Ridiculous Fishing review: Acute angler

Ridiculous Fishing review Acute angler
Vlambeer wouldn't want me to start my Ridiculous Fishing review by bringing up Ninja Fishing – and I kind of don't want to either – but Gamenauts' well-publicized clone actually works as an example of why Vlambeer's iOS update of its own browser game (which "inspired" Ninja Fishing) is so excellent, and so necessary.

Playing Ninja Fishing and Ridiculous Fishing in quick succession illustrates what a difference it makes to care about your audience. The concept may be similar, but Ridiculous Fishing outclasses its would-be competitor in every way.

It's just better.

Ridiculous Fishing is built on the same three-step gameplay loop as its browser-based predecessor, Radical Fishing:
  1. Drop your fishing line into the ocean, dodging left and right to avoid fish
  2. When you hook something, bring the line up, this time swinging left and right to catch as many things as possible
  3. Fling fish out of the water, and shoot them with your gun to collect money.
It is, in fact, a ridiculous way to fish. And, thanks to the tilt controls of the fishing line, you look ridiculous playing it! Regardless of its appropriateness as a bus pastime, the tilt controls are natural, responsive, and extremely quick – unlike, say, Ninja Fishing, which has a noticeable, irritating delay on every tilt.

Naturally, the shooting at the end of each round is done by simply tapping on the screen as fish fly about in the sky. Depending on your gun, you can tap to fire a single shot, or hold one or two fingers on the screen to rapid fire.

In almost any other game – and again, I'm thinking of one specific example – you'd be able to earn all the different guns, longer fishing lines and power-ups through microtransactions, rather than simply earning in-game money. But despite the easy opportunity for in-app purchases, Vlambeer only lets you earn money by playing the game. It's a weird market where making you play a game instead of paying your way through it seems bold, but that's iOS for you. It would absolutely be a mistake to suggest that the repeated fishing required to earn money is something worth skipping.

Paying $2 to speed up the process of earning money would miss the point. Even in your least successful casts, you're bound to make some money, and that means every attempt is productive and less frustrating. Plus, you practice as you farm (or fish) for money. By avoiding this seemingly natural opportunity to cash in, Vlambeer puts gameplay over commerce.

The result of all this is that I play every level over and over again, improving my technique and earning money to buy items to make it a bit easier – something that lets you start deeper in the Arctic Floes, for example, or something that boosts fish sale prices by 20% so I can earn money more quickly. While I'm doing this, I notice more things: depending on the time of day in-game, the fish in certain areas will be different. Some fish move toward my line to sabotage my descent. Some make the line rocket upward when hooked. All of it adds nuance to the bold strokes of dodge/hook/shoot.

There's a lot of nuance to ridiculous fishing that makes it smarter than the dumb action game it could have been (and to be clear, it would have still been totally great as a dumb game). In fact, it's smart in some ways I don't quite understand, suggesting it's smarter than I am. There is an overarching story to this game, told mostly through the in-game social networking service for birds (and ocean-bound fishermen), Byrdr. This ties into a weird ARG in which Vlambeer has been sending out humiliated emails as the CEO of the "real life" Byrdr, which, again, I don't fully get, but I enjoy.

It adds to the idea that all this "ridiculous fishing" is perhaps too ridiculous for reality. This is a game about a man who destroys everything he catches with a shotgun (or uzi, etc.), who ties bowling balls and hairdryers to his fishing line, who buys guns without leaving his boat in the middle of the ocean, and who talks to birds via social networking on his driftwood "tablet." It's not clear how much of the action is taking place in his head (which is adorned with a jellyfish at the moment).

Like I said, the game would actually be fine without all the mystery and depth. The narrative depth, at least. It kind of needs the literal depth. But with it in there, any game like it without that extra sophistication now feels a bit superficial, and hollow. Any game that is just about fishing and shooting your catch can't hope to compete.

Nor can any game with a "normal" art style. Ridiculous Fishing's art, by Greg Wohlwend, is unlike anything I've seen on any platform, an intricate arrangement of creatures, backdrops made entirely of 45-degree angles. Any screenshot you take of this game would make an amazing wallpaper – quite an achievement for a game about a guy sitting alone in a boat.

The existence of a clone clearly gave Vlambeer and company something to prove. In the end, it's to the benefit of the game that this happened. Not only is Ridiculous Fishing better than it probably would have been without such motivation, it has a built-in counterpoint to contrast against. It illustrates that there's no better way to see how original a game is than to look at its copy.

This review is based on an iPhone copy of Ridiculous Fishing, provided by Vlambeer. The game is available for $2.99 as a universal app.

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