Two things to get out of the way: First, Ridiculous Fishing is one of the greatest titles a videogame has ever had. Second, it’s going to be impossible to get through this entire review without making a pun about its “depth,” so let’s just say out of the gate that Ridiculous Fishing features a large amount of both literal and figurative depth.
Ridiculous Fishing began its life as Radical Fishing, a Flash game of sufficient renown that its creators (Vlambeer, a/k/a the Super Crate Box guys) enlisted iOS-game mastermind Zach Gage (Bit Pilot, Spelltower) and art wizard Greg Wohlwend (Hundreds, Gasketball) to help create a mobile version. They were beaten to the punch by a clone of Radical Fishing, and the ensuing chaos nearly bankrupted Vlambeer. After Super Crate Box’s iOS success put the studio back on their feet, they were able to finish Ridiculous Fishing. (It seems both reasonable and keeping with the maritime theme to refer to Ridiculous Fishing as Vlambeer’s “white whale,” or perhaps its “albatross.”) That Ridiculous Fishing exists, then, is something of an achievement unto itself, and the amount of character and detail that has gone into it permits it to easily outgun anything that was rushed to market.
The first forty or so percent of a round of Ridiculous Fishing plays out a lot like a round of regular fishing. As a bearded, grizzly old salt named Billy, the player casts a lure into the ocean and watches as it sinks towards the bottom. Eventually, the lure makes contact with a fish and begins its ascent back towards Billy’s modest boat.
It’s during the ascent that Ridiculous Fishing begins its departure from the legal and physical limitations placed on the average real-life fisherman.
Every single fish that comes in contact with Billy’s lure on its way back to the surface is hooked. Once the lure crosses the surface of the water, Billy launches his catch hundreds of meters into the air and shoots the resultant cloud of sea creatures with a gun until as many of them as possible have been vaporized. Billy is paid a fee for each vaporized fish, and can use his cash for in-game upgrades such as a more effective gun, a Swiss lure to replace his shoddy American-made model, and a paper hat. Catching the most fish possible means evading fish on the way down, and evading non-fish space on the way back up, and the psychological stickiness of the process makes Ridiculous Fishing one of the more addicting iOS titles in recent memory.
Any iOS game that involves the gradual accumulation of in-game currency is ripe for the inclusion of in-app purchases (IAP, for short), allowing users to spend x amount of real-world money for y amount of, say, Ridiculous-world money. Ridiculous Fishing abstains from this model (that its cloners based their entire game around it may come as no surprise), and in so doing ends up being a pretty compelling anti-IAP argument. Every time I run into an opportunity for an IAP in a game, the fourth wall breaks. The game tacitly suggests that its goal is access to my wallet, and that any rewards it sends my way are intended only to make me want more rewards enough to pay for them. By mirroring an IAP-centric game’s model and then pulling a bait(har har har)-and-switch and opting to pleasantly surprise me with its varied play, Ridiculous Fishing serves as a reminder how flimsy and cynical IAP-based play can be.
On first impression, Ridiculous Fishing might come off as a watching-numbers-go-up slog where willing parties aren’t even afforded the opportunity of quickly advancing their progress via in-app purchases. Once the upgrades actually begin rolling in, though, it becomes clear that they fulfill in-game roles much more compelling than allowing Billy to Do The Same Thing But Faster. They provide otherwise-impossible access to parts of the game that force previously unseen gameplay permutations onto the player, such as jellyfish that cause Billy to lose money. As time goes by, Ridiculous Fishing slowly turns from a Metroid-style system, where access to new areas of the game is granted by periodic performance-based upgrades, into an infinite-run mode where long-term survival against endless waves of hostile fish is the only goal.
The Metroid portion of the game is exciting as a result of Wohlwend’s fish design and the type of stellar, hilarious copy you’d rightfully expect out of a game called Ridiculous Fishing. The developers even saw it fit to tack on an ending that explains Billy’s obsession with (and vendetta against) the ocean that would almost hit a note of pathos were it not for the piscene bloodbath that precedes it. (Propers to Maré Odomo, whose art for the ending was a surprise knockout.)
The infinite portion of the game is surprisingly robust, and I eventually felt as if I’d spent the previous few hours working my way towards being skilled enough to be rewarded by the proper version of the game. As time goes by and collecting fish potentially becomes less meaningful, however, the amount of dead space in the game increases greatly, and it begins to resemble the slog that it initially appears to be. It’s a drag (har har har), for example, that in lieu of quickly being able to restart my turn, I’m forced to wait a couple of minutes while a botched attempt at Game Center glory floats slowly back up to the surface. (Note to Ridiculous Fishing developers: It would be a perfectly acceptable answer to say that this is supposed to mimic the meditative serenity of a real day of fishing.) Granted, this dissatisfaction comes after 5-6 hours of inhaling everything else the game had to offer, so it’s possible that I’m complaining about not getting blood from a stone.
Ridiculous Fishing is a story about a man’s attempt at becoming one with nature in an attempt to settle a personal vendetta against the ocean. It is a story about a world that exchanges fish that have been liquified by gunfire for surprisingly large amounts of cash. (That the cash is in American dollars but your lure’s depth is measured in meters is only one of the ridiculous things about Ridiculous Fishing.) It is a story about birds making fun of each other on the internet. Ultimately, and in a pretty roundabout way, it is a story about coming to terms with the infinite. It comes strongly recommended to any fans of the creators’ previous offerings, or of comedy, or of well-balanced endless-run gameplay. I’m not sure an interest in real-life fishing would make an appreciable difference.
Joe Bernardi is a writer and web developer living in Brooklyn. His words have appeared in Dusted Magazine, The Boston Phoenix, and Tiny Mix Tapes, among other places. He’s got a Twitter and a blog.