I’ve been fishing in real life for over 30 years now, and so would seem to be in pole position to review a fishing game, should such a thing happen to come along. Luckily, Rapala Fishing: Pro Series has come along, so I strapped on my virtual wellies and dived in. Does it measure up to sitting by the side of a lake in the elements and taking in the fresh air, or is sitting in the rain next to a dirty old canal better than this game? Let’s tackle up and find out!
Coming from Gamemill Entertainment, Rapala Fishing: Pro Series features a single player campaign that sees you taking part in tournaments on various lakes, a free roam mode in which you are free to choose a lake and fish where and how you like, and also a Daily Challenges option that engages with the rest of the player base worldwide, pitting you against the world in a series of timed challenges. There is the obligatory tutorial mode also, but the controls and strategies for the game are fairly straightforward, so this should really only need playing through once.
Unfortunately, it’s sad to say that first impressions are not the best, and that is mostly due to the fact that the character model looks like a department store mannequin got up one day and decided to go boat fishing. Seriously, I’ve seen better animation in the flick books we used to make at school, and when the guy is holding up a fish that you’ve caught, it really does look like he’s made entirely of plastic.
Under the water when a fish is hooked, the animation isn’t a lot better, looking like someone has digitised a Billy Bass and stuck it under water. Add to this a fishing line that always has a big bow in it, despite reeling as hard as the game will let you, and the only good animation is on the licensed Rapala lures as they work their magic underwater. If you manage to achieve a perfect cast, you are also treated to a close up of the lure flying through the air in loving detail. It’s almost like the licence is there to help Rapala sell more lures…
The fish that you catch are not without their issues either. When they are held by your plastic fantastic character, the physical size, and the weight that the game claims they are, more often than not is nonsense. For instance, I caught a Lake Trout of 14.67lbs in weight, but the length of the fish was recorded as 9. 9 inches, and was held up in one hand by the mannequin. Now, I’ve caught a few fish around this weight in the past, and they are always a lot more than 9 inches long. I can’t imagine what girth a 14lb fish would have to have to weigh that, but I’m picturing something along the lines of a barrel with fins.
So, graphics aside, how does the rest of the game play out? Surprisingly well, is the answer. The controls are simplicity in themselves and the boat that you utilise to find the best fishing spots drives like any other driving game ever, so steering, starting and stopping is easy. Finding the fish is easy too, done by either looking out for clues like bubbles and jumping fish, or by using the fish finder sonar device that inhabits the bottom right of the screen. This is a useful device, allowing you to see how deep the water is, and if there are any fish in the water below you.
Once you have found the fish and brought the boat to a stop, a simple press of the “A” button gets you stood up ready to cast. Pressing “Y” allows you choose the lure and the line that you want to use. Each lure has a particular range of species that it will attract, and this is based on the action, the depth it will dive to and so on. Basically, when going for the tournaments or the daily challenges, they are geared to catching certain species, so matching the lure to the fish is vital. For instance, the first tournament asks you to catch your three biggest Walleye, and then weigh them in. I selected the lure, cast out and succeeded in catching a grand total of 15lbs of Walleye. This was only good enough for seventh place, as the guy that won caught 31lbs of Walleye. The thing to remember with the tournaments is that you have to make it back to the starting point before the time runs out or your catch won’t count.
In comparison, the Daily Challenges allow you to fish right up to the whistle, but any fish you are playing as the time runs out won’t count. The free fishing mode meanwhile doesn’t have any restrictions on it, but does have a series of three challenges that can be met to get money. Finishing them will load another three in, so it’s a good way of spending time, practicing your catching and earning yourself some money. The dollars that you gain can be spent on new tackle, rods, reels, line, lures, boats and more. You also need dollars to enter the tournaments, so it’s always good to have a little put away for a rainy day.
So, we’ve got the boat where we want it it, and the lure has been chosen – which leaves us to cast the line. Casting is achieved by moving a target with the left stick, then pressing “A” to start the casting mini game – one where you have to stop a pointer in green zones for distance and accuracy. This quickly becomes second nature, and you’ll be dropping the lure on a sixpence in no time.
But it is once the lure hits the water, that the fun begins. Each lure has a different retrieve pattern that you have to discover and replicate in order for it to work at peak efficiency. These consist of four directional inputs, either using the left stick or the D-pad. This is a nice idea, but it interferes with another vital control – that of striking when you get a bite. This is mapped to the “up” direction, which sounds sensible as you raise the rod to strike in real fishing after all. Sadly, when you are busy concentrating on inputting a series of directions using the other three directions that are available, it is difficult to break out of the pattern in order to strike, especially at the speed some of the fish bite. I feel a button input for striking would have made the game a lot easier, but it is what it is.
When you hook a fish, the screen swaps to a view of it as it struggles to get away and from there a whole new mechanic kicks in. You see, in order to get that fish coming your way, you’ll need to get it moving towards an on-screen box, which, when the fish is inside, will go green. If you reel in the line when the box is green, using the “RT” button, then a semi circle will fill at the bottom before changing to an “LS” prompt. If you click the left stick, the reel boost will kick in and drag the fish closer to the boat. Obviously, the fish will be struggling, darting side to side as it tries to break free and you’ll need to follow its actions. If the fish darts left, you have to move the left stick right to compensate. This is surprisingly counter intuitive and you will spend the first few tries pulling the wrong way.
Once you’ve got used to the mechanics, the bigger fish will start to come, and the fights will get correspondingly longer. Brown Trout are the worst culprits of this, and an 8lb Brownie will put up a longer and harder fight than a 20lb bass. I don’t know why this is the case, Brown Trout do fight hard but when I’m using a 20lb line to catch these creatures, they should be bouncing towards me over the surface of the lake, not dragging the line. The fish should also tire as the fight goes on, but this doesn’t ever happen, and you will find them fighting as hard 15 minutes into the fight as they were at the start. This doesn’t happen when fishing; the longer the fight goes on, the more the fish tires and then you land it. It’s like Rapala was instead created by someone who had read about fishing, but had never actually been and spent time putting it into action. Oh, and it doesn’t help that the dramatic music that plays when you hook a fish really starts to grate.
All in all, Rapala Fishing: Pro Series is an interactive advert for their tackle, but there is a small crumb of fun to be had here. Bimbling about in a boat, casting into likely looking areas, and searching for each lakes’ legendary fish is a nice way to spend the time, but annoying mechanics, shonky animation and bad music do their best to put you off. If you have ever wanted to be a fishing mannequin, then this is the game for you, but for everyone else, if it’s raining and you are determined to go fishing virtually, Dovetail Games’ Euro Fishing is streets ahead.