Atari Shark Jaws (1975)

Maneater by PSE with its shark shaped fiberglass cabinet is a grail for many arcade collectors. Other collectors may have heard of US Billiards simply titled Shark. But, Shark Jaws (Atari, 1975) is the sleeper shark themed game desired by those in the know. Hoping to ride the coattails of the blockbuster film Jaws, all three were released within the same year.

Background

Rumor has it that Atari attempted to license an arcade video game based on the movie, but got nowhere with the studio. Nolan Bushnell decided to release the game anyway. Universal be damned! He created a phony company, Horror Games to shield Atari from lawsuits. All mentions of “Atari” were scrubbed from the cabinet art and manual and replaced with “Horror Games”. However, upon closer inspection the cabinet was clearly a Tank II leftover and the circuit board was marked “Atari”. Even more brash, the distributor flyer made clear this was an Atari release.

Avoid getting eaten by JAWS
Avoid getting eaten by JAWS
Shark Jaws Side Art
Shark JAWS Side Art

Gene Lipkin, Atari’s VP of Marketing admits, “It took Universal only three days to figure out the game was Atari’s and there is no Horror Games” 1

Along with Exidy’s Death Race, Shark Jaws was an early non-license bootleg video game based on a popular movie. Sneakily played up in its logo: a large typeface JAWS preceded by a tiny “shark”. Given Atari’s behavior, one has to wonder how worried they were about legal retribution from Universal.

Gameplay

The concept is rather simple: the player races against the clock to spear fish and avoid being eaten by JAWS. Considering the year of its release and being discrete logic and not processor based, the one-player gameplay is not bad. One clever aspect of Shark Jaws is how its sound passes through a reverb pedal giving the game an eerie underwater feel. When JAWS kills the diver, a blood-curdling scream echos in horror. While emulation is not a an exact match, you can play Shark Jaws on DICE, the Discrete Integrated Circuit Emulator.

Collector’s Take

Horror Games logo
Horror Games logo

It’s rather difficult to find a complete Shark Jaws arcade cabinet nowadays. Nolan Bushnell once claimed, “Shark Jaws was actually a huge success, we sold a couple thousand” 2 Counter to Bushnell’s boast, it is believed less than 1000 and likely closer to 500 cabinets were made 3. Of the known cabinets uncovered, their serial numbers fall below 500. For instance, my Shark Jaws has a serial number of 141. If you find one and are looking to sell or if you have knowledge of the designer, please get in touch!

 

At the Movies

Shark Jaws appeared in both the poorly received Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and another cult classic fish disaster film Piranha.

Piranha (1978)
Piranha (1978)
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)

Arcade Game Play Demo

Watch this well filmed video of the game playing in an actual arcade cabinet.

Shirt!

Lastly, Shark Jaws is a favorite of mine from the period, and for a very limited time I’m offering a snazzy shirt based on the game.

  1. Curt Vendel and Marty Goldberg, Atari Inc.: Business is Fun, 170
  2. Steve Fulton, The History of Atari: 1971-1977, 12
  3. Keith Smith, All In Color For A Quarter

2 thoughts on “Atari Shark Jaws (1975)

  1. Atari designer credits are a little wash in this period because there was a defection in the 1975 period. Possibilities for Shark Jaws are Steve Bristow, Gary Waters, Lyle Rains, Howard von Jepmond, Kenneth Sauter, Jim Morris, Steve Mayer, Dennis Koble, and Regan Cheng.

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