Whether you love real fishing or not, you'll probably hate Reel Fishing. No matter how patient you are, the sheer shallowness of this game will probably lull you into a catatonic state. Primarily FMV-driven, with otherwise stupid, deficient graphics, and perhaps the most repetitive gameplay to ever retard the potential of the PlayStation, Reel Fishing is really a dog.
For the most part, play involves two different screens, the first of which treats potential fishmasters to video of a real-life fishing hole, complete with unmoving camera, incessant nature sounds, and plodding new age music! Superimposed over this are little, solid, black squiggles (the lurking fish) and a very low-res vertical yellow line (the pole). This is honestly one of the silliest-looking interfaces on the PlayStation. There's just something inherently cheap and embarrassing about mixing graphical media. Once you cast your line and wait for a bite, you switch to screen two, which is underwater, and features more video (of the river bottom scrolling by), another low-res-looking fishing line, and much-improved fish graphics. This time the fish looks quite real, but it's only capable of maybe six different moves and switches from one animation to another (for example, swimming peacefully with the hook in its mouth, thrashing around and trying to break free) with amateurish jerkiness.
Reel Fishing is certainly lacking in the gameplay department. In fact, there are few moments when you're afforded the opportunity to intervene in the game at all. Now, some would say that's in keeping with the spirit of the real thing. Offering a game that demands that you leave the controls alone and let nature take its course is more... uh... natural. In practice, this is a terrible mistake. After casting your line in screen one, you spend a fair amount of time waiting for something to bite. This is excusable. Once you enter screen two, however, control proves entirely lacking. It's the same every time - it doesn't matter how many times you play it, what sort of fish is biting, or where you are: The fish approaches from the right, takes the bait, and starts swimming to the left (in profile). At the precise moment of its bite, you must push X to set the hook in its mouth, after which you must release all buttons or lose the fish. A tedious game of cat and mouse ensues. Your sole role in landing the thing is to push X when it slows down, which causes it to turn and swim to the right, and release X in favor of the D-pad (which may be pressed up, down, or right, with identical results) to keep the line taut when the fish flips out and starts thrashing around. Then, it will swim left again (release all buttons), until it tires and you can resume pressing the X button. You repeat this simple pattern until the fish is caught. That's it. All of gameplay. For level after level. The fish always swims to the left when it's feeling perky and to the right when it's tired. We spend most of the time looking blankly at the screen, doing next to nothing.
This of course makes it sound easy, but it's not. Sometimes it takes eight or nine tries before the thing finally gives up. Often, if you don't time your initial hook-set depression of the X-button just right, the fish will just strip your hook of its bait and swim off, and you have to start from scratch. The same thing goes for releasing the buttons when the damned thing is thrashing around; if you're late, your line will break. It seems odd to create a game that requires the precise use of none of the buttons. The game's learning curve is rather steep, mostly because it's hard to believe that you're really supposed to do nothing for so much of the time.
As the game goes on (and on) you are required to qualify for each new stage by catching a certain number or length of fish at each subsequent location. Twenty trout at the first stream is one thing, but 100 fish to pass from level seven to eight? That sounds a bit more like torture.
OK, admittedly, all this nothingness lands Reel Fishing squarely in the sim department. Actual fishing involves plenty of relaxing downtime, and so it follows that a fishing sim would be very laid back and minimal. The point is that it just doesn't work from a gameplay standpoint. The game doesn't offer the array of options or strategic depth with which the better sims make up for any slowness in play. The bottom line is that Reel Fishing could have been (at best) the fishing segment of a more interesting game. Maybe a five-minute diversion from the exciting plotline of some RPG. Like the motorcycle or Chocobo racing sections of Final Fantasy VII, there's just no way this thing can stand on its own. Sure, it may sell a few copies to uncles and fathers of video game-addicted kids. I can hear Mom now, "Now you can play Station too, honey." But aside from momentary interest as a novelty item, this one will instantly be buried deep in the subconscious undersea world of forgotten games.