco’s weak little mind is already bending to my will. Soon she’ll join the rest of my beach blanket zombies,” he taunts. Time to turn and burn.

You shoot your way through Stenchler’s last line of defense, the brain-eating Zerks. Falco’s certainly on your mind, but more importantly, what lies behind door number Solar City? A Wizard Of Oz-type figure behind the obvious Stenchler fabrication? A high-tech film studio operated by Morlocks? Or evidence that you’ve lost your own tenuous grip on reality?

As the hatch opens, and you view the surface world for the first time, the answer is clear. It’s the beach, all of the bikini-clad zombies (aka tanned morons), and an unharmed Falco. It’s either all real, or the elaborate hallucinations of your sick mind, completely unhinged by the horrors of life underground. In the distance, you see some of Stenchler’s mutinous beach minions rolling him inside an inflatable inner tube towards the ocean. As he floats in the shallows, he shakes his fist and bellows, “I’ll get you for this, Beach Bum!” This game has gone from dystopian futuristic hell to a Scooby-Doo episode.

For once, the promised land is just as promised, and it’s completely insane. You’ve earned that Malibu and Coke.

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  • Colonel

    SHOOT THE TUBES, RAIDEN!

    • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

      I NEED SCISSORS 61

  • LoveWaffle

    Wouldn’t have thought 1992 Week would invade Gameological.

  • http://www.facebook.com/greg.benevent Greg Benevent

    I remember getting this with the Sega CD (sigh) and there being something in the instruction manual about some kind of “secret creature” that gave you a 1,000,000 points (or something similiar) for killing it. Did anyone ever find/see that thing? 

  • Enkidum

    This game sounds kind of awful. Was it?

    • Colonel

      It was pretty bad.  Not the worst FMV game out there, but, then again, that pit is pretty deep.  I still can’t believe a game like Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties exists outside of a Tim and Eric sketch.

    • Luc Tremblay

      Not really. I enjoyed it, even though I didn’t so much play it as tell my dad exactly when and where to turn or to shoot (I had faster eyes, or something. I don’t know).

    • The_Misanthrope

       It is a pretty terrible game, but one could make a case that it is a “so bad it’s good” game.  If you can have cult/midnight movies, why not the same for games?  If you have some friends over and you’re all good and liquored up, why not start up your Sega CD emulator and take in one of Digital Picture’s “games”.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp David Dalrymple

        1up’s feature “Broken Pixels” was basically MST3K for bad video games. It’s Seanbaby at his best (i.e. edited). 

    • gambrinus

      I mainly remember it being pretty easy, I think because the system was too slow to handle real shooter speeds with FMV.  In fact, I may have actually beat this in one sitting…I seem to remember trying really hard to do so, because I didn’t ever want to play it again.

      • http://twitter.com/nakedfoul Reed Jackson

         It was pretty easy, but for its time, it was reasonably diverting for a short while, if you were a 13-year-old kid.

  • bunnyvision

    You know, I’ve been aware of Sewer Shark’s existence for years but I had no idea it was so stupid

  • Nudeviking

    With the exception of the Working Designs games were there any Sega CD games worth owning?  I had Lunar, Vai, and Popful Mail (man was it a quest to get that game), but other than that every game I owned was terrible.  Night Trap anyone?

    • ChicaneryTheYounger

      Ripper! Dis guyyy…

    • TheAngryInternet

      Snatcher was good

      Sonic CD, also the best versions of Ecco and Earthworm Jim 1

      Heart of the World gets a lot of crap because Chahi had nothing to do with it and it’s not a patch on the first game, but it’s above average and was never released for any other system

      And Third World War is easily one of the best console strategy games out there

    • The_Misanthrope

       Do you haveDark Wizard?  You mentioned the three, but you might’ve missed that one…and that would be a shame.

      -Dungeon Master II and Eye of the Beholder:  two solid first-person dungeon crawlers
      -Jurassic Park:  a fairly simple graphic adventure using FMV effects, but fun nonetheless.  Pro Tip: try using “rock” on “computer”.
      -Panic!:  I’ve never played it myself, but I’ve seen a Let’s Play video of it and it may be one of the most nutzoid games ever made.
      -Rise of the Dragon-Cyberpunk-themed graphic adventure.  Not particularly tough, but it really gets the tone right.

      As for Night Trap, it is not a good game by any right, but it is pretty unintentionally funny nonetheless.

      • Nudeviking

        Dark Wizard I never owned.  A kid in my neighborhood had it and we did a trade for awhile.  So I have played it.

        Eye of the Beholder we owned on SNES.  I didn’t even know there was a Sega CD version.

        The other ones I’ll have to check out.

        • The_Misanthrope

          You actually knew another person with a Sega CD?!? When I got one, I was the only person I knew that owned one. I felt either incredibly lucky for having such a unique system or incredibly stupid for being the only one who fell for Sega’s sales job. Still, it could be worse…I could have bought a 32X.

        • The Guilty Party

          @The_Misanthrope:disqus A friend of mine had the Sega CD, and I was very jealous at the time. Looking back now, I have no idea why. There wasn’t anything he could actually *do* with it that was any fun, and we always just ended up playing one of the NHL games on cartridge anyway. But oh how I wanted it.

        • Nudeviking

          @The_Misanthrope:disqus I actually had a 32X, but it was a later day purchase at a garage sale, so it doesn’t really count.

    • Luc Tremblay

      I loved Lethal Enforcers and Dragon’s Lair, but I guess that’s about it.

    • George_Liquor

       Silpheed’s pretty good. The Terminator for Sega CD’s not bad either. It’s better than the cartridge version, anyway.

      • http://twitter.com/nakedfoul Reed Jackson

         Silpheed was awesome! Way better than Starfox.

    • gambrinus

      Sonic CD.  My favorite of the old-school Sonics.

      God, Night Trap was awful.  I remember my grandparents bought it for me for xmas and then got upset when they realized it was “that rape game” that had all the news controversy for some reason.

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    I actually tried playing this game on an emulator once and it’s fucking horrible 

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      Never has the title “To the Bitter End” been more fitting.

  • rvb1023

     My only knowledge of this game comes from Spoony’s review of it and simply put I have no desire to try it out for myself.  Good God does that game look awful.

  • adamfox

    Best review of this game here: http://spoonyexperiment.com/2008/04/20/fmv-hell-sewer-shark/

  • doyourealize

    For some reason, whenever I see a “To the Bitter End” for a game I haven’t played (I think all of them so far), I won’t read it. Like at some point I’m going to find these obscure titles and play them, and I don’t want the ending to be spoiled.

    I clicked on this one for some reason, though, and almost immediately realized that I have played this game. A friend of mine had a Sega CD, and I think we spent decent amount of time playing it back then. Of course, that was when a video game was a video game, and we wanted to play video games…even if it was Sewer Shark or Deadly Towers or Ultraman. I don’t know if I had a tendency towards snark at this point, but I wish I had. Sewer Shark is a gold mine.

    Actually, it’s probably a good thing I just accepted whatever video game I had at the moment. I could always have fun whatever I was controlling, if it was on Sega TV or whatever it was called. Now I roll my eyes whenever my friend starts talking about WoW, like how could anyone have fun with that?