I love Sega Bass Fishing. That little Dreamcast game is everything other virtual fishing experiences are not. It’s exciting for starters; its arcade roots allowing users to get straight to the best part of the whole soggy affair – teasing a hungry fish with your specially selected lure before hooking and then frantically reeling them in. The environments are engaging to look at, incorporating anything from bat-filled alcoves in partially submerged castle ruins to shaded shallows on a sunny day, and the guitar-heavy soundtrack and over-enthusiastic commentary is nothing short of perfection. I could happily play it all day long.
Itoi-san’s – yes, Mother series Itoi-san – name-borrowing fishing game, Itoi Shigesato no Bass Tsuri No. 1 Kettei Ban!, released a few years after Sega’s masterpiece (not to mention its own Super Famicom prequel as well), is nothing like that. It has cute cartoon animals to talk to, boats to hire from a cute little boat shop, challenges to initiate if the mood takes you, and as far as I can tell no electric guitars at all.
And I could happily play it all day long.
This game really leans into fishing as an experience, the whole package of being there and getting yourself into a fishing mindset and doing all the fishing things, and so you don’t feel the parts where you’re not actually dangling a line into the water or when you are and nothing’s biting are wasted time – that’s just how the hobby is. To be doing those none-things is just as much a part of fishing as the act of actually landing a fish. It all looks so good you want to see everything for yourself anyway: Sometimes just the greens and blues on the water have honestly been worth stopping and staring at for their own sake. The various lakes you can visit are such beautiful places it’s nice just to spend time walking around the edges or carefully boating across their surface, toggling the depth sonar on and off purely due to a genuine curiosity of the shape of the land beneath than out of a need to catch fish. And if you do tire of sightseeing there’s nothing to stop you quickly bringing up an annotated map of the area at any time and warping to any building (the shop or the clubhouse, for example) or any valid location (you can’t point yourself halfway up a tree, for obvious reasons) in an instant – just move the marker where you want to be and press a button! It’s always up to you, it’s your day out fishing after all.
Catching the fish residing in these beautiful waters is as expected an art in itself, and if you’re aiming to do more than cast out and hope for the best you’ll need to pay attention to everything from the terrain to the temperature to the time of day to the weeds floating on the surface to any underwater debris lurking below (and ask the friendly cartoon animals wandering around in case they know anything too)… and only when you have all of that firmly in mind should you then pick an appropriate lure – something like a popper if the fish are hunting for surface food, or a big juicy worm with a mesmerising tail to swoosh as it slowly sinks to the bottom, hopefully to a waiting fish. When they bite you’re able to not only alter the speed and direction at which you reel them in but also the amount of slack on the line as well, and keeping an eye on all of these different factors as well as the fish itself is key to catching a pleasantly chunky bass. By default the actual lure side of the action is shown in a small window at the top-left of the screen, although altering this to either be larger, not shown at all (“realistic”, I suppose), or cover the entire screen Sega Bass Fishing style, is only a quick chat to a friendly local statue away.
Does that all sound a bit much? Don’t worry! An animal friend’s face will always sit at the top of the screen amongst all the other gauges and information, either nodding enthusiastically when you’re doing something right (even down to lure movement) or looking more worried when you should possibly be trying something else. You’re also asked to pick one of three difficulty levels before beginning the game (and unfortunately only at the beginning of the game), which determine not only how receptive the bass are to your lure waggles but sadly the size you’re likely to catch as well. Basically those playing on an easier setting are more likely to catch fish but they’ll be smaller ones, while those playing on hard will be less likely to catch anything, but when they do it’ll probably be bigger by default (this is all explained before you make your choice). It sounds reasonable enough at a glance – tougher challenges earn bigger rewards – but it’s an unfortunate fly (pardon the accidental pun) in an otherwise easy-going game, an odd attempt to strike balance against imagined competitors in an offline-only single player title by tarnishing every victory a beginner has with the knowledge that the game’s giving them smaller bass on purpose. “Here’s your prize. We’ve deliberately made it smaller than everyone else’s, because you’ve been honest and decided you’re not going to be as good at a game you’ve never played before as other people might be and chose to adjust the difficulty down to a more appropriate level.“. It’s not the sort of behaviour that encourages those with a passing interest in the genre to stick with it, and comes across as mean-spirited towards people who wanted (and were offered) a helping hand.
At least it’s one easily solved issue (the standard difficulty setting is still pretty lenient, and lacks beginner’s size-related drawbacks) in an otherwise charming package. Regardless of whether you enjoy virtual fishing or not, spending time in this colourful little world is always a pleasant way to while away an afternoon, its many time-sensitive challenges something you choose to undertake if and when you wish to. Would you rather simply head out and catch fish wherever you feel like instead, or wander around to that nice little spot you found earlier and admire the reeds, or talk (about fishing, of course) to the people walking around the lake or sitting in the clubhouse? Maybe you’d rather try out a new lure in a few of your favourite places and just see how it feels instead? Then go for it. To see a game slam on life’s brakes and say so strongly and so clearly “No, you’re fishing now, and fishing is not something you should rush” is as shocking as it is welcome.