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Joystiq hands-on: Fishing Master (Wii)

Zack Stern

I grew up fishing and still sometimes make it out on to a lake, river, or ocean to try to hook a meal. I attended Camp Fish. I know how to cut a herring so that it rolls in tune with a salmon's appetite. And I've been waiting for a good Wii fishing simulation, an obvious game idea, given the rod-like Remote. Fishing Master is not that simulation.

Instead, Fishing Master is a more casual title that glosses over many parts of real fishing technique. Real fish are attracted to different colors of bait depending on the weather conditions, but Fishing Master has seasons and no other weather patterns. Rod position plays the most important role in keeping a fish on, but like most fishing games, Fishing Master uses the reeling-too-hard-or-not-hard-enough-meter to decide if a fish gets away.

But I understand these design decisions and still had fun with a recent version of the game. With its projected September U.S. release from the recent Japan-only launch, casual anglers and gamers may be hooked.

I picked up the Wiimote and attached the wrist strap -- I wasn't going to break Hudson's TV with a crazy cast. I chose a character and dog from a few options, blasted through a lot of expository dialog scenes, and set off for the shore. Disappointingly, Fishing Master requires gamers to navigate menus with the D-pad instead of the obvious Wiimote pointer.

The game will include about 30 locations loosely based on real-world Japanese prefectures. The character starts off as a fishing wannabe, and through completion of missions and tournaments earns the elusive rank of "master."

I began at the game's first fishing spot, and it looked reasonably good, with a city in the background and a bridge reaching across the scene. I sauntered to the edge of a pier -- again, using the D-pad -- and began casting.

Sticking with the default bait -- some type of worm from dozens of live-bait choices -- I pushed B to enter the casting mode. The camera zoomed closer to me, and again I used the D-pad to aim the cast left or right. (And again, even for a casual game, I was disappointed that the controls weren't a little more advanced.) I held B, raised the Wiimote, and flung it forward while releasing that trigger.

The bait sailed into the water, seemingly with some relation to my swing, but I couldn't figure out the proper timing. And again, on the simple side, any angle I put into the motion didn't matter; the game only read my swing for distance, not aim.

As I reeled the bait back in, spastically cranking the entire Nunchuk in a circular motion, fish eagerly struck the bait. I set the hook with a quick flick, and reeled the catch back in.

It was fun, but again, it was much more game than simulation. Real fishing is about keeping tension on the line but always letting a fish run, while Fishing Master and other games use a gauge to tell you to reel harder or softer. Several times, with bigger fish, I followed on-screen flashes that said to swing the rod quickly to one side. That was an interesting game addition, but again has no relation to real fishing.

I was glad to learn that Fishing Master will include about 100 different types of fish, with most of them real, but include a few made-up species. (I landed a few empty cans of cat food in addition to actual fish.) This sort of variety -- and other options like a handful of rod choices -- kept me interested.

Fishing Master will also include a simultaneous four-player mode, where several players can compete on one Wii. (The game won't support taking turns.) Hudson didn't have enough Wiimote batteries for us to test the multiplayer game, but I like the idea. (Too many late night Bomberman VC matches?)

I want a detailed Wii fishing simulation, and Fishing Master won't be that game. But after I understood it was a more casual game, I found lots to like. I think there's room for more simulation, like in the casting mechanics, but I had fun even with the basic controls.

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