Since its release last November, the Wii has seen no shortage of sports titles attempting to integrate authentic motions into gameplay. Fishing Master takes its cue from some of the more successful attempts, like Wii Sports, that have elected to steer away from simulation in favor of a more arcadey approach. It isn't a particularly ambitious game, and it won't dazzle you with presentation or engross you with deep gameplay. Rather, it is a competent distillation of the core elements of fishing that offers an entertaining experience commensurate with its scope.
Fishing Master starts you off in your home with your fishing mentor, Grandpa. Here you begin by choosing one of five big-headed family members for your avatar and one of two dogs for your pet. A brief tutorial in the mechanics of fishing ensues, after which you'll find yourself in the home menu. Here you can save your game, view your records, and get tips and missions from Grandpa. When you venture out into the world, you'll find yourself in the Kanto Province of Japan. This is one of eight regions that you'll be able to fish in over the course of the game. Each is geographically different and host to different species of fish, though all contain the same menu elements – your house, a shop, a regional tournament, and four fishing spots. These maps are consistent with the basic cartoon aesthetic of the game and have landmark icons unique to each region. They don't thrill, but the slight variations are a nice touch. One odd thing you'll notice during your map navigation though the menu elements are laid out willy-nilly all over the screen, they are navigable only by analog stick or D pad. Cycling through options will make you yearn for point-and-click navigation, which usually comes standard on Wii games.
Once you pick a spot to fish your avatar will appear on the shoreline on the bottom of the screen. You can walk up and down the limited area, which is just big enough so that moving from one end of it to the other will provide a change of scene and different groupings of fish. The scenery definitely leaves something to be desired, with uniformly flat water and uninteresting textures. Still, there are significant differences between spots (rivers, bridges, and the like) so you won't feel as though you're always fishing at the same place.
Pulling the trigger will activate casting mode, and thus commenceth the waggling. The casting mechanic is straightforward: Hold your remote upright, then snap it down and flick the trigger. The quicker you flick, the less you'll hinder the line, and the farther your hook will go. Revolving the Nunchuk in small circles will reel your bait in, as will wiggling it back and forth. This can easily get tiresome, so you'll likely find yourself using the smartly mapped Nunchuk buttons that offer two different speeds of nonfatiguing reeling. Getting a bite is a matter putting the right bait near the right fish, and the bulletin board in the shop is very helpful in accomplishing the former. Fish will go for almost anything in the early stages, but later on the variety of fish and bait available will force you to be a little more diligent with your selection.
When you get a nibble, jerk the remote up and the fight begins. Ignore any outburst your dog makes, as the beast doesn’t seem to differentiate between fish and garbage. To land a fish (or an old boot), you're required to do two things. The first is to reel it in, keeping consistent tension on the line. A meter at the top of the screen shows your fish on a spectrum between "escape" and "break." You’ll have to reel to prevent the fish escaping, but too much reeling will cause your line to break. This is pretty easily managed with most fish, but with a particularly big or rare fish, it can get tricky.
The second thing required is to occasionally jerk the remote left or right opposite the fish's movement in order to tire it out. A flashing image onscreen will prompt this, and missing it will cost you one mistake. Your standard rod allows three mistakes, though you can buy tougher ones that are more forgiving. Keeping the fighting limited to these two actions and not including more elements, like the ability to let your line out, works quite well. When you've hooked a big fish, the fight gets tense and challenging. Add to this a time constraint, as in the tournaments or the multiplayer mode, and things can get downright hectic as you try to land the fish quickly without breaking the line.
The fight is over when the fish is close enough for you to land it with a final jerk of the remote. Your reward is an animation of the fish you've caught leaping out of the water followed by a still image of your catch with its weight and length. The fish models are detailed and vivid, and seeing a monster fish leap on to your screen after a hard-fought battle can be truly exhilarating. Aside from the satisfaction of catching and cataloguing new species of fish, almost the entire appeal of Fishing Master is contained in this moment of hard-earned triumph.
The multiplayer mode pits up to four players against each other in a contest to earn points by catching fish within a set time limit. Bigger fish take longer to land but are worth significantly more. This mode augments the excitement of the fight with the addition of other players and a time limit. Regrettably, some of the thrill of victory is dulled, because the fish you catch are displayed for only the briefest of moments. Were the endgame to display the contestants posing with all the fish they'd caught, it would make for better postgame chatter and camaraderie.
That Fishing Master has so neatly captured the drama of the fight and the thrill of the catch is its chief virtue and biggest endorsement. It's not a game that will compel you to sit for hours on end, trying to clear fishing spots and land all the rare fishes. Ultimately, the simplicity of the control mechanics and repetitive gameplay (buy bait, fish, go home, repeat) discourage such sessions. Rather, Fishing Master is meant to be enjoyed in a manner similar to the sport which it emulates: Take an hour or so on a lazy afternoon or evening to head out to the bay or down to the river, make a couple of casts, land a few fish, and leave with a smile on your face.