While fishing games like the Sega Bass Fishing series show their arcade roots proudly by reducing the fishing experience down to just the most visceral parts, there are also games that take the fishing business much more seriously, embracing all of the minutiae that make up the real-life experience. Pro Fishing Challenge is just such a game, and for the most part, it's rather successful at re-creating a quiet morning out on the lake. This is great news if you're already way, way into fishing, but the game's methodical pacing and occasional assumption that you already know everything about fishing can make it rather inaccessible to the common player.
Once you've created your custom fisherman based on a handful of prefab models and a selection of fittingly tacky clothes--our favorite being the camouflage plus the stars-and-stripes look--and have gone through the surprisingly thorough gameplay tutorial, you have a few basic options. You can compete in a fishing tournament, or you can just go out onto the water and fish at your own pace. During the tournaments, you're presented with a time frame within which to catch fish, with other restraints such as the type, weight, and length of the fish. These tournaments will take place over several sessions, and if you place well enough, you can graduate on to more challenging competitions. If you don't, well, you can still unlock new clothing and gear, or earn a little coin to spend at the shop. Here, you can pick up new lures, lines, reels, rods, and even entirely new boats, which should hopefully give you a better edge when you go back to competition.
The lengthy tutorial sequence is necessary, as much of the gameplay in Pro Fishing Challenge isn't exactly self-explanatory. You start off in your boat in engine mode, and you have exclusive domain over one of the game's several, sizable bodies of water. Once you find a spot that suits you, you can stop the boat and go into trolling mode, which allows finer control over the position of the boat. Finally, you're ready to cast your line, which is simple to do, though it takes impeccable timing and a bit of nuance to do it right. Pressing the A button starts a power meter, which will determine how far your cast goes, and letting up stops the meter. The thing is, the meter moves incredibly fast and it can take a while to get the timing down just right.
There are also three different types of casts you can perform, and each can prove useful in different situations. Overhead casts are the default, and these get you the most distance out of your cast. If it's windy, you'll want to use a sidehand cast to give you better control over where your lure lands in the water, which is performed by simply holding down the side on the D pad. If you want to cast near a physical obstacle without throwing your lure against the side of it, you can press down on the D pad to perform a pitching cast.
From here you have to drag the lure back to the boat, using the analog control on the right trigger to make sure that the lure doesn't move too fast. You can also tug the line a little bit, making the lure's movement look more natural, by tapping the A button at any time. Though it's not uncommon to find yourself on lucky streaks where every other cast has you pulling a fish into the boat, the pacing is usually pretty slow, and you'll often find yourself casting, reeling in, and repeating for significant stretches before you even get a bite.
But once you have a fish on your line, things can get a little exciting. You'll be alerted that you have a bite, at which point you have to tug hard on the line to make sure you have the fish hooked. With hook in mouth, you'll continue to use the right trigger to reel in the line, but you also have to be aware of the direction your fish is trying to fight in as well as the amount of tension on the line, which is indicated with a small color-coded meter. If it goes all the way red, you risk breaking the line, thus losing the fish as well as your lure. Admittedly, all the waiting you'll do does have a way of making the payoff of actually catching a fish seem a bit grander.
Ironically, despite the big tutorial, Pro Fishing Challenge still leaves you to figure out a few of the fundamentals, such as where in the water to look for fish, how to read the indispensable sonar feature, or how to choose the best spots to find the types of fish you're looking for. It can add to the realism of the experience, sure, but if you're an inexperienced player, it can make the expansive open water seem mighty intimidating.
If you want a little company out on the water, Pro Fishing Challenge also features Xbox Live support. You can choose to compete with other faux fishermen with customizable rules, which lets you compete by the length, weight, or quantity of fish you catch, or, like the single-player game, there's a non-competitive multiplayer option as well. The game's multiplayer works well, though the addition of other fishermen into the mix doesn't really make the game more exciting.
Rather than obsess over rendering out the most vividly lifelike bass, Pro Fishing Challenge is more concerned with the big picture. The most obviously impressive part of the graphics is the water, which ripples nicely and is extremely reflective. This effect goes a long way toward selling the experience, though the game invests in a few nice, subtle touches to help maintain the feel. The arc of your line as you cast it out into the water looks varied enough to look real, and the way the lure will skip across the water a little bit when it's close to the boat is a nice touch, too. The camera never dips below the waterline, so until you actually get it into the boat, the most you'll see of the fish is a little glimpse as it breaks the surface while you reel it in. As the day progresses, the lighting changes, and the game uses a soft glow effect to give a great sense of the weather--a blue-tinted haze in the early morning or a red-orange glare off the water do wonders for giving you a sense of the chilly, dewy morning air, or the muggy humidity of a summer afternoon, accordingly. With most of its attention focused on atmosphere, the game cuts a few corners here and there. The land that surrounds the water looks pretty chunky, the wake that comes off the back of your boat doesn't look particularly convincing, and the reeds you'll see peppered along the water's edge look badly pixelated when up close.
During the actual game, Pro Fishing Challenge pretty much nails the sound. It's quiet out on the water, save for the sound of your reel and the thrashing of a fish that's on the other end of your line. The harshest sound you'll hear when you're out on the water is that of your boat's engine, which has an appropriately throaty, gurgling sound to it. Once you leave the water and go back to the menu system, the game is filled with a weird hybrid of squealing rock guitars and stuttering drum and bass beats. It's not bad, but it's way too extreme sports for this game and it ultimately just doesn't fit.
Pro Fishing Challenge is unapologetically designed for people with a standing passion for the pastime of freshwater fishing. If that's you, Pro Fishing Challenge is probably right up your alley, though at best it will probably just leave you aching to go out and actually fish. Barring such special interest groups, though, Pro Fishing Challenge is a bit too archaic to be terribly appealing.