Virtual Fishing aims to replicate the fishing experience, pitting you against six opponents as you compete in several competitions.
Upon starting the game you are presented with a 3D map screen with five locations on for you to compete at, as well as a training area where you can get used to the controls, which are pretty straightforward. You press A to cast and hold it to let out some more line. When casting it’s possible to add a little direction with the D-pad but wherever your line ends up does not seem to affect your chance of catching something. When the rod starts to bend you tap R to hopefully hook the fish down below. If successful, the scene switches underwater where it’s back to the A button as you attempt to reel it in. It will try and fight you, so you have to be careful as reeling in too quickly can cause the fish to escape. Of course, taking too long can waste valuable time in competitions.
As each competition takes place at a different spot along the river, they all provide something different for you to look at which keeps things varied. The water has basic but effective animation and the 3D effect gives you a good feel for the distance between you and different objects, be they trees on the other side of the river or a waterfall in the distance. Unfortunately it’s not as impressive as it could be, as all the objects have a very flat look to them. Some of the graphics are quite messy too, meaning you're not always sure what you are looking at. Once your line is cast your rod does not appear in front of you, but rather in a window in the corner of the screen. This seems a shame as it would have worked well in 3D.
Underwater there is less difference between locations: simply different arrangements of rocks and reeds, but the effect works a lot better, helped by the fish swimming closer or further away as you try to bring them to the surface. The fish have basic animation though that’s to be expected. Sometimes when they turn, the lack of frames used means it’s not as smooth as it could be but generally the effect is good. The appearance of the fish does not vary much, not helped by the black-and-red display meaning there aren’t even various colours to differentiate them. Aside from the Catfish, they all look very similar.
The worst part of waiting for a fish to bite is the music. Slightly whiney and very repetitive, it soon irritates. Thankfully it stops when the action moves underwater but there is just the one track and it plays in each and every competition. Other tracks play during practice and on the map screen, though they are nothing special.
There are very few sound effects in the game. Standing on the edge of the river you just get noises for casting and turning the handle on your rod. Underwater there is a strange scratching noise as the fish fights with you. The sound as you reel your catch in is functional, but the beeping noise when the fish tries to swim away is headache inducing.
In each competition you have eight minutes to catch fish. Any fish you reel in are measured and then added to your total, with the person with the largest total at the end being the winner. At the three and six minute mark current totals of your competitors are shown giving you some indication of how you are doing. If you find that the fish are not biting you can change your bait – though there are only two types available.
The amount of fish needed to win and the ease with which you can catch them varies for each competition, meaning some tournaments are harder than others. The number of fish at each competition also varies and whilst for the most part you’ll see your rod bend quite frequently, there are times when it gets quite dull as you find yourself casting again and again, hoping something will bite soon and save you from that godawful music.
It should be noted that the hard part of catching the fish is hooking them. Reeling them in (once you’ve got the hang of it) is a simple procedure that you’re only likely to fail if you get impatient. Hooking them is more difficult, as if you don’t hit that button at just the right time (which seems to vary competition-to-competition) the chance is gone. In the easier competitions you have quite a long window in which to hook them, but in the hardest it’s a quick tug on your line and then they’re gone.
Should you win a competition a couple of things happen. Firstly you are treated to a very underwhelming screen as your character is awarded a trophy, a static screen save for some confetti. The other thing that happens is the second mode for that spot is unlocked, which takes place underwater with a fish already hooked, the challenge being to reel in five as quickly as possible.
All in-game text and menu screens are in Japanese, so this may lead to a lot of trial and error as you work out what option does what, but once you've figured it out the game is fairly straightforward.
The two modes will keep you occupied for a while, and as you win more trophies two further competitions are unlocked. Details of your biggest catches are kept so you can always try to improve, and there are three save files on the cartridge so you can compare how you do against other players too.
Annoying audio-wise and at times visually flawed, Virtual Fishing at least keeps you occupied with multiple competitions, two modes of play and saved records. You often find something tugging at the line, which means there's not as much waiting around as you might expect from a fishing game. It’s just a pity that catching something quickly becomes easy, with the only challenge being added by that first step of hooking the fish.