Sega Bass Fishing: you laughed at it, you likely mocked anyone you watched play it, but you know you loved it. The game is a modern arcade classic and it translated well when it was brought home for the Dreamcast. I was always impressed that a group of developers could take fishing and turn it into a game that even non-fishing fans could love. When I heard that the team behind it was crafting a new fishing game for Sony’s PS Vita, I got very excited. An updated, portable version of the fishing classic? Count me in. Unfortunately, even after taking Let’s Fish: Hooked On under consideration, I'm still waiting.
Let’s Fish brings a lot to the table, or at least it appears to bring a lot to the table. There is a challenge mode, a World Tour fishing championship, as well as training and tutorial modes. The problem is that they all feel the same. It is as if all of this framework for a robust and deep game is here, but it is never put to good use. The training and tutorial modes, for example, never dive into anything deeper than the basic controls. You are told how to cast, sink in your hook, and reel in fish. There is never any mention of the wide variety of factors that you would normally have to consider when fishing.
One would think that with all of this room for complicated gameplay, you could really emulate the fishing experience. It would certainly seem as if that was being considered at one time when you look at everything that they put into the game. There is a lot of information about water depth, lure stats and ratings, weather conditions, different times of day, and other real-world mechanics that you would think might make a difference in the fishing experience. There are also some unrealistic factors that come into play, too, including special skills with each of the game’s four characters. All of these things are present but never explained beyond a “pay attention to this” message early on.
The game never tells you how to utilize any of those factors. You never learn how the weather effects the fish or which lures are for which conditions. At first this seems like an oversight in the game’s presentation, but soon you will realize that, despite the inclusion of all of these factors, they don’t make a difference. The entire experience boils down to casting a random lure, looking around to see if their are any fish nearby, and then hoping that one grabs your bait, or reeling it in and trying again.
There is a good framework here for a deeper experience, but it is never fully realized. Once you latch onto a fish, you have to reel it in while paying attention to the tension in your line and fighting the fish’s desire to escape. This feels a lot like Sega Bass Fishing at first (which would be a good thing), but it never changes. Every catch feels exactly the same. You are given occasional prompts which you can react to by either moving your analog stick or swiping your finger on the touchscreen, but they never vary from being either straight horizontal or vertical motions. Plus, it feels like you have all of the time in the world to respond to them. In all of my time with the game, I have only lost one fish to s snapped line, and that was during my first day of playing. There just isn’t any challenge to be found here, which leads to a really bland experience.
Those special skills that I mentioned earlier are proudly displayed with each character but don’t amount to much. They all play pretty much the same with just a slight variation in their performances. One may reel in faster than another, and one might cast farther than the rest, but when it comes down to reeling in fish, they are all the same. This is sad, too, because the game goes out of its way to establish four distinct personalities in its character lineup. There are four, well-designed characters that could approach this sport differently, yet it all feels the same.
That same vagueness and ambiguity is found in the game’s primary modes as well. Sure, there are different modes of play, but they all amount to the same thing. The challenge mode simply tacks a time limit on your fishing adventure and challenges you to catch either a certain amount or cumulative total weight of fish. Once again, they will put you in different scenarios and settings, but the gameplay factors and experience never change.
The World Tour mode is the exact same thing. Different tournaments that set those same goals, but play exactly the same over and over and over again. The only saving grace that even remotely inspires you to keep playing is the ability to unlock a wide variety of lures and earn points that can be traded towards unlocking additional skills. The only problem is that those lures and skills don’t really alter your game; they don’t make a noticeable impact on the experience or your ability to catch fish.
The game’s visuals can be a roller coaster ride of good and bad. The developers have made an attempt to apply a cartoony/anime style look to the characters, but not the world around them. It just comes across as odd. You have these distinctly manga-like characters interacting in realistic-looking environments; it is like the game doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it an anime or a sim, because it doesn’t do too good of a job at being either.
Things can get downright ugly when you go to the underwater views, too. While the fish look decent and have semi-respectable animations, the surface textures and the plant life in particular look like they were ripped out of a game from 20 years ago. There is a glaring lack of consistency in the quality of the game’s different parts. At least the soundtrack, albeit repetitive and bland, stays consistently so throughout. The music is a little too overbearing, drowning out the attempts made to mimic the nature settings with bird and nature sounds. The game just always feels at odds with itself.
While I had seriously high hopes for Let’s Fish, it really turned out to be nothing more than a giant mini-game collection. This might pass as a part of a larger RPG or something like animal Crossing, but as a stand-alone game it is a huge let down. It has all of the pieces to be a bigger, more ambitious product, but those pieces just never quite come together. Inconsistent yet stylized visuals and a decent interface don’t mean anything when the meat of your gameplay amounts to holding a button and occasionally pressing your analog stick in a specified direction. Despite having the tools for more, that is about as deep as it gets with Let’s Fish: Hooked On. I hate to be so harsh, but you would be better off saving your money for just about anything else.