Let's face the facts: Fishing simulations are one of the strangest entries into the sports genre of video games. As decidedly American as the sport may seem, most of the fishing games on the market are developed in Japan. In fact, fishing games are far more popular in their country of origin than they are here. Fisherman's Challenge is the latest game to make the trip across the Pacific, and it's also one of the deepest, most accurate simulations of the real sport to date, which is to say it simply isn't for everyone.
If you've played any fishing simulation before, the game modes and options available in this game will be instantly recognizable. There's free fishing, where you can jump on to any of the game's lakes and fish for as long as you please. With no time limit, you're free to hone your skills until you're ready to step up to the challenge of tournament mode, which pits you against computer-controlled anglers vying to catch the largest fish on the lake. Once you've put your skills to the test, there's also a variety mode, with quick challenges that get progressively harder as you complete them. This mode also contains two two-player modes, which are both played from a horizontal split-screen perspective. In addition to the main gameplay modes, there is an option that lets you look at all the fish you've caught in the game's aquarium, review your record catches and times, and marvel over your collection of lures.
Like virtually every other fishing simulation available, Fisherman's Challenge takes many factors into account to provide an accurate simulation of real-life fishing, such as weather and seasonal conditions, underwater environments, and so forth. The one aspect that sets this game apart from others is the addition of a "mood meter" for your prey. Not only will you have to seek out the fish on the lake, but you'll also have to work hard to get them to go after the lure. This adds a great deal of challenge to the game as well. Since the game aims for accuracy, those looking for a pick-up-and-play experience will find themselves a little bewildered by the forethought they'll have to put into getting out on the lake. Chances are, if you're interested in playing a fishing game, you've probably done your fair share of the real variety. If you're looking for an arcade-style experience, this game probably isn't for you.
In addition to dealing with the sheer number of factors that weigh into whether or not you'll have a good day on the lake, you'll have to learn the game's control scheme, which is also not well suited for the casual virtual angler. It takes some time to get accustomed to how the game plays using the shoulder buttons, the face buttons, and both analog sticks on the controller. Reeling in the line, for instance, is controlled by rotating the right stick. After reeling in a couple of long casts, it can get quite tiresome. The left stick is used to control the direction of your roc, and the directional buttons set the amount of drag on your reel. With these buttons in use, underwater camera control is set to the left and right shoulder buttons. To put it bluntly, you'll have your hands full until you can get a firm grip on the controls. It would have been especially helpful if there were another option for reeling in the line, but then again, this is a pretty hard-core simulation at heart, so ease of operation doesn't always play into picture.
Visually, Fisherman's Challenge is a notch above other fishing games on the market, but it's definitely not one of the best-looking PlayStation 2 games. The game's lakes, anglers, fish, and lures are all well detailed, but they're somewhat blocky and stiffly animated. In addition, once you take a look underwater, the game takes on a blurry, murky look. To its credit, though, the game does make the actual act of hooking and landing a fish exciting by switching between dramatic camera angles when the action is at a fever pitch. One feature that seems entirely out of place is the game's music--during most of the game, you're treated to some of the cheesiest imitations of British-styled heavy metal you've ever heard. While it's good for a chuckle or two at first, you'll be wishing for something a little more subdued after the songs loop for the second or third time. Also equally laughable are the one-liners assigned to the various anglers in the game. The bearded, potbellied fisherman is inexplicably paired with a voice more suited to a pocket protector-wearing scientist. Hearing him exclaim, "I'm impressed!" at the sight of a catch really comes out of nowhere. Some of the reactions that other characters have when losing a fish are equally hilarious and almost make losing a fish worthwhile. As a whole, the game looks and sounds decent, but it's definitely far from perfect, especially when you take into account the lengthy loading times that you'll have to sit through for any menu change.
In the end, Fisherman's Challenge is a sound fishing simulation that offers plenty of depth and does a great job of accurately capturing a real fishing experience, but it isn't without its fair share of problems. If you can take the time to master the unwieldy control scheme and look past the long loading times, average graphics, and corny soundtrack, you're left with a game that stands above the other games on the market. Gamers looking to get a quick and easy fishing fix should look elsewhere, though, as this is definitely a true simulation of the sport best left to those looking for a challenge that can take quite some time to fully experience.