The Cocoto “franchise” is a strange one. After cluttering game aisles everywhere with rather generic sounding titles like Kart Racer, Platform Jumper and Tennis Master, the series has come to WiiWare with a bizarre take on virtual fishing. Developed by Paris-based Neko Entertainment, Cocoto Fishing Master is actually less a fishing sim and more akin to an elaborate fishing minigame under the guise of an adventure.
The story involves a magic kettle that for one reason or another started spewing lava one fateful day. Alas, the fish king who made this magic kettle is lost in a deep slumber. Now we’re not sure why he needs such a kettle in the first place, but play along with us here. So, he entrusted four devils (one of which is Cocoto) with protecting this magic kettle. They, along with a fairy who could pass as Tinkerbell’s sleazy stepsister, are troubled by this turn of events because they fear the lava is going to somehow destroy the world. For no ostensible reason whatsoever it comes down to the one and only Cocoto to save the day by catching five mystical fish and thus awakening the fish king.
The elementary plot is about as pointless and unnecessary as you might expect from a cartoonish fishing game. If anything, it sets the tone for a game that has no interest in recreating the joys of real fishing. A limited variety of fish and bait, little emphasis on snagging a bigger catch, and a focus on catching specific fish to fulfil arbitrary requirements effectively destroys any potential for a realistic fishing experience. And if you’re a little confused, don’t expect the game to help you at all; the beginning of your fishing adventure is akin to being marooned at sea with nothing more than a Wiimote + Nunchuk and some vague, poorly worded dialogue. To make matters worse, the gameplay mechanics are rigid and unforgiving while you get no worthwhile feedback on why you let a catch get away; this frustrating reliance on trial and error will force you to initially question whether or not the game is simply broken. Fortunately, it’s not.
In fact, once you get the hang of things you may be surprised to find a rather quirky, enjoyable slice of digital entertainment obscured by the half-baked narrative and poor instructions. Basically, there are five levels (from the Abyss all the way to Heaven) each with a store for buying new fishing poles and more bait, a ravenous glutton who offers some ching in exchange for your fish, and an insistent turtle floating on a raft. The goal is to catch all six varieties of fish on each level while avoiding dangerous, un-catchable fish that will steal your bait. Doing so will allow the turtle to fashion a special bait required to lure out one of the mystical fish - a gigantic boss-fish that also happens to be a conglomeration of all six species in that level. Along the way, you’re given three types of bait (fly, seahorse, and squid) for three respective depths (surface, mid, and deep) and knowing which bait to use for each species along with choosing your pole and searching your radar is the extent of the pursuit. All told, it works pretty well, but you could say it never quite captures the thrill of the hunt.
Luckily, the controls go a long way toward lending the game some much-needed credibility. Casting is all about flinging the Wiimote while holding and releasing the A button - the faster you move the Wiimote the farther you’ll cast, of course. Once your lure is in the water you are able to control the bait with the analogue stick and after you attract a fish it will chase the bait while swimming in a pattern specific to that species; it’s up to you to make the bait follow that pattern to coax your potential catch into biting. This lends each catch its own unique challenge and is also the only semblance of truly creative gameplay anywhere to be found in this title. On the later levels the fish will swim in increasingly complex patterns; some will even fly. However, even then it’s nothing more than a clever mechanic that comes off as somewhat under-utilised.
Once you’ve got a bite, you need to strike the pole by quickly pulling up the Wiimote to set the hook. It’s important that you keep the Wiimote down or level before you yank it up otherwise the motion won't register. Additionally, the timing required for this is touchy so if do it too early the fish will leave the bait; too late and the fish will spit it back out. It might take a while to get this timing down, and in the meantime the game may seem broken. We assure you, it isn’t.
Finally, it comes down to reeling in the catch of the day. This is accomplished by spinning the nunchuk while still holding the Wiimote vertically. Reel too hard while the fish is fighting and the tension will become too great and break the line; likewise, if you let it pull too far it’ll get away with the bait. Success requires carefully balancing patience with furious reeling. Again, it works fairly well and provides some honest fun once everything clicks; however, reeling in a catch rarely feels as rewarding as it should. Although the later levels improve significantly, too much of the game boils down to catching whatever species the game asks of you. Likewise, the higher difficulties demand more precise casting and reeling, making CFM a challenge on any difficulty north of easy, though that’s not always a good thing.
At last, the presentation is a mish-mash of good and barely adequate. The fish certainly look great, with creative designs, wacky animations, and solid overall texture and model work. Cocoto and his friends are actually cel-shaded to a decent effect, yet also saddled with painfully silly animations and sound effects. The environments, on the other hand, are a mixed bag of stunning backdrops, minimal geometry, and mediocre textures. Underwater, things look pretty good, but fish tend to pop in and out of view. Some consistency is achieved by the subtle, ambient music - which is fittingly soothing and pleasant if not a little too discreet.
The lack of depth and variety outright kills CFM’s value as a fishing sim and what's left is a convoluted minigame bolstered by a few neat ideas. The problem is that too little effort was put toward nurturing those ideas so they could grow into something more than basic, predictable gameplay. For 700 Wii points it’s entirely fair to say you get what you pay for - and it may even be worth it if cartoonish fishing games are your thing. Just don’t be surprised to feel a little robbed by the abrupt ending given you appreciate the journey. For what it’s worth, at least you finally get a little action from that annoying fairy.