So here we are reviewing a game that was first developed in 1997. Way before the Xbox was a twinkle in Bill Gates eyes, the Sega Dreancast console was the shizzle with it’s 128bit awesomeness. Sega Bass Fishing was one of the titles that gave players a hint of the graphical potential of the platform, prior to it being consumed in the tidal wave of the PlayStation 2's release.
When we were told that the game was going to be re-released - virtually unchanged - onto the Xbox Live Arcade, we were left questioning the wisdom of dusting off a 14 year old game and presenting it to a player base used to high definition graphics.
After playing the game for sometime now we are reminded of the analogy of the retired sportsman making one last come back: the mind is willing but the body just can’t quite make it.
The secret of the longevity of fishing games is that the basic elements remain the same. You have the water, the fish and the fool at the end of the rod with hours to spend. There is realy not much scope to improve on the basic concept, other than offering new rods, lures, and fishing locations. As a result, Sega Bass Fishing can still make the team - despite its 14 years on the bench.
The game is all about lake fishing. The locations to fish are already predetermined, so there is no requirement to pilot a boat to hunt out the best fishing spot. The only major decision you have to make is whether your character will be male or female. The entertaining part of this choice is to spot how much of the male character graphics have been used to make the female one.
The game mechanics are straightforward, with players presented with an arcade practice mode or competition mode. The former is really just about practicing for the competition mode.
The fishing itself is based on a simple set of variables. First is the selection of the lure. There are ultimately 14 to chose from as you progressively unlock them through competitions. The type of lure you use is key to determining how successful you will be. If it is a morning fish, and the water is dull and murky, you may want to try a deep running lure of a bright colour. If it is late in the day and the fish are top feeding, then a floating lure may bring you more success. This level of complexity makes the game more challenging than one would have expected for a game of this age.
The casting process - unlike some of the newer fishing games - is very basic. You have no opportunity to determine the range of the cast, as it is always set to maximum. The direction you can control is within a 180 degree radius from the boat. The trick here is to look for obstructions, weeds, and so on, where fish may congregate. Some quick test casts around the area will quickly indicate to you where the most lucrative spots are.
Then it’s to the fishing itself. By pulling the trigger on the controller, you can vary the winding in of the cast as the lure passes close to the fish. This has to be timed carefully as pulling it too quickly will result in the fish losing interest while too slowly will result in the lure falling to the bottom of the lake out of reach of the fish.
If you time it just right, the fish will then go for the lure and your will get the “Fish” audio and the word plastered across the screen.
Using the trigger again, you need to carefully wind the fish in, while keeping a close eye on the tension metre. Too much and the line will break, too little and the fish will come off the hook. Extra drama is added by the fish rising, or going left and right - resulting in more or less tension on the line. You combat this by re-pointing the rod using the control stick. Once you have reduced the distance between you and the fish, you have it in the boat and it’s yours.
Competition mode is all about getting the most fish in the allotted time. Generally you have around four minutes for each round, with three rounds in a day. This will mean you will fish the same spot through morning, midday, and evening. The weather can vary between clear, overcast, and heavy rain. These variations make the lure selection critical. Four minutes is not long and, if you do hook a big fish, the extended fight to get it aboard will mean you will have little time to get another one.
The in-game graphics are not bad, despite the game's age The underwater effects and the fish themselves are particular standouts. The flash screens between rounds, however, is where the wrinkles start to show on this aged sportsman, with the graphics only a few steps back from being pixelated.
This is a mindless game really. Catching virtual fish, trying to beat a game clock, and working out the right lure to fool the fickle fish. But - and this is a qualified but - it is still strangely entertaining. Maybe it’s the lure of the whole fishing ethos of standing in the rain hoping to land the big one, or maybe it’s the human desire for the hunt. Regardless, it’s a 14 year old game that had us amused for sometime and is something we will definitely play again when we get the urge to dip our rod in the water.
I swear it was this big.....