Some games are good but I need to be in the mood to play them. Others I can recognise as classics but I know they really aren’t ever going to be my cup of tea. Then there are those that always put a smile on my face, like Sega Bass Fishing.
As with many of Sega’s all-time classics this glorious fusion of bass fishing and rock music started life as an arcade title, running on nothing less than the same hardware responsible for the much-maligned Virtua Fighter 3. The main gimmick there, as if having your ears caressed by hot guitar riffs while you battled with giant fish wasn’t enough, was a controller that either looked like an approximation of a proper fishing rod on the deluxe cabinet or a glorified force feedback joystick slapped onto a standard arcade cabinet if your local arcade operator was a bass-hating cheapskate - assuming you ever got to see an arcade cabinet at all, that is: the key selling point to arcade operators for Sega’s specialist title was ‘Fishing without the creepy worm’. Thankfully the game that apparently failed to set arcades alight found itself better received in gamer’s homes, with an expanded and tweaked (if graphically downgraded) Dreamcast port that would go on to serve as the foundation for the various Wii, 360, PlayStation 3, and PC releases over the following years.
Like simulated train rides and piloting commercial passenger flights, fishing for bass in a selection of peaceful locations is not something that naturally lends itself to arcade-style gamification but Sega’s AM1 division seemed to have a knack for this sort of madcap creativity, or at the very least the ear of the company cheque-writing guy, seeing as they managed to bring out not only Sega Bass Fishing in 1997 but also ‘Our hit zombie filled light gun arcade game, BUT AS A TYPING TUTOR’ almost two years later. What sets this game apart from the end less mountain of simulation-type fishing games that seem to exist only to pad out ‘Twenty Super Famicom games L@@K’ eBay auctions is that it hits the perfect balance between the two extreme ends of the design spectrum – removing enough of the realism to be immediately exciting without hacking out all the parts that bring depth and skill to the game. Between the arcade, tournament, and practise modes you’ve got every kind of game you could possibly need, so long as your gaming needs involve catching lots of bass, from intense sessions against the clock to lazy afternoons spent watching turtles go about their business and trying out new lure-waggling techniques.
I have to admit that for all my love for the game, Sega Bass Fishing has never reviewed well. Having just a single breed of fish to duel with was generally seen as something of a negative – even when both the Japanese and international titles make it quite clear that it’s all about fishing for bass – but this is actually where the game’s strength lies. If they’d chucked in a load of disparate freshwater fish and called it a day then you’d have the superficial variety that reviewers craved but at the expense of the depth found in hunting one particular species; with just bass to focus on you notice things you perhaps otherwise wouldn’t (and may not have been present at all if the team had spread themselves out too thinly), such as the way different sizes of bass can be distinguished at a glance by their shape and colour, or how the fish behave differently in the rain, or the in warmer water, or at various times of day.
But impressive fish AI would mean nothing if you weren’t able to interact with them in a meaningful way, which in this case means outwitting your piscine prey and then yanking them out of the water for a quick weigh-in. Getting all a-flutter over fishing lures is easy thanks to arcade mode’s at-a-glance tips and the sheer variety of methods you have to learn use them properly – even when just looking at surface lures you’ll find the ‘popper’ and the ‘pencil bait’ need to be used in very different ways to be effective, while still being balanced enough that selecting a lure is more to do with your current situation and personal preferences than one being definitively better than another. It doesn’t take very long before you find you’ve got a preferred shallow-water lure and you like to catch fish just by the reeds in the morning and then… you’re hooked (teehee~).
Other details are the icing on top of the fishy cake: the endlessly enthusiastic commentator egging you on with ‘A big one’s close by!’ - it never fails to send a shiver of excitement down my spine even though I must have heard him say it a thousand times by this point, as does ‘Bite it!’ when you’re desperately jiggling a lure in front of the biggest bass in the lake. As you’d expect from a game born to cutting-edge arcade hardware there are some impressive visual flourishes too: the fish are obviously the stars here and everything else rightfully takes a back seat to their high-polygon sleek forms but Sega still took the time to make everything else more interesting than you’d think it would look, with a nice contrast between natural and man-made structures as well as a smattering of water-based wildlife that bring a touch of life and variety to the game.
So now I’ve hopefully got your attention it’s time to answer the all-important question: ‘Kimimi, which version of Sega Bass Fishing do I buy?’. Let’s look at the Dreamcast version first of all: this has the benefit of giving you the warm fuzzy feeling that only comes with playing on Sega’s GD-ROM crunching hardware, but at the cost of some really awful random slowdown when underwater. The Dreamcast version also boasts that wonderful official rod too (the unofficial ‘Fission’ rod’s not too shabby either), which has the added benefit of bringing an extra five whole minutes of novelty rod-swishing play to Soul Calibur. Next up for consideration is the Wii port, which has a range of exclusive fishing locations as well as pretend rod-ing via the Wiimote/nunchuck combo but somehow feels a little less ‘authentic’ as its extras feel a little bit like a dilution of the original rather than an expansion to me. Last of all are the virtually identical PC/360/PlayStation 3 releases; taking the purity of the Dreamcast version while adding the fancy graphical effects found in the later Wii remake, then making everything all widescreen and pretty-like for modern TVs… but there’s no rod support for any of those, only plain old controllers. So the best version is… whatever’s most convenient for you, really – just have fun!