Remember Vlambeer, the Dutch indie developer who made the awesomely silly Radical Fishing? With the help of Greg Wohlwend and Zach Gage they have finally completed their souped-up version of the concept, Ridiculous Fishing, which is available from today of Apple's app Store. The new game is incredibly deep solely in the sense of distance, and therein lies the entertainment since the fun in this game lies wholly with its absurd excesses.
The developers at Vlambeer are too young to remember the arcade games that Ridiculous Fishing has the greatest similarities to, although the influence is implicit in their tag line ‘Bringing Back Arcade Since 1887’ (or 1934 – the implausible date varies quite often). The game consists of three phases, all of which follow logically from the concept of fishing-with-a-shotgun. First, you sink your line as deep as it will go, avoiding all the fish – which plays like 1970s 2D driving games where you dodge obstacles on a narrow track. Then, after you snag something, you try and catch as much as possible on the way back up (which also has a scrolling 2D, River Raid, kind of feel) before, in the final phase, shooting them all down Duck Hunt style. The sensibilities may be classic, but backed up with contemporary computer power the results are satisfyingly chaotic. The whole endeavour is tied together with a shop for progress, which also spreads out the tutorial nicely.
Presentation throughout is a delight – the triangular faux-pixelated art design by Greg Wohlwend (Solipskier, Hundreds) is wonderfully original, and takes some of the unpleasantness out of the butcher of millions of marine animals. It would be as silly as the game itself to suggest this is a political commentary on over-fishing, though, as this is sheer arcade joy packaged in nonsense and sent flying through the air with wild abandon. There is little thinking and much overkill throughout, and this is to its merit. It has the sensibilities of an early 1980s arcade game like Anteater or Dig Dug far more than anything contemporary. The overall structure is very contemporary, though, and the game design has a nice mix of ‘ancient and modern’ to it.
Note that the gameplay proceeds directly from the concept of its fictional world – a place where lone redneck, Billy, can hurl fish a kilometre into the sky and still shoot them down with a shotgun (or a bazooka, or an orbital laser). Contrary to the idea that games can be stripped of their fiction and still remain the same game, Ridiculous Fishing would be nonsensically abstract without its core conceit of fishing-with-guns. It is this that feeds the gameplay throughout, and although it is easy to imagine tinkering with the weaponry it is implausible that this could be anything other than a fishing game. The fascinating thing about all fishing games is precisely how they take a slow, meditative activity and make it exciting by tinkering with the temporality – Sega Bass Fishing remains the classic example, which makes fishing into a race against time. Ridiculous Fishing makes it into something far more bizarre but it is still recognisably fishing, and indeed would have to be for the game to make any kind of sense.
None of this will matter to players – it is hard to avoid the clichéd pun that they will be instantly ‘hooked’, but that’s exactly what will happen! I could barely put this down over the last week as I kept blasting seafood to smithereens in order to earn better weapons to obliterate even more fish in ever more extreme ways. The weapon balance seemed a little off at times, but I suspect this reflects my incompetence with some of the guns and it scarcely matters as there is enough choice to allow everyone to find what they prefer. Other than the port of The Lords of Midnight, I’d struggle to find anything I've enjoyed as much as this on iOS – it’s as dumb as a bucket of fish guts, and all the more enjoyable because of it. Arcades may be dying but the arcade game is alive and well and being channelled by indie devs like Vlambeer and friends. A rare pearl amidst the endless sardines of iOS games.
Ridiculous Fishing is available from today on iPhone and iPad.