As the house of Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, Arc System Works is perhaps best known for its fighting games, but over the past few years it's also been quietly churning out a series of arcadey eShop sports games starring a multitalented Japanese family. Billy and his hyper-competitive clan have already brought charming, thoroughly decent renditions of tennis, ping pong, kart racing, and bowling to the 3DS, and now they're headed to the seaside in Family Fishing. Like their other outings, Family Fishing is a simple game that puts a fun twist on a standard formula, this time with battle-based fishing and some fighting game-inspired mechanics. It's a bit rough around the edges but it's lots of fun, and well worth a try for any aspiring anglers looking for something different.
Between Natsume's Reel Fishing 3D Paradise Mini, Agetec's Fish On 3D and Prope's Ultimate Angler rounding out the latest batch of StreetPass Plaza games, the 3DS isn't even close to being short on fishing sims, but Family Fishing does a lot to stand out. Most notably, instead of presenting players with the serene, solo angling seen in most fishers, Billy and his family cast to win in a time-based battle system that feels fundamentally different from any other fishing games we've played.
Hopping into the main, seven-stage Career Mode, you'll choose a character and go head-to-head against another family member to see who can catch the most fish before the timer runs out. You and your rival will take up positions on opposite docks and cast your rod into the same sea, pond, or lake. There are five different areas to angle in, including a breezy blue harbour, a tropical island resort, a Japanese garden, an icy lake and a sunken ship at high sea.
Fish are visible as they swim around under the water's surface, and can aim your rod accordingly using the Circle Pad. Pressing 'A' will begin the cast and kick off a Mario Golf-style accuracy meter; hitting 'A' again when it's at the top will make sure your lure lands as close as possible to where you want it to. Once your line's in the water you can use the 'A' and 'B' buttons to reel it in at different speeds, jiggling the lure with the Circle Pad to attract fish.
Once you get a bite the real battle begins — in Family Fishing, the fish fight back. Your rod and the fish both have HP meters at the top of the screen, and your quarry will send shining beams of 'attack aura' back up the line to damage your rod as you attempt to reel it in. You can guard from the damage by tilting the Circle Pad in the direction the fish is swimming, and if you manage to time it right when the fish changes directions you'll send out a counterattack to deal some damage back. The lower the fish's HP is, the easier it is to reel it in — but if your rod runs out of HP, you'll lose it along with the lure and any clever fish attached to it.
If you do manage to reel in your catch you'll earn points based on the fish's size, and you can spend these points on mid-match equipment upgrades in the Shop on the touchscreen. Each character starts with their own rod and lure, but upgrading them quickly is the key to success and bigger catches; we quickly latched onto a successful strategy of first shooting for smaller fish, building up funds, and then upgrading our gear before going for the big ones.
There's strategy involved in tackle selection, too. Some rods, like the 'Speed-E Rod', reel in fish faster but do less damage, while the 'Riposte Rod' dishes out more powerful counterattacks, and the 'Healing Rod' will regain HP during battle. There are small, medium, and large lures, each of which is effective for a particular size fish, but also special types like the Chaos Lure, which works on fish of all sizes with a substantially lowered success rate. There's even a special lure for Boss Fish, the massive species who move in towards the end of the match and offer a serious points bonus to whoever can land them. And if you're feeling salty there are a few weapons — like smoke bombs and sloth bombs — that you can use to trip up your opponent.
Along with individualized gear setups, each member of the family has their own Special Attack to call on as well. By pressing 'R' once the Special gauge is filled — it runs up continuously as you reel — you can trigger a Street Fighter-inspired quick-time event with Hadouken-style button inputs on-screen; nail it in time and you'll unleash your character's over-the-top special move. Billy has a 'Hurricane Attack' that deals massive damage to a single fish, Sarah's 'Defense Aura' will raise the HP of your rod, Big Sis' 'Heart Throb' makes fish less aggressive, and Grandma's 'Mind Games' uses the power of ESP to inspire fish to jump out of the water and into your arms. These moves are fun to watch as spectacles, and they can do a lot to turn the tides in your favour as well — plus, picking a tackle setup to best complement each character's special adds another layer of strategy, and optimal outfitting can make a big difference.
Between the head-to-head competition, the HP-based fish battles, the special attacks and the ichthyic economy and gear upgrades, Family Fishing feels utterly unique among fishing games, and that goes a long way. It's not the most polished experience — menus are a bit sloppy and the controls, while serviceable, don't feel as smooth as we'd like — but it's so delightfully different that we couldn't help but enjoy it all. Picking where to cast, hitting the sweet spot on the accuracy meter and tugging back and forth on the Circle Pad to keep up with your catch all feel great, and the countdown timer, competition, and inevitable final rush for the boss fish make matches genuinely exciting. By the same token, of course, that also means that Family Fishing doesn't deliver any of the rest and relaxation that's part of the appeal of other angling sims; whether that's a plus or a minus will depend on your personal preference, but for us it made for frantic fishing fun.
Like the other Family games, Family Fishing also includes a Quick Start mode that jumps you right into the action. Accessible from the main menu, it sets you up with a random character, rival and fishing spot, and leaves the rest to you. It's a perfect feature for a portable game, and we loved being able to hop into a no-stakes fishing session for five or ten minutes at a time.
Survival Mode, in another nod to Family Fishing's fighting game inspirations, lets players take on an endless string of familial foes as long as you can keep winning, saving your highest win-record for posterity. Since the quick-fire gameplay lends itself better to shorter play sessions this mode feels out of place; in an endless string of matches the fishing starts to feel repetitive rather quickly.
Presentation-wise, Family Fishing is more bass than beta fish. It gets the job done, and it's appealingly colourful, but it's not out to impress; the blocky character models and flat-textured backgrounds are reminiscent of later PSOne games, and the animations are slightly stiff. But even if it isn't a technical achievement, it's still nice to look at in a Saturday-morning cartoon sort of way — everything is bright and cheery, and the rainbow of multicoloured fish swimming around under the water's surface looks great. The soundtrack is similarly sunny, and though some themes are recycled from previous Family series games they fit just as well here. There aren't any standout or particularly memorable tracks, but the light, cheerful tunes provide a pleasantly gentle contrast to the furious fishing, even if they tend to fade into the background.
Aside from some occasionally inelegant controls, Family Fishing's main drawback is the lack of any multiplayer modes. Like most Family series games this is a strictly solo affair, and that's particularly disappointing in light of how much fun the fighting-style fishing would be with a friend. Without human competition there's not much to draw you back in after you finish the Career Mode, aside from quick dips in the water every now and again. There are illustrations and a gallery of fish models to unlock as you play, however, so completionists will at least have some low-key collectables to keep them casting.
Family Fishing isn't the prettiest fish in the sea, but it sure is fun. With battle-based fishing that feels like nothing else and a friendly, arcadey style, this is quick-fire fun that's great to dip into for a few quick casts. A conspicuous lack of multiplayer and a few presentation issues put some slack in the line, but if you're an avid angler looking to reel in something different, Family Fishing is a catch.