When the Wii U was approximately 5 months away from releasing, there was an article I covered showing the potential possibility of how the Wii U game box arts would appear. While the box arts ended up not becoming that design (which was awfully too similar to Wii box arts anyway), the game that was shown for the box art was Jett Tailfin. At the time, there was little to no information about the title, other than the possibility of the game being a launch title. Approximately 21 months after the system’s launch, developer Hoplite Research’s title is now on Nintendo’s latest console as a digital-only game, no longer releasing in retail. Is this fish worth biting into or is it best left as shark food?
Jett Tailfin is a family-friendly underwater racing game akin to Mario Kart, where you race along coral reefs, pirate ships and Atlantis, using items against opponents as you go for the gold. The story to Jett Tailfin is simple, but there to carry the reason for the races and introduce some of the characters. Basically, Jett is challenged to showing off if he has what it takes to be the fastest fish around. Apparently, there’s a rival that Jett’s friends aren’t fond of, so it’s up to Jett to show off that he can beat him in races. It is clichéd but it’s still an effort to bringing together some semblance of a story. Regardless, it does fall flat and feels incredibly tacky. Realistically though, you’re not playing this to experience an intricate story…you’re here to race.
Jett Tailfin is a racing game at heart, and the concept of underwater racing (as fish) definitely sets it apart from a majority of racing titles out there. Unfortunately, what sounds good on paper isn’t executed as well in this game. The first main issue resides within the controls. Racing games need a specific precision to them, and while Jett Tailfin doesn’t overly demand precise movement, it feels like you’re maneuvering a tank underwater as opposed to a nimble fish. You’ll collect items to fire away at other racing fish, whether it’s electric eels, blowfish or octopus. Using the items feels absolutely pointless and has barely any indication of whether you’ve hit someone or not, other than the emotionless taunt your character says. When an item is fired at you, you can press either left or right on the D-Pad (which is displayed on-screen) to “dodge” the attack. I use the term loosely because this mechanic is tremendously finicky and feels very cheaply utilized. For example, every time you’re about to be attacked and the dodge button appears, you’ll press it and it’ll turn green to show you succeeded in pressing it. However, there will be absolutely no animation to indicate a dodge, making you take the hit without the hit actually affecting you. There’s no satisfaction or “feel” to dodging attacks or incoming obstacles. During races, there will be other sea creatures to avoid, such as jellyfish, stingrays and sharks that can eat you (giving opponents a few seconds to pass you). The sense of speed is pretty decent, especially when going through jet streams. Jet streams will make you boost at insane speeds and you’ll get a solid feel of that. You can even fill up your own boost meter by swimming through air bubble vents. The problem with how this is handled though is that the camera attempts to zoom in a bit much and actually becomes nauseating to follow. However, even when not boosting, the camera can get really out of whack and obstructed. Several occasions it’s either too close up the fish’s rear end, while there are other times the camera gets caught on objects.
When you’re not tackling the game’s campaign, you can either do single races playing as a variety of Jett’s friends on any of the 16 courses, or you can bring your friends in for some 4-player multiplayer action. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here, and quite frankly, since the game is quite a chore to control, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want them to endure the exercise in frustration. You can use the GamePad and the Wiimote, but there’s no Wii U Pro Controller, Wiimote with Nunchuk combo, or Wii Pro Controller support at all. With the GamePad, the game is entirely playable with Off-TV support. The button layout on the other hand is far from comfortable or ergonomic. Generally, racing games use the left and right triggers to accelerate and brake (on the Wii U, it would be ZL and ZR buttons). Instead, the developers have mapped the accelerate button to R and the brake button to L. This forces you to place your fingers at the very top of the GamePad as opposed to comfortably (and logically) resting them on the back triggers (ZL and ZR). The speed boost and item use buttons rest on the triggers instead, which would feel more suitable as either face buttons or even the L and R buttons. Interestingly, navigating the main menus require input on the touch screen with the GamePad, yet the manual states you can use the buttons and D-Pad/Analog Stick to navigate which isn’t the case.
Visually, Jett Tailfin looks like an early Wii game with an HD coating of paint on it. Originally released for iOS devices, the visuals have transitioned to a bigger screen. Environments look somewhat decent honestly, with water reflecting from the surface to the bottom, as well as other underwater objects (such as pirate ships and coral reefs) within the tracks. Texturing seems to be a mixed bag, with some being ok, while others being washed out. All the sea creatures on the other hand look amateurishly designed, with modeling that looks like an early PS2 era game. Animations are also sluggish and stiff, with the fish turning sometimes with zero animation. Framerate tends to be erratic, going from occasionally smooth to commonly rough. It’s playable, but shifts in framerate far too often that it becomes annoying to deal with. Also, if you’re looking to post screenshots on the Miiverse, here’s the kicker: you can barely do so once during every play session. If you hit the Home button, the screen usually freezes at the moment in time in case you’d like to screenshot it. In Jett Tailfin, if you hit the Home button once, that’s the only time you can post the screenshot. Even if you didn’t post your screenshot, went back to gameplay, then hit the Home button again cause you had a better screenshot to capture, you will not be able to post it. This aspect is incredibly broken. Audio wise, the soundtrack is awfully generic and unmemorable, doing absolutely nothing to enhance the experience. Voice acting is also atrocious, with Jett shouting the same annoying thing over-and-over when boosting through tracks. Even all the other characters deliver zero emotion in their lines and sound like bored drones. The sound effects are kept to a bare minimum and feel like stock effects, with no ambiance effects either. While being underwater is normally quiet, you’d hear the water moving around you or muffled moving objects. In here, you’ll never hear that. You’ll only hear the bubbles that appear in the area or when turning occasionally. There’s nothing in the audio department that enriches the experience by any means.
After being announced for the Wii U approximately 2 years ago and making its way to the console, it’s a shame to say that the development cycle has not been kind to it. The worst offender is the fact that while the iOS version is only $1.99, the Wii U version is going for a whopping $34.95 on the eShop. This is borderline nonsense and looks like a game that should cost no more than $10 (and even that’s a bit much). There’s not even a physical copy for the game so the rationality to even charging this much makes no sense. Mediocre visuals, dull audio, grating voice acting, horrendous controls, and subpar, glitchy gameplay result in Jett Tailfin to be an overpriced fishy title that’ll stink up your Wii U. Want to go to a lobster dinner or maybe some all-you-can eat sushi? Use the $35 for that instead.
Overall Score: 3.0 out of 10 = DON’T BUY IT!
A special thank you to Hoplite Research for providing us a review copy for Jett Tailfin!
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