Fishing has never promised to be a thrill-a-minute sport; there is no LeBron James of fishing, as well there shouldn’t be. There are those who take fishing as a very serious and technical endeavour, certainly, but others take a more laid-back approach: just get out there, fiddle with things and see what you can nab! Hooked on Bass Fishing seems to cater more toward this calmer side of the sport, which makes for a fine philosophy but perhaps not that enthralling of a video game.
Hooked on Bass Fishing keeps things simple. There’s a boy, a girl, two ponds and a small selection of equipment for hooking about 20 different kinds of fish. If you’re the type whose fishing experience includes heavy investment in sonar technology and an appreciation of the word “stinkbait” beyond schoolyard name-calling, this likely isn’t the game for you.
The majority of the game will be spent as the boy at his pond. There is no boat or travelling about; just tap a spot on the pond with the swimming silhouette of a fish or a spray of foam to enter the underwater lure view. Here you swipe back and forth against the touch screen to wiggle your lure enticingly at the silhouettes of fish, tapping on the screen to nab one that happens to bite. You’re then whisked back above water to reeling mode, where you flick the stylus in the directions of the line in a proper rhythm to bring the fish in, which can actually be somewhat challenging at times if the creature is a real fighter.
Maintain control and a meter will appear once it’s time to land the fish. Flick when the meter is full enough to fling the fish ceremoniously into the air, then swipe across the touch screen one last time at the right moment to catch it in your net.
As you may have noticed, the entire fishing experience is controlled through the touch screen and vast amounts of flicking. It feels relatively intuitive and is very accessible, but lacks in complexity or much sense of strategy. Once you get a fish to bite, your mission will always be the same.
The game adds some spice by awarding points for caught fish based on size and weight. These points can then be used in the tackle shop, run by the girl, to upgrade your equipment. Selections such as different levels of rods, lines, and reels will make it easier to keep fish from getting away or provide more opportunities if you fill the power meter. Oddly, you can only rent this equipment, giving you a set number of casts before you revert back to your default and have to spend your points anew. A few things are permanent, such as drinks that increase stats such as being able to identify fish underwater or spotting the spray that indicates larger fish. Lures are also permanent and selectable, but don’t seem to be for much more than aesthetics. You can also buy one-use helper buttons that will let you skip a troublesome reeling or netting section for a powerful fish, which can be nice.
If you choose to consistently spend your points renting equipment, Hooked on Bass Fishing at least offers a surprisingly large and motivational array of challenges to net more. These challenges are organized like tournaments (although you don’t actually compete against anyone) and charge casters with objectives such as catching above or below a certain combined weight of fish, catching a certain number of one fish only, or catching a certain number of fish without messing up reeling, all within a time limit. These can be fun, but there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of method when approaching certain challenges. Mostly, you just jump out to the pond and try to hook as much as possible.
A bit more strategy seems to be implemented when you switch to the girl and her natural pond. The fish caught here are transferred to the boy’s pond, plus certain catches seem to influence the weather and odds of catching rarer fish. Is she Calypso in disguise? Who knows. Still, it doesn’t feel like anything you do as the girl has much effect on the other side of the pond, so to speak.
The game also comes across with a light and bright presentation. The boy and girl are drawn for cuteness, and one will regularly see a tiny, chibi image of the girl (sometimes accompanied by other girls in bunny outfits?) cheering the boy on while he’s trying to reel one in. The images of the fish are more seriously rendered and look quite nice, making the thrill of catching a particularly giant one a bit more satisfying. Sound is also appealing, with lovely aquatic and nature sounds while waiting for a bite and an energizing 16-bit-sounding theme when you’re fighting a fish on the line.
Hooked on Bass Fishing has a certain charm to it, and it can be exciting to battle with and land a giant fish when it happens. But those flashes can ultimately carry a game so far when it doesn’t have much sense of an overarching goal, progress, or player direction. Heavy fishing fans will be turned away by the lack of options here; others may take the bait of its cute presentation and ease of play, but find themselves entertained only in small doses in the long run. This is one to think of throwing back in hope that it will grow.