To this day, if you want the best arcade fishing experience on a console (arcade or simulation-style), you’ll have to reach back in time for Sega’s legendary Dreamcast trilogy. But maybe you want to drag your own little Admiral Ackbar out of the lake without parting with your shiny PlayStation 4. Can’t say I blame you, especially when contemporary titles such as Concrete Software’s Rapala Fishing: Pro Series are just waiting to be picked up. It’s here that I want so badly to make a fishing pun about seeing what we catch with this game, and it looks like I inadvertently did. I'm so sorry... Moving on, then!
Rapala Fishing begins with a tutorial straight away, dropping you in one of its respectable selection of lakes and letting you drive anywhere. The world looks sufficiently detailed, with a draw distance that last-gen consoles definitely wouldn’t have been able to handle, and everything runs smoothly to boot. When your fish finder reveals the pixelated piscines, you cast the line by way of a strength-accuracy button press system, similar to what you might find in golf. Only here, it honestly doesn’t matter. If you see fish shapes on your finder, any cast is as good as any other. But then you get to the part that does matter: the reeling system. Contrary to its peers, Pro Series uses a button input system unique to each lure, which attracts fish when done correctly. It works well on the D-pad, and while obviously not accurate to the gestures you’d use in real life, the general idea holds true that lures require more than just being mindlessly cranked in. It’s unfortunate, then, that depth is not really a factor at all. No matter what pace you input the button commands, the lure stays deeply submerged until close to the boat, eliminating a key element of strategy that fishing games have employed for decades now.
So you’ve got a reeling mechanic that that favors realism but then doesn’t really. Is this an arcade fisher or a simulator? When you get your first and second bites in the space of ten seconds, the answer is clear. Alright, time for some action! Except, also not really. While you do get a nice guitar tune to complement the battle, the system itself is mediocre. Using the control stick, you want to keep the fish within two brackets, at which point a meter fills up. When it’s full, click the control stick to automatically reel everything in some five or ten meters. Because each fish fights your line with much less efficiency than you’ll naturally fight back, anything in your line’s weight class is generally not going to run away with your lure. Balancing line tension with the fish is still engaging, but the ideal difficulty just isn’t there, especially when you get those frequent boosts. And there’s no spectacle, either; never once did I see these guys jump out of the water. The result is a big list of catches to show for every half-hour session, but a dearth of fun to match.
Once you’ve upgraded your line to handle the larger species (of which there are many), it’s time to shop for lures they’ll enjoy. Different lures attract certain species with differing efficiency. The store reveals that you can upgrade the rest of your equipment, including the boat itself, but in practice, you really don’t need anything outside of the lines and lures. From here, you’ll want to play tournament mode, which I beat in about two hours. The time limits introduce a much-needed element of challenge, but the fishing itself is still below par, and again, you’ll blow through these in an afternoon. Thoughtfully, the developers included an online leaderboard system and even daily fishing challenges. Given the lack of people playing, though, you can imagine how relevant they are. There’s also a neat little gallery you can visit where you can see all the fish up close in their admittedly-rubbery glory, each species showing your record catch.
Pro Series is one of those games that I really wanted to enjoy beyond its actual quality. With its multitude of lakes, fish species, and upgrades, the developers clearly put in a good amount of effort. But its core gameplay mechanics just don’t match its content. Ironically, this is a fishing experience that will bore you not because you can’t catch anything, but rather because you all-too-easily can. It’s still somewhat satisfying to catch a big pile of floppers and watch your cash pile up, but it’s all done in this omnipresent cloud of disappointment. That’s Rapala Fishing: Pro Series for you; not bad, but disappointing.