Snacker the Shark from Banjo-Kazooie is a nightmare in Treasure Trove Cove, despite being a cutesy riff on Jaws: Here is a story of survival.

I probably should’ve expected to scream when I first went on the Jaws ride at Universal Studios. I hadn’t yet seen the film and have a fear of the open water. Had I been with my parents they likely would have skipped the shark encounter and went straight on to the Men in Black attraction we loved so much, but I was with a friend’s family. And as I sat in a rocking boat screaming at a toothy animatronic great white across a flimsy boat railing as it lunged to attack, I thought to myself through the terror, “Why does this feel oddly familiar?”

While the experience has certainly left me with plenty of submechanophobia fears and fascinations, I think my true fear of large monstrosities under the big endless blue actually originated from my time in the Nintendo 64 era of gaming. From the giant eel or the realistic Loch Ness-like Plessie in Super Mario 64, to the tentacled odd aliens from the sewer level of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, the console released a surprising number of titles with enemies designed to remind kids just how creepy things hidden in the water could be.

And while I’ll occasionally get the heebie-jeebies if I’m on a theme park ride with some underwater animatronics, none of that has ever scared me in quite the same way Snacker the Shark from Banjo-Kazooie does to this day.

For those who haven’t played through Banjo-Kazooie, Snacker mostly only appears in the game’s second level, Treasure Trove Cove. The land is a colorful tropical beach filled with goofy-looking clams and a mountainous overlook across an oceanside landscape. In this world the bear and bird are tasked with finding sunken treasure for a belching hippo and solving sand castle puzzles. The music is cheery, with vibrant steel drums serenading players when they’re on the coast, and more nautical accordion coming in whenever the player is near the realm’s buried pirated ship.

It’s the least likely place you’d expect to develop an immortal dread of the water. That is until you finally set foot in the water itself. The moment Banjo’s paw touches the surf, Grant Kirkhope’s fun calypso music cuts out, and a daunting set of deep sinister cello strings starts pounding. Some cheesy chompy sound effects announce that Snacker the Shark is on the way as he announces his intentions to enjoy you as, well, a snack.

Snacker the Shark from Banjo-Kazooie is a nightmare in Treasure Trove Cove, despite being a cutesy riff on Jaws: Here is a story of survival.

The strangest thing about how scary this situation was as a kid is the fact that Snacker the Shark isn’t particularly scary-looking in Banjo-Kazooie. He has a bright blue top, some big silly eyes, and some snaggletooth chompers. If anything he looks more like Jabberjaw than a properly terrifying member of the Elasmobranchii genus. But nevertheless, the moment my brother and I would encounter the shark, we would devolve into frantically pressing the A button to have Kazooie flap helplessly away from the danger.

But as much as our fears kept us from carelessly going for a dip, my brother and I were also completionists, and in order to fully beat the level, we’d have to brave the water at least twice. The first is the moment you teleport into Treasure Trove Cove where you’ll see a blue Jinjo, one of the game’s many collectibles, happily waving at you from the water under the dock.

What experts know is that players need to hop off the back of the deck and swim under to grab the Jinjo before Snacker has time to come after you. But on our first playthrough, my brother and I didn’t know that, let alone that Snacker would be waiting for us.

We walked down the pier and casually waded into the water towards the Jinjo, confused why the music was starting to change to a more ominous tone. Snacker materialized and my brother softly said, “Wait, what’s that?” just in time for the great white to come speeding towards us. I screamed as the first bite landed. Before a second could hit us, my brother dove towards the console and slammed the reset button.

Snacker the Shark from Banjo-Kazooie is a nightmare in Treasure Trove Cove, despite being a cutesy riff on Jaws: Here is a story of survival.

It took us a few days before we gathered the courage to return to the water, when we started testing the limits. We would jump from seaborn boxes calculating the time it took for Snacker to arrive. We tried several more times to grab that Jinjo until a copy of the month’s Nintendo Power shared the safest way to do it. But the guide also showed us that we would have to brave the open ocean to get one of the game’s Honeycomb pieces that was tucked into a cliffside corner. And worst yet, there were no boxes or coast to retreat to from this edge of the map.

After plenty of experimentation, we discovered the best approach was to cliff-dive from a landing above the Honeycomb piece, grab it, and swim for our lives back to shore. With all musical notes and jiggies collected, we got ready for the jump, prepared to deal with whatever the shark would throw our way.

We dove. The cellos picked up. We grabbed the Honeycomb piece. But as we turned to our planned escape route, Snacker had materialized there. I screamed, this time not the fearful shriek, but with a primal warcry, as I controlled Banjo over the shark with a hover jump. As Kazooie let out her loud “friderieeee” call, my brother joined in on my battle cry yelling as we piloted past the shark and frantically swam towards shore. We took a bite or two, but we’d gotten the piece — and upon climbing into the safety of the sand, we both cheered.

Years later as I found myself staring down at the Jaws ride mechanical shark, I couldn’t help but remember this moment, and I let out a guttural roar back at this animatronic water-dwelling behemoth. It was just as cold and unchanging as Snacker, a simple wonder of technological advancements and nothing more. But as I shouted back at it, I realized this situation was perfectly familiar. I’d overcome something far more terrifying long ago, and its name was Snacker the Shark.

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