Pop quiz: Which of the following doesn't belong on this list? Pokemon trading cards, retired Beanie Babies, or fishing lures....
Yes, it's sad but true: The shopping masses probably won't fight tooth and nail to collect fishing lures this holiday season. However, if that idea piques your interest - and you're not afraid to admit it in public - a fishing simulation might satisfy your craving. One recent option is Bandai's Bass Rise - but unfortunately, it's not the best "catch" around. Despite its impressive graphics, Bass Rise has gameplay as shallow as the water shorelines you'll fish in - making it entertaining only in short spurts.
In the game, you can catch three kinds of fish: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and bluegill. Aside from catching fish, the motivation to continue playing comes from collecting more lures (hundreds in all) and finding new fishing locations: lakes, canals, docksides, etc. Tying the game together are story sequences featuring other anglers who offer advice and challenges, such as catching a set number of fish in five casts. In addition, the game sports a multiplayer contest mode that supports up to four players - but they don't compete at the same time, which deadens the appeal a bit. Instead, each player gets a fixed number of chances to cast and haul in a fish - and the largest catch wins.
Here's the anatomy of a standard gameplay sequence: After choosing a lake, you rotate around a fixed position to find different areas to cast. After making the cast, the camera switches underwater to the bait's point of view. Using bait twitches and reel speeds to attract fish, your fisherman uses the rod to hook a fish when it bites. This triggers the "battle" process, in which you attempt to reel the fish in without snapping the line. In a few cases, the computer will instruct you to move the rod in a certain direction. Depending on the size of the fish, such battles can last between one and five minutes; novices should be able to catch their first fish within ten minutes of play, and the lakes are well stocked in places, so there's no problem with waiting for fish to show up.
Certainly, this game's strength is its eye-pleasing 3D graphics, especially underwater. The three varieties of fish look convincing in both movement and textures, especially as they approach an inviting lure. The underwater terrain is also far from plain, with plenty of man-made structures and underwater plants (all prime fish-hiding locations) to navigate through. The lake water itself also looks, well, like lake water, thanks to added details such as floating debris and little fish swimming about. While the camera angle occasionally glitches out near man-made objects, it never slows the gameplay during a fish battle. Above water the backgrounds show lots of detail, as well as their true 3D nature when the camera angle rotates from one area to the next. It would've been nice to add above-water effects - such as bass leaping out of water - to give the occasional hint about where to cast next.The minimal controls offer no complaints: The directional pad takes care of rod movements, while the buttons offer varying reel speeds and the bait "twitch" button. The game supports Dual Shock vibration, which seems the standard for fishing titles nowadays. The background sounds are also passable: In addition to the expected chirps and wind noises, there are extra touches that tie in with the graphics, such as when a train rolls past a bridge or when ducks land in nearby water.
What sinks this game's score is its gameplay, which isn't necessarily bad - just extremely lightweight. Granted, any fishing game will have an element of repetition involved, but Bass Rise's shallow brand of gameplay compounds that problem. First off, anglers are forced to fish from one location on a lake. Although you can rotate the camera view to cast to different areas, you can't move from spot to spot on a lake. As a result, there's neither a need for underwater radar nor the ability to freely explore the terrain of a lake level. For fishing purists the thrill of the hunt is half the battle; unfortunately, it's an aspect of the sport Bass Rise doesn't cover. Second, despite the countless number of lures, you can only reel in and jiggle in so many ways: You will soon find yourself repeating the same tricks with different lures. Third, the fishing battles could've been much more engaging if the rod movements played a greater role in reeling them in. In this game you only use the directional pad when instructed by the computer. Adding rod-related techniques, such as lifting the line to avoid getting stuck on obstacles or skipping the lure on water, would've spiced things up. Finally, the possibility of having more than bass and bluegill to catch (such as catfish or crappie) would've added variety as well as justified having all those lures to collect.
Given those complaints, Bass Rise makes for an amusing diversion best suited for casual fishing fans who generally play for no longer than an hour per sitting. Meanwhile, hard-core bass anglers will find themselves screaming for more features to spice up the gameplay. Liking this game is a function of which category you fall into most - and if you're not a fishing fan to start with, there's hardly enough pizzazz in Bass Rise to suck you into the genre.
Or to really spice things up for the holiday season, how about adding Pokemon- and Beanie Baby-branded fishing lures to store shelves? Now there's a moneymaking idea....