Top Angler, from Xicat Interactive, is the latest addition to one of the oddest genres of sports games--the fishing simulation. These games don't really seem to grab the attention of American gamers quite like they do in Japan. Judging by this game in particular, it's very easy to see why. Some fishing games can be surprisingly fun. And if you've discovered a fishing game that you enjoy, then there's really no reason to try this one, since you'll have undoubtedly seen it all before, and seen it done better elsewhere.
Top Angler features all the modes and customization options that fans of the genre are familiar with. There's an arcade mode, where you battle against the clock to catch the most fish; a tournament mode, where you try to best other fisherman in a display of angling skill; a challenge mode, where you must fulfill preset objectives in order to progress; and a free-form practice mode, where none of the standard rules apply, and you can fish all day long without getting a sunburn. You also have control over the season, time of day, and weather when you go out on one of the game's many lakes, and as you progress, you can unlock additional fishing holes and lures. Again, if you've spent any time with other fishing games, this is all old hat.
On the upside, Top Angler is easy to pick up and play. Once you're on the lake, you can guide your boat from side to side, pick the most appealing spot, and cast your lure into the water by way of a couple of presses on the X button. Once you're in the water, though, the trouble begins, and ultimately, this is where the game falls apart. First off, you really have no control of your lure once it is in the water, other than reeling it straight back to the boat. Lures that dive make a path right to the bottom of the lake and surface extremely slowly, making it inordinately difficult to attract fish.
To make matters worse, the camera perspective constantly changes when underwater--most of the time to a completely worthless angle, such that you have no idea whether or not there are actually hungry fish near your bait. Your lure also clips right through nearly every obstacle underwater, which is disappointing. In the end, what you're left with is a pretty accurate simulation of what it's like to spend an entire day out on the lake and never have a single bite. Toying with the various season and weather conditions doesn't seem to make fish any more hungry. You'll get the feeling that if you get a fish on your line, you've been extremely lucky and nothing else.
To the game's credit, it does feature some pretty decent graphics. The environments are teeming with detail, down to cabins off in the distance, tires and other debris beneath the surface, and impressive effects on the surface of the water. The fish also look very good, and they are textured in such a way that really makes them look realistic. The game features the prerequisite hard-rocking guitar music that has become a staple of the genre. This type of music doesn't fit well at all with the serene nature of sitting on a boat, but it's present nonetheless and has to be dealt with.
Yet despite its reasonably good presentation, Top Angler is a clunky hodgepodge of modes that are hindered by the "cross your fingers" approach to catching fish. Had the game given you more control over the lure, and if the underwater camera weren't always so problematic, this could have been a competent fishing simulation. But instead, Top Angler falls flat because of these problems. That's why you might as well stick with your current fishing game of choice.