How far can a boring mini-game be stretched?
This is a review I've been dreading, because writing it means I have to once again experience, vicariously in my memory, the sad waste of time that is Fishing Master. Like a bad Dreamcast game that fell through a wormhole and got retrofitted with Wii controls, Fishing Master will make you wonder what year it is. It's not that it's broken in any specific way; it's just an archaic, monotonous, Japan-centric wagglefest that never rises above the status of a mildly entertaining Flash game.
You play as a young lad or lass burdened by your grandfather with the quest of becoming the FIshing Master of Japan. You will go to all of the provinces, seek out their lakes and oceans, and relieve them of their natural aquatic wildlife via your trusty pole. Catch enough fish and you can upgrade your pole, buy more bait and lures, and enter tournaments to put your fishing domination on full display. Developer Hudson Soft isn't reinventing the wheel here; they're recycling it. There isn't anything original about the setup or execution of Fishing Master.
The actual fishing mechanics are similarly pedestrian. Cast your line with the Wii Remote, flick it left or right depending on which directional arrows are currently blinking, and reel with the Nunchuk. You have to watch the gauge at the top of the screen, though; reel too slow and the fish will escape, reel too fast and you'll break the line. Sounds familiar, right? For the most part, it works. It's even pretty fun for about twenty minutes. Unfortunately, you can't see the fish you're fighting, so there's no connection between you and the scene in front of you. Once you've hooked a fish (which happens pretty much every time you throw your line out), you'll find yourself just watching the gauges and waiting for the arrows to tell you to flick right or left. Oddly enough, this made me feel embarrassed. Is this all there really is to playing videogames when you take away the context and pretty window dressing? Am I really just watching gauges and reacting? It's depressing to think about games that way, and it's depressing to play a game that makes you ponder such things while you're playing it.
Contrast that with the fishing mini-game in Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. In a gorgeous natural setting with waterfalls and rain showers and sunrises, you paddle out in a canoe and cast into the tranquil waters. Engaging the fish in a courtly dance, you watch them chase the lure, react, and fight realistically. The experience is downright spiritual at times. That is how videogames are supposed to make you feel. It makes all the difference in the world in how willing you are to invest yourself in an experience.
Fishing Master doesn't have the gravitas to inspire such emotions, and the presentation is equally at fault for that. The graphics would have been considered below average on the Dreamcast. Water looks terribly unrealistic, fish are only clearly seen once you've already caught them, and the main character animates like a wooden puppet. There is 480p but no widescreen. The sound is equally underwhelming, with MIDI music snippets that loop every ten seconds for maximum annoyance. Generic water effects make it sound like the fish you're currently reeling in is splashing its way to shore on the surface of the water. The whole thing is as budget as budget games can get.
The real question is, what is this experience worth to you? Luckily it's not a full-priced game, but even at a reduced price, I still think Hudson Soft is grossly overcharging its customers. This game is worth ten bucks at the most. If you pay any more than that, you're doing a disservice to developers striving to provide above-average experiences to gamers. As for me, the next time I have a hankering to get my fish on, I'll head back to the fishing hole at Upper Zora's River. It might not be a whole game unto itself, but what is there is more substantial and immersive than Fishing Master ever comes close to achieving.