Natsume might be most famous as the house that Harvest Moon built, but fishing fans will know the name from its Legend of the River King and Reel Fishing series. Reel Fishing takes a more realistic approach to the angling action, and saw several installments on WiiWare with decidedly mixed results. Reel Fishing 3D Paradise Mini brings the tranquil thrills of lake and river fishing to the 3DS eShop, and while this portable edition controls much better than its console counterparts and benefits from stereoscopic 3D, it still shares their repetitive gameplay and overall lack of variety.
One of our biggest problems with Reel Fishing's WiiWare iterations was the wonky Wii Remote controls, and anyone who wrestled with a virtual rod in those games will be happy to know that there are no such issues here. Casting with the stylus works well and feels natural, and optional button controls provide a fine alternative. Once your jig's in the water, rotating the stylus reels in the line at a speed matching your movements, while the Circle Pad controls direction and tension. Fishing with the touch screen feels great, and though the face buttons can also be used to reel, at no less than three different speeds, the simple physicality of using the stylus to reel in a catch makes it infinitely more satisfying.
Before you cast off, you can chose from a bewilderingly large array of tackle, all helpfully graded in effectiveness for each species of fish. These ratings make it easier to target a specific catch, but bafflingly they're randomly generated each time you fish rather than based off any persistent in-game or real world logic. This defeats any attempt at strategy and results instead in the need to browse through your massive collection of virtual lures every time you change fishing spots.
Once you've got a bite, reeling in a fish is a simple matter of keeping the tension gauge on the left side of the screen from going too high or too low: if there's too much tension, the line will snap; too little and the hook will come loose. There are audio cues that replicate the function of the gauge, and experienced anglers looking for more of a challenge can turn off the visual aid. As with other Reel Fishing titles, landing your catch is perhaps almost too easy — there's nothing to go wrong beyond snapping or slacking your line, and patience is all that's required to reel in even the feistiest of fish.
There are six locations, spanning lakes, streams and rivers, though only one is unlocked from the start. New areas open up as you complete missions, predictably revolving around catching different fish in various quantities and sizes. Missions are thankfully not timed, though the length-related challenges can still be frustrating as it's difficult to tell how big a fish is before landing it. In any case, it shouldn't take more than a few hours of angling to complete all the missions. While there's no dedicated free-play mode, you're free to fish in any unlocked area at any time, and can ignore the current mission and fish to your heart's content whenever you choose.
Sadly, your heart isn't likely to want to keep fishing for too long at any one time. Reel Fishing's gameplay is solid, but it suffers from a real lack of variety. There are only a few types of fish in each environment (as little as two in the streams), and after catching three or four of them, you'll have seen all there is to see without moving on. It's a fun, relaxing game to break out for a few minutes here and there, and the game does log your top 10 catches for each species locally, but beyond that there's no real incentive to keep playing after you've beaten the main missions. There are also a few odd omissions that hurt the game's portability, including the absence of a pause button, and no auto-save function — or even a prompt to save.
The graphics in Reel Fishing 3D don't impress on a technical level, but they do serve the title's relaxing atmosphere well. Fish models look good and the animated environments are scenic and subtly multilayered, and while the underwater sections are full of repetitive textures and similar-looking rocks and plants, it's never enough to be jarring. There are also some thoughtful added touches, like the reel design on the touch screen changing depending on which tackle you're using, and fleeing fish kicking up clouds of dust on the seafloor. Perhaps surprisingly for such a simple game, Reel Fishing really benefits from the stereoscopic 3D — seeing silt shift through the water at different depth levels gives a soothing sense of movement as you reel in your line, and watching successfully caught fish pop out of your screen as they launch from the water is a great visual reward for a long fight.
Reel Fishing 3D leaves the soothing background music of its WiiWare counterparts behind, instead relying solely on environmental sounds until you've hooked a fish, when funky tunes spur you on in your quest for the catch. The quiet soundscape does a good job approximating the calming ambiance of an actual fishing trip, but musical accompaniment would have been a welcome addition to this digital day out.
Like the humble carp rather than a flashy fantail, Reel Fishing 3D Paradise Mini is thoroughly decent without having any real stand-out qualities. It successfully recreates the experience of casting and reeling, but doesn't do much to hook players beyond that. It's simple, relaxing fun that's comforting as opposed to captivating, and avid anglers — or anyone looking to lower their blood pressure — will have a fine time while it lasts.