Super Black Bass Fishing for the Nintendo DS is the latest in a long line of fishing games produced by Starfish, a Japanese developer that has been producing superlative rod-and-reel sims since the Super NES days. This particular game, however, isn't one of the company's better efforts. The touch-screen fishing controls are engaging and the atmosphere is charming throughout, but there isn't enough variety or flair to keep players interested for the long haul. Anyone expecting to find the same photo-realistic visuals and intricate lure and reel systems that made the company's other games so compelling will be disappointed by the blocky graphics and comparatively dumbed-down gameplay in the Nintendo DS game.
Atmospherically, Super Black Bass Fishing strives to emulate the experience of participating in competitive fishing tournaments. You spend a full simulated day in a motorboat out on a lake trying to catch five of the biggest prize fish possible. Prize fish vary depending on the tournament, but typically you will be told to hunt for one or two varieties of bass (longmouth, spotted, or black, for example). Fish that make the weight cutoff are added to the day's catch, while smaller fish and fish species not on the prize list are thrown back. At the end of the day, the top three finishers advance to the next tournament. Players who manage to advance are rewarded with story scenes that tell the tale of a young fisherman's quest to live up to his deceased father's legacy, as well as bonus lures that make it easier to catch certain species of fish.
Each of the six included lakes offers multiple fishing areas populated with various species of fish. So, before you cast, you have to pick a fishing spot, maneuver the boat into a good position as suggested by the onscreen radar, and select an appropriate lure based on what type of fish you're trying to catch. Although the setup procedure sounds complicated, it's actually rather easy, because there are only a few preset spots in each fishing area where you can position the boat, and, while there are 24 different lures, you can get by using one crankbait lure for shallow waters and another crankbait lure for deep waters. Previous Starfish-produced fishing sims have given you pinpoint control over boat positioning and have pretty much required the use of different lures based on fish type, water depth, and time of day. Not that those factors don't have any influence at all in Super Black Bass Fishing, but their effects are just so toned down that you can ignore them if you like.
Although hooking a fish is easy, reeling it in takes a bit more work. It's a fun process, though, because of the way the system's stylus and touch screen are used to simulate the action of spinning the reel and yanking the rod. To cast the line, you first use the stylus or directional pad to set the horizontal position of the line, and then you hold and release the A button or tap the touch-screen meter to cast the line vertically. If the hook lands near a fish, the fish will start swimming around vigorously and an onscreen indicator will show its mood toward the hook. Moods such as caring or hungry don't mean much. Let the line sit there, though, and eventually the fish's mood will turn to rage or anger, which means it's time to set the hook and reel in the fish. Tapping down on the directional pad when the fish is under the hook will make the fish bite into it. To reel in the fish, you make short downward strokes on the touch screen to gradually retrieve the line. If the fish is putting up a struggle, you can drag the stylus left, right, or up to jerk the rod in that direction. A meter on the touch screen indicates how much tension is on the line. Generally speaking, you want to reel until the meter is full and let up until it empties again. If the tension meter stays full too long, the line will break. Otherwise, once you've reeled the catch back to the boat, the fisherman will automatically lift the fish out of the water and tell you whether it's a keeper or a throwback.
Unfortunately, while the stylus-based reel controls are engaging, they're also the only aspect of the game that's remotely interesting. There's no guesswork or challenge in finding fish, since the boat's radar tells you whether or not there are fish in the general area, and the casting viewpoint shows individual fish swimming below the waterline on the upper screen. Fish don't migrate or hibernate as the day goes on, and the other anglers don't deplete the fish stock, which means you'll always find the same fish floating in the same spots. Time is such an integral factor in actual fishing tourneys, yet it has no bearing whatsoever in this game.
Also disappointing is the overall variety of fish, or the lack thereof. The blurb on the back of the package says there are 500 types of fish in the game, but that number must factor in size classes, because there are actually only a dozen or so species.
Equally uninteresting is the game's presentation. The lower screen contains a bare 2D representation of your fisherman and the various meters that help you aim the lure and manage tension on the line. The upper screen uses some fairly rudimentary polygon graphics to display a 3D view of the weeds, water, and fish that populate each fishing area. Fish graphics are suitably sharp, and the splash effects are nice. Once you reel in your catch, though, you're treated to a comically simple close-up view of the fish you pulled in. In previous games, Starfish has gone to great lengths to make the fish in these cutaway views look photo-realistic. That's not the case here. Meanwhile, audio is limited to a cheesy elevator-music clip and a scant few reel and splash sound effects, which, admittedly, do come across as authentic.
As many as four players can link their systems together to participate in custom tournaments. That's a nice feature, but, honestly, since the game is so bland, the odds of finding other people to play against locally are rather slim.
As fishing games go, Super Black Bass Fishing for the Nintendo DS is a bit of a letdown. Fans of the genre who are accustomed to the complex lure setups and the photo-realistic fish graphics found in other fishing games will be disappointed by the simplistic lures and blocky cartoon-style graphics found here. Casual anglers, however, may be able to squeeze some fun out of the game, because the underlying story is charming, and the process of reeling in the fish is quite engaging.