On paper, the fishing game seems like a pretty ridiculous concept all round. It's a fairly sedentary hobby, epitomised by calm mornings on a chilly river bank, in which the ultimate achievement is to drag a slimy, smelly creature out of its natural habitat before photographing it and either putting it back or stuffing it for the wall of your house.
However, it does share some aspects with the rich gaming seam which is war, in that it's characterised by long periods of boredom punctuated by brief moments of excitement or sheer terror, depending on your feelings about fish, so perhaps it's not that confusing that fishing games actually have a pretty rich history. From SEGA Bass Fishing to CocoaChina's incredibly lucrative Fishing Joy, fishing games have always held a odd but profitable niche. Angling has also graced dozens of classic titles in the form of minigames, including Zelda, Monster Hunter and Animal Crossing.
Ridiculous Fishing doesn't care about any of those games, or fishing in general. To my knowledge it's also the first fishing game to come with a list of unlockable guns. Player character Billy lives the Hemingway dream by combining hunting, shooting and fishing into one pursuit, plunging his lure as deep down as he can, avoiding the fish on the way down and grabbing it on the way back up. The lure's direction changes as soon as you hit a fish, meaning that there's a neat reverse of descend and avoid to ascend and grab, culminating in the catch catapulting out of the water and turning the experience into a piscine skeet shoot.
Plus, like a lot of plucky indie success stories, it's overcome the sort of odds which give it a satisfying hook, if you'll pardon the pun. Having originally seen light as a flash game a few years back, Ridiculous Fishing was the subject of a pretty blatant cloning attack in the form of Ninja Fishing, an iOS title which made quite the splash, and a pretty substantial revenue. However, as John Bedford at Modojo explains en route to a 4.5/5, Vlambeer devs aren't the types to let it bother them.
"If the developers at Super Crate Box studio Vlambeer bear any - understandable - grudges against Ninja Fishing, the iOS game that did more than lean upon the original Flash version of Ridiculous Fishing, then they do a remarkably admirable job of disguising it," says Bedford. "Read through the studio's Twitter feed, or comments left beneath YouTube videos that accuse them of copying the game, and you'll see nothing but good-natured responses."
Praising accurate tilt controls and a almost perfect loop of enjoyment, Bedford also finds time to admire the view.
"If the developers at Super Crate Box studio Vlambeer bear any - understandable - grudges against Ninja Fishing, then they do a remarkably admirable job of disguising it"
John Bedford, Modojo
"The presentation impresses as much as the gameplay," he continues. "Of all the things that have made us excited about mobile gaming over the last year or so, we've yet to be thrilled by a font and yet the crispness of the interface is as impressive as the colorful, hand-crafted creatures that populate the oceans. Grab enough different species and you'll even open up new landscapes to go to work on - and they all look stunning."
These are sentiments echoed elsewhere, with Joystiq's JC Fletcher awarding a full five stars - pointing out that this makes a bit of a mockery of Ninja Fishing's cloned hatchet job.
"Playing Ninja Fishing and Ridiculous Fishing in quick succession illustrates what a difference it makes to care about your audience," Fletcher reasons. "The concept may be similar, but Ridiculous Fishing outclasses its would-be competitor in every way."
Fletcher also provides a pretty succinct summary of Ridiculous Fishing's three stage gameplay loop, which will hits the 'one more go' button squarely dead centre.
- Drop your fishing line into the ocean, dodging left and right to avoid fish.
- When you hook something, bring the line up, this time swinging left and right to catch as many things as possible.
- Fling fish out of the water, and shoot them with your gun to collect money.
There's more to it, like adding a buzzsaw to your lure or wearing a suit to bump up your profit margin, but that's it in a nutshell. In fact, Fletcher continues, "There's a lot of nuance to ridiculous fishing that makes it smarter than the dumb action game it could have been".
"There's a lot of nuance to ridiculous fishing that makes it smarter than the dumb action game it could have been"
JC Fletcher, Joystiq
As Fletcher goes on to point out, it's something that would be perfectly suited to an attrition-based microtransaction model, but Vlambeer has chosen a different path.
"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."
This isn't he continues, purely the result of some anti-IAP principle, but a clearly well-thought out gameplay decision. Earning is all part of the fun, if not all the fun.
"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."
Distinctive yet simple graphics earn plaudits from Fletcher, who says that almost any screenshot would make a perfect wallpaper, but it's the clear water between this and its impersonator which he returns to.
"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."
The game earns yet more high scores from the PC and console-centric Eurogamer, where deputy editor Oli Welsh applies an 8/10, seeing Ridiculous Fishing as perfectly suited to its platform.
"Ridiculous Fishing is a pure mobile game, one of those one-minute one-shots you'll rerun hundreds of times. At its heart is a see-saw rhythm, a single, perfectly described parabola of silliness that ends exactly where it starts - with you hitting the button marked 'Fish!' for another go.
"It's so simple and stupid, it's kind of beautiful. The clever part is the care with which Vlambeer has elaborated on this idiot-savant design without spoiling it"
Oli Welsh, Eurogamer
"It's so simple and stupid, it's kind of beautiful. The clever part is the care with which Vlambeer has elaborated on this idiot-savant design without spoiling it. As you earn money, you can buy the expected longer lines and better guns, but also toasters and hairdryers (to elecrocute the first couple of fish you touch, extending your run), items that skip the first few hundred metres of the plunge, or lures that can chainsaw through fish with a tap or slow your return for a second."
Again, it's the "artistry" and clear care and attention lavished on the game by Vlambeer which leaves a lasting impression for Welsh, who also marks the distinction between this and its clone.
Pocketgamer's 9/10 offers perhaps the most florid assessment, where Rob Hearn offers his opinion.
"Ridiculous Fishing seems fairly unexciting when you first boot it up, but it blossoms as you play, from a brittle pick-thin sapling of arbitrary grind into a thrumming, meticulously balanced garden of exotic flora that gets more and more exciting the deeper into it you go."
Hearn is another reviewer to note how well adapted the compulsion loop is here, with new fish necessitating the purchase of better lures, longer lines, extra accessories and weapons, all so you can move to a new area to catch yet more new fish.
"You're hauling so many fish into the air that you can't possibly shoot them all, so you go back to the shop to buy a bigger gun, which lets you earn more money, with which you can buy longer line, or a better lure, or a bigger fuel tank, or a tie (which lets you earn more money for your fish), or an even bigger gun, and so on, and so on, and so on."
However, he also highlights that, by its very nature, the game eventually succumbs to the law of diminishing returns.
"The deeper you manage to go the longer it takes to reach the surface again, and so the bite-size rounds get less and less bite-size as you improve - and, depending on your mood, less and less fun.
"And the grinding only takes you so far. Once you've unlocked The Maelstrom, bought the Infinity Reel, and kitted yourself out with killer gear Ridiculous Fishing effectively becomes an endless-runner with online rankings. There's nothing innately wrong with endless-runners, but it's a shame that the innovation is confined to the first few hours."
Still, this seems fair in a game which costs Ł1.99/$2.99, and the scores certainly reflect that. Vlambeer has earned itself a fair bit of credit with some excellent niche indie titles in its short lifespan, as well as impressing with the level headed response to having another company attempt to eat its dinner. Nonetheless, Ridiculous Fishing has earned that top spot on 2013's Metacritic leaderboard on its own merits, and it's a telling tale that we're seeing more and more mobile titles in that top ten. Quality, it seems, has a home on any platform.