Review: Fishing Resort Casts a Deep Spell

Throw your line off a rocky cliff, the sun low in the sky casting an orange hue over the shimmering ocean. Eighty feet out, your lure bobs on the surface far below. Nothing happens. Zoom in for a closer look. The lure is alone on a deep blue screen, with no fluttering shadows of underwater prey to steel your patience. A minute passes. Maybe my lure is the wrong color. Is dusk the wrong time? Zoom back out. Another minute passes. Twenty feet to your lure’s right the darkened outline of a Big One flickers under the surface. Water splashes to your left. You’re close—something will happen—you just have to wait a little longer.

Then nothing happens.

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Much of Prope Ltd.’s Fishing Resort for the Nintendo Wii is spent waiting. So, too, have fans of Sonic the Hedgehog been waiting for its creator, Yuji Naka, founder and lead producer at Prope, to create his next era-defining character. But instead of sneakered mascots, Naka and his team have focused on simple mechanics and overlooked technology, and how by combining these one might create something compelling and new: like tying a worm on a string and making bait. His post-Sonic games have been exercises in reduction, boiling a single idea into a viscous, flavorful sap. Let’s Tap, from 2009, remains a sorely underappreciated example of motion-control ingenuity. To play you set the Wii Remote on a box; instead of hitting buttons or maneuvering a joystick, you tap the box with varying degrees of force. Vibrations control the entire experience. The intuitive feedback propels spacey neon stick figures in a lunar footrace … connects the skin on your fingertips to the horizontal scrolling of rhythm markers … generates floral bursts of touch-sensitive fireworks … each tap, tap, tap creating something from nothing, like an ellipses stands in for an unspoken whole.

What happens when a game doesn’t task you with doing everything, but instead finds out if you’re willing to do nothing?

Fishing Resort is Naka’s next small-big idea: an entire game world built around the singular mechanic of casting for and reeling in fish. Many videogames include fishing as a bonus side-quest; other games mutate competitive fishing into an arcade simulacrum, the way Big Buck Hunter turns the meditative killing of forest creatures into a carnival shooting gallery. Fishing Resort achieves something else: It makes tangible the psychological effect of anticipation.

One of the first characters you meet sets the tone. “Fishing is a mental game,” he says. “That’s why it’s fun.” Whether you enjoy fishing, or this game, will depend on your ability to maintain composure, not while facing the insurmountable might of a gigantic boss creature, but something much more threatening: nothing at all. Because that’s what will stand in your way. While casting into a foamy river or floating over a serene lake, all progress made derives from patience.

Resort has been described as a fishing role-playing game, and with good reason: you level up, gain points to buy upgraded items, go on quests. But there are no monsters lurking in the tall grass, waiting to pounce. These are the real enemies you must face down: the prospect of time melting away with no discernable reward, the fear of missed opportunity, the soft agony of knowing you have little to no control over your surroundings. Sometimes fish bite. Sometimes they don’t.

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You loosen your grip on the Remote; you feel the cool air on your palm, now stubbled with the light dampness of spent anxiety. Crank the Nunchuk in your left hand, reeling in your lure a few clicks. Another minute passes. Five minutes on the hunt and you haven’t accumulated anything: no experience points, no gems, no illogical reminders from passers-by of what to do. It’s just you and the water. You realize five minutes of inaction, in videogame chronology, is akin to 72 hours spent forcibly strapped in a chair. You think this should be serene, but it’s maddening, this automated tease, this invisible carrot dangled below the registry of your senses. The water remains still. The sky darkens, a faint panoply of stars dimly pocking the night. A seagull caws over the low throb of a faraway crashing wave. Your thoughts are elsewhere, eyes half-focused on the screen, your vision made muddy with the gauze of inattention—when your lure dips below the surface with a splash.

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Other games test our patience and will to succeed, too—Super Meat Boy and Bit.Trip Runner are as much about perseverance as they are about platforming skills—but on the Wii, a simple fishing game becomes a physical trial. We are still in the infancy of motion control. Nintendo’s console has been available to the mainstream since 2006, a scant five-plus years of development. More can, and should, be done. But it will take creators like Naka to coax unique experiences out of a stubborn system of input too many people still don’t understand.

His studio’s previous game, Ivy the Kiwi?, was another attempt to revolve around a single mechanic—the drawing and swinging of lines—and the result misfired. But you can see the nonconformist effort, the willingness to go places others don’t care to. The titles of Let’s Tap and Kiwi? signal their maker’s goal. Others are satisfied with games that remain simple declarative statements. But what happens when games are questions? Or suggestions? What happens when a game doesn’t task you with doing everything, but instead finds out if you’re willing to do nothing?

To be clear, many “traditional” tasks abound in Resort: You race in a kayak, curate the local aquarium, challenge non-player characters in tournaments, seek out hidden symbols. Different locales require different types of lures and styles. Jungles crackle with energetic noise; echoing caves hide aquatic beasts. There is much to do here. But the game’s crux is that single moment, when your line’s been in the water for ages. And then it tugs.

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You’re standing on the cliff, the splash of water below snapping you from reverie. Somehow your primal instincts react and you yank up on the Remote and you’ve snagged one, finally, and a banjo tune wails and the line is taut as a distance meter increases—now 60 feet, now 70 feet—but you spin your left hand in air and slow the fish’s mad dash for the horizon. A half-circle tension gauge grows dark, rimming the screen with a halo of red; this is no delight but a warning, a non-subtle cue all games should employ when your incessant mashing replaces considered input. You stop cranking the reel in, lest you break the line. The distance meter levels out; the fish has tired itself. And when you finally reel it in, emptying the digital sea by one, and display the 1.75-foot-long specimen to yourself on the other side of that screen, your exhilaration will have little to do with the game’s reward of arbitrary points.

But the night is young. Do what those with courage do: Cast your line once more into the dark, and see what happens.